When the South Dakota football team walked out on the field at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, on Aug. 30, 2014, the Coyotes were after two main things.
They wanted to escape without serious injury (that didn’t happen, unfortunately, as quarterback Kevin Earl suffered a hand injury). And they wanted to savor the experience of playing a top-five team with a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback.
Outside of that, it was to be assumed that the score would be lopsided.
On that night five years ago in Oregon, the third-ranked Ducks — led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who would go on to win the Heisman — routed USD 62-13 in a game that was decided early.
That’s the situation facing the Coyotes tonight (Saturday).
They’ll be walking into Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma, to face a fourth-ranked Oklahoma squad led by star quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is tabbed as an early Heisman Trophy candidate.
Don’t expect the Coyotes, however, to treat tonight’s game as anything more than it is — just another game on the schedule.
“I don’t know that it’s much different than what you normally have for a game,” USD head coach Bob Nielson said before the season.
“You want to go out and play your very best football.”
That’s what it’s going to take, and probably a lot more, for the Coyotes (0-1) to keep pace with the explosive Sooners, the preseason favorite in the Big 12 Conference.
Hurts, a transfer from Alabama, accounted for 508 total yards and six touchdowns in the season-opening win last Sunday over Houston. He passed for 332 yards and three scores, and ran for 176 yards and three scores.
When the Coyotes faced Mariota (now in the NFL) five years ago, he passed for 267 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the first half, when Oregon led 41-3 at the break.
Of course, those were different players lining up for USD back then.
The current group of Coyotes have experience keeping pace with an FBS team out of a major conference: USD had a 24-12 halftime lead at Kansas State last year, but the Wildcats stormed back to win 27-24.
That performance caught the eye of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, he said this week.
“We all know how good Kansas State is, especially in Manhattan; how tough they are to beat there,” Riley said.
South Dakota, he added, made a strong impression on him while he studied Kansas State last season.
“You know you’ve got a team that’s certainly not going to come in here intimdated and is going to be a good football team,” Riley said.
While USD will receive $575,000 for the game at Oklahoma and will yet again be able to savor the experience of playing a top-five program, the Coyotes are more interested in small areas of progress — especially after last week’s 31-17 loss to Montana.
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