On Saturday, Villanova will host South Dakota State in Villanova’s first quarterfinal appearance since 2014. For most Villanova students and fans, this is a big game, but for me, the only South Dakotan on campus, the feeling is a lot different.
The first question a professor on campus asked me when I walked into class and told him I was from South Dakota was, “Are you a Coyote or a Jackrabbit?” When you grow up in South Dakota, you choose between two D1 programs, University of South Dakota, or South Dakota State. Both have their histories, but South Dakota State’s is a lot deeper. I chose South Dakota State, mainly because of the Nate Wolters basketball years, but that football team always looked good. Unfortunately, for SDSU, they have to play FCS dynasty North Dakota State every year, but the Jackrabbits have always had incredible players, including current Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert and the greatest kicker of all time, Adam Vinatieri.
I got to see all these players play weekly on television, so the minute the playoff bracket came out, I saw this potential matchup and got incredibly excited. Being a South Dakotan has always given me something to talk about with people, and seeing the school I grew up supporting come to Villanova, a place I call my second home, and play here means so much because I’ll get to show everyone what South Dakota is all about. I want SDSU to play well because it is my home and I get to show everyone a piece of me, although I will be cheering proudly for ‘Nova.
This year’s SDSU team is different. The Jackrabbits are coming off of the COVID-19 year where they made it to the championship in the Spring season and were probably the best team in the FCS before getting upset by Sam Houston State in that championship game. This season, they beat North Dakota State, a feat that has only occurred four times in the past 11 years. However, they have had some bad losses. They lost to Southern Illinois by one in a high scoring affair. They got blown out by Northern Iowa, a now 6-6 team, and they lost on an incredible Hail Mary to those Coyotes of USD. However, since then, they’ve torn through the playoffs, knocking off UC Davis by 32 and #4 Sacramento State by five. They roll into Villanova with a good chance of being favored, even though they are technically unranked.
Statistically, South Dakota State is good in both phases of offense, but boasts the number one running back in the FCS, as Pierre Strong Jr. leads the FCS in rushing yards and is second in rushing touchdowns. He will most likely be on an NFL roster next year and is a beast with a 7.06 yards per carry average. It also has a top 20 QB in Chris Oladokun, who had 2697 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.
Its defense is full of ballhawks. It leads the FCS in turnover margin and interceptions. Its offense has turned the ball over nine times all year, while its defense has recorded 20 interceptions.
South Dakota State is my hometown team, and while I don’t know any guys on the team personally, I watched a lot of them in high school, since a lot of players played at rival high schools of mine. I have watched a lot of these players since high school and know that they are going to be tough to beat.
I do believe Villanova has the better overall defense, as the Wildcats are top five in total defense and have locked down offenses recently. Led by captain Forrest Rhyne, who had 21 tackles against Holy Cross and is top five in the FCS in total tackles, Villanova should be able to keep SDSU in check on offense. However, Villanova’s offense has not been the same this year. The vaunted run game has not been where fans want it to be, and graduate quarterback Daniel Smith isn’t having his best year. Villanova is ranked 45th in the FCS in total offense. South Dakota State has been allowing 105 rush yards per game, so Villanova might be able to get that run game going, but throwing will be difficult considering SDSU’s penchant for picking quarterbacks off.
This game will be a run heavy attack with a lot of defense. Expect it to be low scoring, with very few passing yards allowed by either team. The matchup of my hometown team and my college team will be one we will remember for a long time.
The winner of this game will face the winner of #1 Sam Houston State and #8 Montana State.