BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — It never felt like South Dakota State was going to lose Saturday afternoon against Southern Illinois until the final play in overtime sealed their fate. From individual performances, moments throughout the game, to decisions that were made, here are 9 thoughts on the 42-41 home loss as KELOLAND’s Tanner Castora saw it from the sidelines of Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
1. Overall Feel – The offensive line was dominating. In the early stages of the 2nd quarter SDSU led 17-0 with the ball on the SIU 1-yard line, it felt like the game would be over by halftime. Instead, by the end of the first 30 minutes, the Salukis trailed by just 6. They hung around in the second half, but after Pierre Strong Jr’s 85-yard house call at the 10:18 mark of the 4th, the game again felt well in hand for the Jackrabbits. But the Salukis would answer with a quick strike 63-yard touchdown run of their own.
SDSU led 35-28 with 4 minutes left to play in regulation.
Even with the two Oladokun turnovers inside the SIU 25, the missed field goal in the first half and the 7 penalties the Jacks were flagged for; they were a 37-yard field goal away from going on top by 2 scores and essentially putting the game on ice with 3:36 left to play. The kick was blocked. From there the Salukis made play after play, converting two 4th down conversions en route to a game-tying touchdown with 34 seconds remaining and then found a way to get the game into overtime outlasting the Jacks by a single point.
SDSU was the bigger team, they felt like the better team, but they squandered scoring opportunities, made mistakes and the Salukis took full advantage of them and played a heck of a second half to earn what is probably the best win in the FCS this season.
Moments and Decisions
2. Two opportunities inside the 10, two read options, 0 touchdowns – Already leading 7-0, the Jacks second drive of the game began 99 yards away from the endzone at the Southern Illinois one-yard line. They would make their way 90 plus yards across the field with ease. But on 3rd & 1 from the SIU seven-yard line, Oladokun and Strong Jr appeared to have a miscommunication, Oladokun kept it himself, and while extending the ball to reach the mark needed to move the sticks, lost the football.
Three drives later, the Jacks led 17-0. They were once again inside the redzone and were a yard away from taking a 23-0 lead. On 3rd down, they again ran a read option. The Salukis collapsed on Strong, forcing Oladokun to keep it. He was dragged down for a 4-yard loss. The drive resulted in a field goal.
The two read options on two different 3rd & 1’s didn’t work. They weren’t bad calls. Giving the ball to Strong Jr. is never a bad choice; Oladokun is more than capable of picking up first downs with his feet. But moving forward in short-yardage situations, maybe the Jacks could implement a “beef package” if you will. Put Oladokun under center, bring a strong, physical guy like an Xavier Ward in to play fullback for a play and hand the ball to your playmaker Pierre Strong Jr. moving in a straight line with a head of steam and let him go get you a yard.
3. 97 yards of chaos – SIU was facing a 4th and 4. The Salukis would kick and make a FG. But after Thomas Stacker lined up illegally in the gap over the snapper, lllegal formation on the defense was called. SIU could have declined the penalty, allowing the field goal to stand, cutting into the SDSU lead to make it a 20-17 game. But they chose to be aggressive, accepted the penalty, setting up a 4th and 2.
SIU sophomore running back Javon Williams took a handoff moving right, looked as if he was going to throw it back left to his quarterback Nic Baker who was covered so he smartly chose to tuck the ball and take off. After avoiding a few defenders, he took aim at the goal line, and as he was going airborne, SDSU junior cornerback Dyshawn Gales undercut him. Williams went full extension and as he came inches from a touchdown, Ryan Van Marel delivered a stone-cold right shoulder popping the ball free. SDSU senior cornerback Malik Lofton was right there for the scoop and score taking it back 97 yards the other way in what was one of the most exciting plays you will ever witness.
4. The SIU game-tying drive without Logan Backhaus – At the 4:22 mark in the 1st quarter, as Adam Bock was making a tackle, SDSU senior linebacker Logan Backhaus was right there trying to get off a block. As the tackle was unfolding, a few players seemed to awkwardly roll up on Backhaus’s leg. A play later, Backhaus was backpedaling, went to plant his foot to make a cut up the field and immediately pulled up and began hobbling. He would not return. Word on his status moving forward is still unknown at this time.
After the Jackrabbits missed a 37-yard field goal late in the 4th, the Salukis would take over with 3 minutes and change left to tie the score at 35. With 3:02 remaining, SIU would face a 4th and 6. The Jacks had the perfect play call dialing up a blitz. The seas parted as sophomore linebacker Graham Spaulding took direct aim at Nic Baker. Baker would sidestep the would-be tackler and scamper for a first down to extend the drive.
