#33 South Dakota State FCS Football 2015 Preview

South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Overall Rank: #33
#7 Missouri Valley

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South Dakota State reached the FCS Playoffs for the fifth straight time in 2014, but that streak is in serious jeopardy. The Jackrabbits made things very interesting in the playoffs last year though. After heading to Montana State and winning a 47-40 thriller, SDSU nearly knocked off North Dakota State, losing to their conference rival 27-24. Some of the best players in Jackrabbits history need to be replaced and that will be no easy task for longtime Coach John Stiegelmeier. Navigating the tough MVFC with inexperience at key positions will make it very tough for this group to reach six playoffs in a row.

2014 Record: 9-5, 5-3
2014 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: John Stiegelmeier (120-86 at South Dakota State, 120-86 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Eric Eidsness
Defensive Coordinator: Clint Brown

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Brady Mengarelli, RB, 332 yards
Passing: Zach Lujan, QB, 1,943 yards
Receiving: Jake Wieneke, WR, 1,404 yards
Tackles: T.J. Lally, LB, 117
Sacks: Kellen Soulek, DL, 2.0
Interceptions: Je Ryan Butler, DB, 2, Trey Carr, DB, 2

Other Key Returnees: WR Trevor Wesley, OL Jacob Ohnesorge, DB Nick Mears, LB Jesse Bobbit, DB Jimmie Forsythe, DL Cole Langer

Key Losses: RB Zach Zenner, QB Austin Sumner, WR Jason Schneider, OL Trevor Gregor, K Justin Syrovatka, P Ethan Sawyer, DB Melvin Taveras, DL Jack Sherlock, DB Jake Gentile

The talent and experience shifts to the defense this year where lineman Cole Langer and linebacker T.J. Lally lead the way. Langer is one of the bright spots for a rush defense that did struggle at times in 2014. He is no stranger to getting into the backfield, but tallied just 1.5 sacks as a sophomore. Kellen Soulek will need to be more involved for a team that ranked 109th in the FCS in sacks. Tally led South Dakota State with 117 tackles and 9.5 tackles-for-loss. He will be joined by Jesse Bobbit, who had 90 tackles of his own. The secondary does not have a superstar like Langer or Lally, but they may be the most talented unit on the team. Last year they allowed just 192.1 yards per game through the air, ranking second in the MVFC. Je Ryan Butler, Jimmie Forsythe and Trey Carr combined to defend 32 passes, including five interceptions. Safety Nick Mears is a big hitter and was second on the team with 96 tackles. This group has the potential to be very good. They have the talent and experience to be one of the best defensive teams in the MVFC. If they can do that and create a few more turnovers while they are at, South Dakota State will be in every game.

South Dakota State must move on without Zach Zenner, Austin Sumner and Jason Schneider. Zenner had an amazing career, culminating with a senior season in which he rushed for 2,019 yards and 22 touchdowns. This year the Jackrabbits will likely have a running back by committee approach, led by sophomore Brady Mengarelli who was Zenner’s primary backup in 2014. Sumner missed much of his senior season, but still threw for 1,634 yards and 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Back in 2013, when he did play a full season, Sumner threw for 2,999 yards and 19 touchdowns. The good news is that Zach Lujan got a lot of experience in 2014 and should be ready to take the reins. The 6-2 junior completed 61.0 percent of his passes for 1,943 yards, but did throw ten interceptions compared to 13 touchdowns. Schneider was one of Sumner’s favorite targets over the years, but South Dakota State does return Jake Wieneke. Wieneke caught an amazing 73 passes for 1,404 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is obviously an extremely dangerous target, yet it remains to be seen if Wieneke can be as effective without Schneider on the other side.

The Bottom Line:
As usual, South Dakota State is going to have to work through a very tough schedule. However, they do play North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State at home. That could be huge for this team, but it could also mean the Jackrabbits will lose three games at home with tough road games against the likes of Kansas and Youngstown State also on the slate. This group will have to win some of those tough games and beat teams they should beat on the road if they want to make the playoffs. That may be asking a lot for a team that needs to reestablish an offensive identity.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 177.1 (45th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 258.0 (25, 2)
Total Offense: 435.1 (27, 2)
Scoring Offense: 31.8 (37, 4)
Rushing Defense: 183.7 (76, 8)
Pass Defense: 192.1 (33, 2)
Total Defense: 375.9 (50, 4)
Scoring Defense: 25.4 (49, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.07 (64, 6)
Sacks: 1.07 (115, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 2.43 (85, 8)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#36 Marquise Lewis
#41 Michael Daniel
#102 Taryn Christion
#109 Matt Clark
#135 Chase Vinatieri


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