VERMILLION — Bob Nielson was asked this week if he felt that ‘culture’ plays a big role in a football program turning a corner.
The South Dakota head coach immediately agreed.
Yes, there’s something to that, he said during his weekly radio show.
“Culture is a big part of developing a program that’s going to win consistently, and do so year after year,” Nielson said.
“Some of that is building the right leadership group, and we’re still in that process a little bit here.”
His team, Nielson added, has young leaders and a smaller senior class, but “we have some good leaders in that group.”
Although there’s been progress made in some areas, according to Nielson, it hasn’t come in wins and losses.
Since reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs two years ago, USD sports a 7-12 record, and will head into today’s (Saturday) game at Western Illinois with a 3-5 record this season.
Nielson maintained that progress is being made, despite those numbers.
“We’ve made some steps,” he said. “I know it doesn’t always seem that way when every year is going to be judged on wins and losses, but the way of doing it is the right way.
“We’ve got a really competitive football team, but we’ve just got to get over the hump in some of these games.”
Following back-to-back losses, the Coyotes are now in a position where they’ll have to win their final four games to put themselves in FCS playoff consideration — they close the regular season against North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
South Dakota will take on a Western Illinois squad that is winless this season at 0-8 and one that has lost six of those games by double digits.
“We have four games left, and that’s the message to our players,” WIU head coach Jared Elliott said in his weekly show.
“We’re going to finish what we’ve started, and there’s going to be a heck of a fight out of this team.”
Much like the Coyotes had to do this week after last Saturday’s 20-point loss to Southern Illinois, Western Illinois had to rebound from a humbling 59-14 loss to Youngstown State a week ago.
“The only thing we can do is get back to work and correct it,” Elliott said. “Our guys are hungry to do that.
“We’ve got the right kids in this locker room who understand that, and we’re going to stay together and we’ll find a way to improve.”
Both the Coyotes and Leathernecks have discovered the impact giveaways can have in those recent outcomes.
Western Illinois committed three turnovers in last week’s loss, and USD has committed 11 turnovers in its last two games.
Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. today in Macomb.
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter