So to begin, I should point out that the glorious statistical analysis which I’ve referenced heavily throughout this series is not available for South Dakota State, because they’re an FCS team. So what you’re getting today is less an evaluation of the state of SDSU’s program heading into 2013 than a summary of what SDSU is like as a program.
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits play at the FCS level (formerly, and in the hearts and minds of us old people currently, division I-AA). Unlike some of the other famous FBS busters (Appalachian State, Northern Iowa, Eastern Washington, etc.), SDSU is not terribly competitive at the FCS level, posting 5-6 records in 2010 and 2011 before improving to 9-4 in 2012 and earning a playoff bid. They were defeated in the second round by eventual national champ North Dakota State (to whom they also lost in the regular season), but Jackrabbits everywhere have to feel pretty good about the upswing of the program.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE OFFENSE
The Jackrabbits are a run-heavy team, and the star of the offense is junior running back Zach Zenner, who accounted for 2,044 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, including 278 yard performance against Southeastern Louisiana and a 295 yard outing against Eastern Illinois in the first round of the playoffs.
It appears, based on stat analysis alone, that opposing defenses started to figure out how to stifle Zenner’s efforts as the season progressed (in the final three games of the regular season, Zenner posted totals of just 87, 49, and 43 yards). It appeared that as Zenner went, so went the Jackrabbit offense, though quarterback Austin Sumner was able to lean on a pair of senior receivers who will not return in 2013. Sumner will now lean on senior (and Grenta, NE native) Brandon Huebert. Sumner is not a threat to run, gathering just 199 yards for the season (-63 with sacks factored in), on 83 attempts.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE DEFENSE
The Jackrabbits will have some work to do on defense, losing its first-, third-, and fourth-leading tacklers. Linebacker T.J. Lally returns, along with defensive linemen Doug Peete and David Hettiger, who led the the Jackrabbits in tackles for loss.
Opponents in 2012 were balanced, attempting 455 passes and 450 runs, and the Jackrabbits were effective in stopping both, allowing opponents just 3.6 yards per rush and 5.2 yards per pass. SDSU was particularly strong in the red zone, allowing their opponents to score on just 60% of red zone visits, and allowing a touchdown just 40% of the time.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
The Jackrabbits were solid on kicking in 2012, and they should expect the output to continue. PK Justin Syrovatka was dependable, connecting on 18 of 22 attempts, and punter Ethan Sawyer (40.9 yards per punt) also returns.
SO WHAT NOW?
SDSU will probably be ecstatic to achieve results similar to 2012, what with losing so many key playmakers on offense and defense.
Nebraska plays South Dakota State in Lincoln on September 21, 2013. They last met on September 25, 2010, in Lincoln. Nebraska won 17-3.