Coyotes, Jackrabbits Face Off Today

South Dakota players and fans celebrate a win-clinching turnover in the 2019 meeting between the Coyotes and South Dakota State. The teams did not play in 2020 due to COVID. USD and SDSU play today (Saturday) in Vermillion, marking the first matchup with both teams ranked since 2017. Start time is 1 p.m. at the DakotaDome.

VERMILLION -- For the first time since 2017, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University football teams are facing each other as ranked opponents.

The No. 4/7 Jackrabbits make the trip to Vermillion to take on the No. 19/17 Coyotes inside the DakotaDome. USD enters the game off a 42-21 win over Western Illinois and SDSU comes in off a 27-19 win over ranked North Dakota State.

After not having the rivalry game in the 2021 spring season due to COVID-19, both sides are ready to renew the rivalry.

“The win in 2019, even though that was a long time ago, the COVID year seems like a decade, but anytime you are able to build confidence in any way, shape or form for your football team, I think it’s valuable,” USD head coach Bob Nielsen said.

The last meeting between the Coyotes and Jacks snapped the SDSU 10-game win streak against the Coyotes. The game, inside the DakotaDome, ended 24-21.

“We are using the 2019 film as a part of our breakdown, but obviously putting a lot more stock into what they’ve done more recently,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “They (USD) have made some changes, obviously the quarterback is different, they’re playing great defense. It’s going to be a battle.”

The Coyotes will lean on freshman quarterback Carson Camp, who returned from injury last week to throw for 246 yards and two touchdowns. Camp connected with freshman Carter Bell for two 50-plus yard scores.

“The first couple series took a little bit to get back in sync, but I really thought he played well,” Nielsen said. “I don’t know if anybody is ever 100% at this time of the season, but he’ll be as close to 100% as he can be this weekend.”

Camp has thrown for 1,566 yards and 13 touchdowns to two interceptions on the season. Camp has found Bell for 584 yards and five scores, both being team highs. Senior tight end Brett Samson has caught four touchdown passes.

On the ground, the Coyotes have doubled up their opponents in rushing yards and over tripled their opponents in rushing touchdowns. The Coyote rushing attack, led by Travis Theis and Nate Thomas, has totaled 1,707 yards and 18 touchdowns. Theis has 608 yards and seven touchdowns, while Thomas has 505 yards and four scores.

The Coyote run defense has limited opponents to 846 yards and five touchdowns, but has the tall task of facing one of the FCS’ top running backs, Pierre Strong.

“I feel good about our running game, but I liken USD to UNI (Northern Iowa),” Stiegelmeier said. “They are very physical. Their inside linebackers will hit you, their safeties are downhill and physical. Who knows what’s going to happen, but it’s not going to be easy yards against these guys.”

Strong has tallied 1,142 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground for the Jacks. The passing attack for SDSU is over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Quarterback Chris Oladokun has tallied 1,991 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air.

Jaxon Janke and Jadon Janke are two of the top three receivers for the Jacks. Jaxon Janke has 668 yards and two touchdowns and Jadon Janke has 382 yards and six scores. The third major part of the SDSU passing attack is Tucker Kraft, who has 543 yards and five scores.

Both defenses allow 315.89 yards per game. The Coyotes hold the second best scoring defense in the conference at 17.1 points per game while the Jacks are third at 17.4 points per game.

“We’re rekindling this (rivalry),” Stiegelmeier said. “I think it’s still as big, it’s still bragging rights in the state. It’s used in recruiting, we drug out the little brown jug, which is a traveling trophy which no one talks about. It’s a big game, it’s a rivalry game, a lot at stake for both of us.”

As the Jacks are in a position to fight for a top eight seed in the FCS Playoffs with two weeks of the regular season remaining, the Coyotes are fighting for a spot in the playoffs.

“We talked about it after the bye week, that for the last three weeks, we’re in a position to control what happens at the end of the year,” Nielsen said. “The way we can control that is by playing our best football every Saturday and finding a way to get a win. We did that last week at Western Illinois and that’s what our focus will be for Saturday.”

The Coyotes and Jackrabbits kick-off at 1 p.m. inside the DakotaDome Saturday.

Follow @BaileyZubke on Twitter.

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