South Dakota State Team Preview

The Fighting Illini football team hopes to improve to 2-0 on the young season as it hosts South Dakota State Saturday morning in Memorial Stadium. While Illinois is a big favorite against its Division 1-AA foe, the Jackrabbits have a proud winning tradition. They also won their opener and expect to give the Illini a battle.

South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier has an 87-66 record in his tenure. The Jacks had their first losing record since joining Division 1 last year at 5-6, and they have no intention of repeating that embarrassment. There are a number of returning lettermen and lots of experience to face Illinois Saturday.

The SDSU offense accumulated 416 yards of total offense in defeating Southern Utah last week in a game that wasn't close until the end. They had a three touchdown lead before a couple turnovers late allowed Southern Utah to catch up. A deflection of a two-point conversion by senior linebacker Dirk Kool (6'-2", 230) at the end insured victory.

The offense begins with junior quarterback Thomas O'Brien (6'-2", 205). He completed 27 of 40 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns last week. His leading receiver was also his leading rusher.

Making his first career start, junior running back Tyrel Kool (5'-9", 190) accumulated 107 yards rushing in 28 attempts while also catching six passes for 79 more yards. He was one of their top receivers last season, so his dual threat role must be neutralized by the Illini to win.

Other receivers who figured prominently last week include junior Aaron Rollin (6'-1", 215), who caught 6 balls for 48 yards and a TD; sophomore Brandon Hubert (5'-11", 185), 5 receptions for 59 yards; sophomore Trevor Tiefenthaler (5'-10", 190), 3 for 47 yards; redshirt freshman running back Zach Zenner (6'-0", 215), 3 for 24 yards; and junior tight end Seth Daughters (6'-5", 250), 3 for 19 yards.

Two tight ends are often employed together. The three listed as possible starters include seniors Kyle Sheehan (^'-2", 240) and Brad Iverson (6'-4", 235) and sophomore Vince Benedetto (6'-3", 250).

The offensive tackles are junior Jon Fick (6'-4", 315) and sophomore Bryan Witzmann (6'-7", 310). Guards are sophomore Josh Kage (6'-4", 280) and sophomore Alex Parker (6'-5", 305), and the center is junior Will Castle (6'-2", 305).

The strength of the Jacks defense appears to be its linebackers. WILL Dirk Kool led them last week with 10 tackles, and junior SAM Chris Tracy (6'-1", 230) seconded him with 8. Tracy also had one of the team's three interceptions, although he is listed behind senior Erich Feller (6'-1", 200) in the depth chart. Senior MIKE Mike Lien (6'-0", 235) added 7 stops. Backup junior Ross Shafrath (6'-1", 220) intercepted a pass.

Senior defensive end Jake Steffen (6'-3", 255) garnered 7 tackles including 1.5 sacks last week. Junior Zach Bowers (6'-2", 230) was listed as the other starter in preseason, but Doug Peete (6'-3", 245) registered two sacks for -17 yards last week and has moved ahead of him. Junior Andy Mink (6'-2", 265) and Chase Douglas (6'-3", 270) are the tackles.

The secondary is being rebuilt. Soph cornerback Winston Wright (5'-10", 185) grabbed an interception last week. The other cornerback spot is held down by junior Bo Helm (5'-10", 190). Strong safety is senior Anthony Wise (6'-1", 195), and junior Skyler Luxa (5'-11", 210) is listed at free safety ahead of senior Rodkem Matthews (5'-10", 195).

The placekicking job is in the capable hands of senior Kyle Harris. With the graduation of the top punter, the job is now shared between youngsters Ethan Sawyer and Jason Schlautman. Last week, SDSU averaged 33.7 yards per punt.

Obviously, this team lacks the quantity of top athletes to compete against Division 1 foes on a weekly basis. But the Illini cannot afford to take them lightly. If they do, they could get burned.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories