Skid snapped

Some final thoughts on SDSU’s slump-busting win at Youngstown State:

SDSU is halfway through a four-week run of Walter Payton Award candidates. Up next: UNI quarterback Tirrell Rennie.

Youngstown State has what the Jacks want – four national titles and a brand new indoor practice facility. The Penguins opened the $12.3 million Watson and Tressel Training Site (above) late last year. It serves the football, track, baseball, softball and soccer programs and is located near Stambaugh Stadium.

Add YSU to the list of Valley teams that have a more attractive non-conference schedule than the Jacks. In addition to a guarantee game against Michigan State, the Penguins host non-scholarship Valparaiso and lowly St. Francis. They also have a bye week, which SDSU does not.

Former Jacks assistant Shawn Mennenga attended the game Saturday, driving up from Cleveland where he is a special teams assistant with the Browns.

“He’ll always be a Jackrabbit,” coach John Stiegelmeier said. “Our players were excited to see him, too. It’s neat. He made the effort.”

The Penguins have played 12 consecutive conference games that were decided by 10 points or less.

It was shades of 2008 for the Jacks on Saturday. That’s the last time they hit on an offensive play of at least 73 yards, the last time a receiver went for at least 155 yards and the last time a quarterback topped the 300-mark in consecutive games.

The Jacks didn’t report any major injuries after the game, although RB Tyrel Kool and safety Rodkem Matthews got dinged.

YSU entered the game ranked in the top 10 in the FCS in fewest fumbles, third-down conversions, total offense and time of possession. Yet the Jacks forced a fumble and beat the Penguins in those other three categories.

SDSU also set a bunch of individual season high, namely: longest run, most touchdown passes, receiving yards, touchdown catches and longest catch.

That penalty for sideline interference against SDSU on the game-winning touchdown? It was called against Stiegelmeier. He apparently got in the way of an official while trying to signal for his team to go for one after the score. YSU was called for the same penalty earlier in the game.
On another officiating note, SDSU received a call from the Valley director of officials last week to say that a mistake was made on a third-quarter kickoff – the play where Kyle Harris broke his leg on an attempt. The Jacks should have been awarded a rekick similar to when the ball blows off the tee. Instead, Indiana State was awarded the ball deep in SDSU territory (but didn’t end up scoring).

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

Penguin prep

Here’s some stuff in advance of South Dakota State’s trip to Youngstown State. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. CT Saturday:

For the second week in a row, the Jacks are facing a running back who is up for the Walter Payton Award. YSU junior Jamaine Cook (above) is averaging 125 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry this season.
"I always think it’s a little bit easier when one of the best players on your team is the hardest worker," Penguins coach Eric Wolford said. "It sets an example for the rest of the team."
Plus, Cook is hardly a one-man band. Sophomore quarterback Kurt Hess is second in the Valley in passing yards per game (211.8) and true freshman receiver Christian Bryan leads the conference in catches per game (5.5).

The Penguins had an interesting bye week as they hosted the San Francisco 49ers, who opted not to go home between consecutive East Coast games.
"I think it’s important to see how hard those guys work," Wolford said. "It’s a business. In the NFL, you don’t have to do a lot of screaming and yelling about effort and missing assignments because those guys know if they continue to do those kinds of things tey won’t have a job very long."

YSU will honor the 1991 national champions Saturday. That squad was coached by former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, but he is not expected to attend.

SDSU has lost five in a row on the road and eight of its last nine away from home. But it did win its last game in Youngstown, 17-3 in 2009.

Injury update: No major changes since Saturday. Defensive tackle Chase Douglas is unlikely to play this week, although he continues to improve. Offensive lineman Alex Olinger continues to battle injury, but hasn’t yet decided to pull the trigger on a surgery that would end his season.

Jacks coach John Stiegelmeier was impressed with the way that redshirt freshmen Ethan Sawyer and Justin Syrovatka handled themselves when senior Kyle Harris went down for the season last week.
This week, Sawyer will handle kickoff duties and long field goals, while Syrovatka will handle PATs and conventional field goals.

