Colorado State Football: First Look at the South Dakota State Jackrabbits
The Rams will get tested at home right away by South Dakota State, 2020’s FCS national runners-up.
The Rams better be ready.
Colorado State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
Colorado State will have a big 2021 season on its hands and the challenges will begin right away when the Rams host the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on September 3.
It isn’t every day that a Mountain West team gets to host a national title contender, which could make this the toughest FCS assignment of any on the slate this fall.
Location: Brookings, South Dakota
Mascot: Jack the Jackrabbit
Conference: Missouri Valley
2020 Record: 8-2 (5-1 Missouri Valley)
Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier (25th year, 174-107 overall). Only three FCS head coaches have had a longer run at their current job than Stiegelmeier, but none of them can come close to boasting the kind of season that South Dakota State’s leader just had. The Jackrabbits came agonizingly close to claiming their first national title ever back in May, giving up the lead to Sam Houston State with 16 seconds left in the championship game, though it remains to be seen how the hangover and the quick turnaround to a regularly scheduled fall campaign will affect their chances to make another run.
On paper, South Dakota State looks like they should remain competitive. They can claim perhaps the best FCS quarterback in the country and a handful of potential All-Americans on both sides of the ball, which makes you wonder a little whether this is what Colorado State had in mind when they inked the deal to bring the Jackrabbits to Fort Collins.
QB Mark Gronowski
Claiming the freshman of the year, newcomer of the year, and offensive player of the year honors in the FCS’s toughest conference is definitely one way to introduce yourself to college football. That’s exactly what Gronowski did in his first year with the Jackrabbits, though, completing 57.4% of his passes for 8.3 yards per attempt and contributing 214.2 yards of total offense per game overall. On the season, he accounted for 22 total touchdowns but, lamentably, didn’t get a chance to finish the journey with his teammates because he got knocked out of the championship game with an injury on SDSU’s first drive.
Assuming he carries a clean bill of health into the fall, Gronowski should remain one of the most electric players anywhere in the country.
— SDSU Football (@GoJacksFB) May 8, 2021
RB Pierre Strong and Isaiah Davis
The dynamic duo proved to be the explosive heart of the Jackrabbits offense last year since both Strong and Davis providing a balance of power and speed to SDSU’s run-heavy attack. Strong, a junior, carried most of the rushing burden with a team-high 131 carries for 707 yards and three touchdowns, but Davis might have been the best freshman in the Missouri Valley not named Mark Gronowski by leading South Dakota State with 818 yards and ten scores on just 96 carries. They’ll provide a healthy challenge for Colorado State’s stout defensive front.
LB Logan Backhaus
You think the Jackrabbits are all about offense, but they also boasted one of the spring’s stingiest defenses thanks in part to the senior from Spirit Lake, Iowa. The abbreviated 2020-21 season marked his fourth full year as a starter and his first appearance on the all-Missouri Valley first team defense thanks to 72 total tackles, two sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss.
OL Garret Greenfield
Greenfield stepped into South Dakota State’s starting lineup for the first time in the spring and finished the season as one of just six sophomores on the Missouri Valley’s all-conference first team. And why not? After all, Greenfield helped power an offense that averaged over six yards per carry as a team and allowed just ten sacks in ten games.
To put it simply, the Jacks are stacked. Not only will Strong and Davis rejoin Gronowski in the backfield, South Dakota State also returns its top two wide receivers, twin brothers Jadon and Jaxon Janke, and top tight end Zach Heins, all of whom are sophomores in 2021. SDSU didn’t rely on its passing game more than was necessary, but that trio made their opportunities count with an average of 16.9 yards on their 65 combined catches. Colorado State may have an improved and seasoned defense, but SDSU won’t be shy about coming right at them.
In contrast to the young and talented offense, Backhaus, cornerback Don Gardner, and defensive linemen Caleb Sanders and Reece Winkelman give this unit some veteran seasoning. That quartet anchors a unit which allowed just 4.4 yards per play and 15 points per game in the spring.
That’s not to say this side of the ball doesn’t have its own up-and-comers, though. Redshirt freshman linebacker Adam Bock led South Dakota State in the spring with 74 tackles while sophomore safety Isaiah Stalbird had four passes defended and three tackles for loss.
Colorado State survives a scare and learns an important lesson about the perils of scheduling a very good FCS opponent.
Colorado State 24, South Dakota State 23