Daily Egyptian

Saluki football notebook: Scouting the South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Salukis+celebrate+a+touchdown+by+junior+running+back+Cameron+Walter+%2822%29+during+SIU%27s+50-17+win+against+Murray+State+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+17%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Anna+Spoerre+%7C+%40annaspoerre%29
Salukis celebrate a touchdown by junior running back Cameron Walter (22) during SIU's 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Salukis celebrate a touchdown by junior running back Cameron Walter (22) during SIU's 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Salukis celebrate a touchdown by junior running back Cameron Walter (22) during SIU's 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

By Sean Carley

SIU football suffered its worst loss of the season last Saturday against Northern Iowa, 42-21.

The team will try to rebound when the No. 12 South Dakota State Jackrabbits come to Carbondale this Saturday.

SDSU will come in with a 2-2 record, winning its conference opener with a resounding 52-14 victory against then-No. 8 Western Illinois.

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The Jackrabbits may be the most similar team to SIU in all of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, with a stellar offense and suspect defense.

South Dakota State is averaging a staggering 45 points per game, fourth most in the Football Championship Subdivision. SIU now stands at 32.8 points per game.

However, the Dawgs have outgained SDSU on offense — averaging 467 yards per game to 433.8 for the Jackrabbits.

SDSU is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Taryn Christion, who has amassed 1,170 total yards through the air with 15 touchdowns.

Continuing the similarity, SIU quarterback Josh Straughan has thrown for 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan prepares to throw the ball during the first half of SIU's 30-22 win against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan prepares to throw the ball during the first half of SIU’s 30-22 win against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Even the two teams’ backfields are similar, using two feature backs with two other specialty backs.

South Dakota State’s two main running backs — junior Brady Mengarelli and sophomore Issac Wallace — have combined for 388 yards on the ground this season. SIU’s sophomore Daquan Isom and senior Aaron Stanton have combined for 376.

The biggest difference lies in the two teams ability to hold onto the football. SIU has committed six turnovers this season to SDSU’s two.

The Jackrabbits’ biggest weakness is their defense, but even that unit has shown signs of improvement.

Entering last week’s game, SDSU had allowed 524.3 yards per game, 14th-worst in the FCS. SIU’s defense is better at limiting yardage, currently allowing 391 per game.

Sophomore safety Jefferson Vea (24) and junior inside linebacker Markese Jackson (13) lunge for the ball during SIU's 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Sophomore safety Jefferson Vea (24) and junior inside linebacker Markese Jackson (13) lunge for the ball during SIU’s 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

South Dakota State’s defense easily had its best game of the season against Western Illinois, holding the Leathernecks to 342 yards. They only allowed 190 yards total after the first quarter.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Christian Rozeboom has made his mark on the Jackrabbit defense, tying the team-high in tackles (34), sacks (1.5) and interceptions (1).

Overall, the Jackrabbits do not put much pressure on opposing offense. They rank in the bottom 25 of the FCS in sacks (4) and last in tackles for loss (11).

Their lack of pressure gets recovered in the secondary as SDSU has intercepted the ball seven times this season. By comparison, SIU has just three, which all came in the win against Murray State.

One major strength South Dakota State has against SIU comes from its organization and discipline.

SDSU has committed 18 penalties all season, sixth-fewest in the FCS. SIU committed 17 against Northern Iowa alone.

Fans can expect a high-octane shootout in Saluki Stadium on Saturday, but the game will likely be decided by which defense can limit mistakes and stay composed.

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SCarleyDE.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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