Graham Spaulding is a good, young football player who moves well and plays with a mean streak and is certainly capable of making that play. But he didn’t. If Backhaus was healthy, you would have to imagine that would have been him in that position with a chance to end the game. Would the preseason Buck Buchanan award candidate have made the tackle? Maybe, but we’ll never know. Regardless, this is a good example of how the injuries SDSU has been suffering to some of their best players is possibly starting to catch up to them.
5. The two-point conversion in overtime – I’m sure some people liked the call and I’m sure some didn’t. I was surprised by it, I thought they would kick the PAT and play on, but they chose to go for it. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong call in that situation. The coaching staff clearly saw their defense having trouble stopping the Salukis offensive attack, SIU seemingly had all the momentum, so they took a roll of the dice. In just his 5th game as a Jackrabbit, in a game that saw him commit three turnovers, it said a lot to me that the coaching staff had the trust and faith to put the ball into the hands of Oladokun on that last play.
6. The Southern Illinois offense – SIU’s starting QB Nic Baker is 5’9″ 194 pounds and he was probably the best player on the field Saturday. Of the countless phenomenal plays he made, none were more impressive than the 4th & 11 he would convert on the game-tying drive. He would finish 359 yards passing and 4 touchdowns while adding 46 more yards on the ground as well. As good as he was, his wide receivers would almost as impressive. The one-handed game-tying touchdown catch by Landon Lenior is as good of a catch as you’ll see this season. They were fantastic and played their best ball when it mattered most.
7. Chris Oladokun – His first bump in the road as a Jackrabbit. While he did suffer his first loss while at SDSU and did commit his first turnover, he also completed 23 passes and threw for 358 yards; both season highs.
His first turnover would come on SDSU’s second drive of the game. Was his knee or elbow down before the ball came free? It was too hard to tell from my vantage point on the field and watching the replay on the television broadcast didn’t help either.
His second turnover, an interception, came in the second quarter. He appeared to be looking for Strong Jr. Whether it was a miscommunication between the two seniors, or a misread of the defense, as Oladokun was running off the field to the sideline, SDSU Quarterbacks coach Zach Lujan greeted him while tapping his own chest possibly taking blame for the mishap, for what it’s worth.
His second interception would come at the 10:15 mark in the 3rd quarter. While rolling to his right, he threw across his body trying to fit the ball in-between several defenders to Jadon Janke. It ended up in the hands of the Salukis. It was a bit of a gamble and maybe wasn’t the best of decisions, but that comes with a quarterback who has standout arm talent; and he does.
There’s no better evidence of this than the throw he made on the move, without setting his feet, 52-yards down the field to Jadon Janke in the first quarter. Does he have to clean it up a bit, sure. But with a whip of a right arm and a gunslinger mentality that we haven’t seen a ton of yet because he just hasn’t had to with the way the first 4 contests had gone, he’s a quarterback who’s going to take some chances, and that’s a good thing. I’m very intrigued to see how he bounces back next week against Western Illinois.
8. Tucker Kraft – The tight end group at SDSU is deep. The 6’7″ junior, Zach Heinz, is a really good player in his own right. But Tucker Kraft is a different animal. Pound for pound, I’m not sure SDSU will face a team this season with a better athlete on the field than Kraft. At 6’5″ 255, it’s pretty remarkable to watch how well he runs and how fluid of an athlete he is. You match that with great eye-hand coordination and you’re looking at a special talent with a very, very high ceiling. He would finish with 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. The Timber Lake, South Dakota product is only a sophomore and is only going to get better.
9. Pierre Strong Jr. – The SDSU offensive line is one of the best in the country and can make almost any running back look good. But one of the marks of a good running back is what you do when your blocking breaks down. In the 4th quarter, he took what was a 2-yard loss and turned it into an 85-yard touchdown sprint almost single-handedly. He ran for 168 yards and 2 TDs, caught 4 passes for 51 yards and also added a 19-yard TD toss to Jadon Janke.
His burst in and out of cuts is uncanny. As excellent as his body of work at South Dakota State will be when his career is all said and done, his testing numbers at his pro-day workout will have a significant impact on how NFL teams will view him as a prospect. But that’s months down the road. He still has several more games dawning the yellow and blue and if you still haven’t been to Brookings to see him run the ball in person, you should.
SDSU will travel to Macomb, Illinois this Saturday to take on Western Illinois.