Before each North Dakota State football game, the BisonReport will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with South Dakota beat writer Mick Gerry of the Argus Leader (Brookings, South Dakota) to preview the Bison's Week 12 away game against South Dakota Coyotes.
1) South Dakota has been involved in many close games throughout the entire season, and now come into this NDSU game on a three game losing streak. Where is this team at mentally come into the Bison game this weekend?
MG: They’ve been a very resilient team this year, both within the context of the games themselves and over the course of the season but if they’re going to finally break down and mail one in, you’d think this would be the week for it. Bob Nielson and his staff have really tried to create a business-like environment predicated on avoiding emotional collapses and for the most part I think they’ve been successful. That said, it’s been three weeks in a row of emotional hell. They lost two games essentially on the last play then lost to a state rival in another close game that ended any postseason hopes. That’s a lot to take on going into the last week of the season. I think they’re going to need to get some things to go their way early to sustain the kind of emotion it would take to stay competitive the whole way.
2) Minnesota transfer Chris Streveler seems to have taken the quarterback job by the horns, and enters the NDSU game with 28 total touchdowns on the season. How would you assess his play in this Coyote offense?
MG: For the most part he’s done a very good job. He’s a very good runner and has been a fairly accurate passer, with some conspicuous exceptions involving interceptions that have cost the Coyotes. It was an unusual situation to have a returning starter in Ryan Saeger deposed by a transfer and it seems like the team has handled it pretty well. He is a big, strong kid and as good an athlete as there is on the field most weeks. The X factor in assessing his performance for the year is the quality of the line he’s playing behind. I think a lot of what the Coyotes do – and what the Coyotes ask of Streveler -- is set up a lot of the time to accommodate shortcomings up front. Sometimes those tricks have worked and sometimes they haven’t.
3) The Coyote passing attack is about as even as I've seen in the Missouri Valley this season, with five players who have 20 or more catches, and nine who have 10 catches or more. Who are a couple playmakers on this Coyote offense to note?
MG: That has been an interesting part of the season. It has been impossible to assign anyone “go-to” status going into a game. Generally speaking, the little guys are very fast but also very young. Players like Trystn Ducker, Randy Baker and Dakarai Allen are all freshmen and have been up and down in their ability to catch the ball. Brandt Van Roekel is bigger and a veteran who has brought in some tough passes since coming back from injury. Alonge Brooks, a junior, would be the best example of somebody who is a little bigger but also is a deep threat. Tacari Carpenter has had several good games, too, and Riley Donovan is probably the most dependable receiver on the team. I guess I didn’t answer that question with any real clarity but the stats say it all in this case. It depends on the week who is going to make the catches.
4) What are the strengths of the Coyote's defense and who are a few names to keep an eye on for the game this Saturday?
MG: It’s not a unit that is capable of physically dominating a Missouri Valley game. Their strengths have been in creating turnovers and coming up with crucial stops at appropriate times. They’ve given up a ton of yards the last three weeks so it’s difficult to point to anyone and say they’ve really been tearing people apart. Middle linebacker Jet Moreland has had a very good senior season but otherwise, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of all-conference candidates on the field. USD played without starting linebacker Tyson Graham and cornerback Danny Rambo last week and that probably hurt but the Coyotes were giving up a lot of yards when they were healthy, too.
5) What are the keys for South Dakota if they're going to beat the Bison to end the season, and what's your prediction for the North Dakota State vs. South Dakota game and why?
MG: The key for the Coyotes will be to get something cooking early because, as I mentioned earlier, staying motivated to the degree necessary to pull off an upset is going to be a real challenge. If they can fuel the fire early with a couple big plays, it would help a lot. I’d normally say that getting a running game going is going to be an important part of this but USD really hasn’t been able to pull that off for quite a while now and I don’t think it will happen this week. The Coyotes do their best to create favorable down-and-distances and then tend to turn it over to Streveler on third down. Even with the best running quarterback in the league, they haven’t been able to sustain many ground-based marches this season.
The equation that leads to wins this year for USD has included creating turnovers. When they’ve been able to take the ball away a few times, they’ve won. I don’t think they’re capable of stopping the Bison too well series-by-series so that would be a necessary part of another upset of NDSU. I’m thinking USD will hang in there offensively but have trouble keeping things under control defensively.
Prediction: Bison 35, Coyotes 17.