BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — SDSU and NDSU were supposed to play for the Dakota Marker back on April 3, but that game was moved due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Bison’s tier 1 personnel. Now the Jacks and Bison are set to meet again on Saturday.
North Dakota State missed back-to-back games following a positive COVID-19 test on March 27. However, the Bison got back onto the field last Saturday when they played Northern Iowa.
“I’m glad we got to play. We needed to get out there and get moving around a little bit and bang pads and tackle, live tackling is always critical,” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said.
Unlike the Bison, South Dakota State will enter Saturday’s contest having not played a game in 28 days.
“We’ve always called a bye week, an improvement week, so we’ve literally had three improvement weeks in a row,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “It’s not fall camp. You’ve got your fundamentals down, you’ve got your base offense, base defense down, so have a mission for every day and have a vision for every day.”
SDSU may be well rested, but Coach Stiegelmeier is worried about the rust.
“The only thing I am concerned about is just the rust. Not having tackled, not having blocked live a whole lot, those things that are fundamentals in the game,” Stiegelmeier said. “I think the mental part of the game, we are fine with because we’ve had so much time.”
The Jackrabbits have been preparing for NDSU since last week, but the key is to avoid over planning.
“What I’m concerned about as we prepare is as we prepare, we do too much. That’s my greatest caution to my coaches. I kind of called them out on some areas on simply being thorough in everything we do, because we’ve had the time to do that,” Stiegelmeier said.
“South Dakota State, they’ve had a month to prepare for us and they’re going to have everything ready to go. They do a tremendous job, they always are prepared and if you give them a month, it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Entz said.
SDSU will look to rely on true freshman quarterback, Mark Gronowski, whose 231 yards of total offense per game is third in the Missouri Valley.
“I’ve just watched him on film and I think he’s a very good football player. For a freshman, he’s come in and seems to have a great understanding of the offense,” Entz said.
“Bottom line, he’s going to have some nerves, I’ll be nervous. Hopefully we’re not too nervous to make the right decisions and make the right plays and stuff,” Stiegelmeier said. “I’ve said this before, we need to give him a play, give him plays that he can have success with. He doesn’t have to complete the post the first time he throws the ball, that’s up to the coaches.”
Pierre Strong Jr. is SDSU’s leading running back as he is rushing for nearly 90 yards a game.
“He can be downhill. When he hits it, he can accelerate on a different level, but he also can make you miss. There are some jump cuts against Youngtown and UNI where you think he has him pinned up in the backfield and there he is on the perimeter. We saw that last year,” Entz said.
Both teams will be fighting for the Dakota Marker on Saturday, but the winning team will also win the Missouri Valley Conference and earn the automatic qualifying spot in the national tournament.
“I think our leadership council, our seniors, our upperclassmen will get our kids reminded real quickly. I don’t think there needs to be any added fuel from coach Entz or our coaching staff. We need to worry about our play,” Entz said.
“Our players know how big this game is. It’s the conference championship, it’s the Dakota Marker trophy, an automatic qualifier, it’s a higher seed, all those things for both of us. I think if one of the team wins handily, they have a chance to potentially be the number one seed in America,” Stiegelmeier said.
The Jacks and Bison will meet on Saturday in Fargo. Kick-off is set for 2:30 p.m.