SDSU continues to rank last in the Valley despite having what most consider to be two plenty capable backs in Tyrel Kool and Zach Zenner. Stiegelmeier said that some of those stats are skewed by the fact that the Jacks have trailed so much. But he also thinks the staff may need to tweak some things.
"We’ve got a different style back and we probably as coaches haven’t run designs specifically for their abilities," he said.

Based on the Sagarin Ratings, SDSU is a nine-point underdog this week. If those ratings hold relatively pat, the Jacks will only be favored to win one more game this season: at Missouri State on Oc.t 29.

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

Tuesday Tidbits

We’ve got a special Missouri Valley Football Conference edition for you as the league held its annual media day Monday via teleconference. A few notes from each of the nine member programs in order of predicated finish:

1. Northern Iowa
Coach Mark Farley had to reschedule his time with the media because he was repping the school in a golf fundraiser hosted by PGA Tour player Zach Johnson … The Panthers will be searching for a new kicker … Farley on the prospects for the season: “When I go back and look at last year, I just felt that (QB) Tirrell Rennie, our football team did a phenomenal job putting together the season we did with an inexperienced football team. This year, we’re going in with the experience so we’re looking forward to seeing what we can put together on the field.”

2. North Dakota State
Brock Jensen has already been named the starting QB, putting the Bison ahead of where they were last year … Coach Craig Bohl called graduated DL Matt Gratzek arguably the best player in the Valley last year … NDSU is in search of a new punter, a point of concern.

3. Southern Illinois
The Salukis return all five starting offensive linemen and two of them are all-conference picks … Paul McIntosh is the favorite to win the QB battle, but the program landed a solid transfer in A.J. Hill from Northern Illinois. His brother, Nick, played the same position at SIU. … Coach Dale Lennon put the blame for last year’s lackluster season on inconsistency.

4. South Dakota State
The Jacks face another challenging non-league schedule as Southern Utah, Cal Poly and Illinois all finished above .500 last year … Turnover margin is going to be a point of emphasis … Coach John Stiegelmeier said this of embattled returning QB Thomas O’Brien: “He needs to play better, he needs to take care of the football, he needs to mature. He’s played a lot of football for us and this is the year he needs to put his foot down and make plays.”

5. Illinois State
Coach Brock Spack said this is the best team he’s had since joining the school and the previous two both finished over .500 … The Redbirds return 10 starters on offense … The defense struggled last year. How does Spack expect to fix that? “It’s not what we do, it’s how we do it,” he said.

6. Indiana State
The Sycamores weren’t picked last for a change, but they were picked relatively low considering they have 19 returning starters and six all-conference individuals … The program has grown up under coach Trent Miles going from three seniors to five seniors to seven seniors to now 20 seniors … The team will place two FBS foes this year, a major change from when it used to play two non-DIs per season.

7. Western Illinois
Why are the Leathernecks tabbed so low coming off a run to the second round of the playoffs? Because they graduated stars QB Matt Barr and LB Kyle Glazier … WIU returns 12 starters … Wil Lunt and juco transfer Josh Hudson are competing for the QB job.

8. Youngstown State
Eric Wolford begins his second year as coach with seven returning starters on offense led by Walter Payton candidate Jamaine Cook … The Penguins are focused on finishing games after blowing a handful of fourth-quarter leads last season … Wolford is also changing the approach to road games because YSU travels a minimum of six hours for every away date.

9. Missouri State
Why were the Bears picked last? Largely because they play Oregon and Arkansas - two teams in the BCS Bowl Series last year - and have their first four games on the road. That’s followed by the home opener against UNI. “In the state of Missouri we’ve got a little financial problem,” coach Terry Allen explained. “We need the money for our athletic department. That’s something the football program can do and that’s why we took those games on.” … The biggest personnel issue will be replacing four-year QB Cody Kirby.

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

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