Youngstown State, South Dakota State play for first place in the MVFC
After celebrating the first win over a No. 1 ranked team in school history, South Dakota State is having to quickly refocus ahead of another showdown against an undefeated Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent.
Jackrabbits quarterback Taryn Christion leads one of the nation's top offensive squads into Saturday's matchup against defensive end Derek Rivers and a Youngstown State team that ranks as one of the best defenses in FCS.
No. 7 South Dakota State (4-2, 3-0) came away with an emotional 19-17 victory at North Dakota State last Saturday when Christion hit Jake Wieneke on a 2-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-1 with one second remaining to end the Bison's 14-game winning streak.
Christion was named STATS Offensive Player of the Week and added to the Offensive Player of the Year Watch List after leading the Jackrabbits back after they had trailed 17-3 on the road in the second half. The sophomore, who averages a league-best 323.2 passing yards per game, threw for 303 and two touchdowns while also rushing for 141 on 20 carries.
"(Christion) is a beast, man. He's young. He's somebody that we need to watch out for in the future," Rivers said. "They have weapons to surround their quarterback and we just have to go out there as a defense and play ball."
SDSU, which ranks eighth in the FCS with 40.7 points per game and 12th with 471.7 total yards per game, also has two of the country's top pass catchers in Wieneke and Dallas Goedert. Wieneke leads the MVFC with 11 receiving touchdowns and is third with 703 yards, while tight end Goedert is second with nine TDs and 711 yards.
The Jackrabbits, however, now face a defense that ranks third in FCS with 15 points allowed per game and fifth in total defense with 271.2 yards given up per contest with sole possession of first place on the line in SDSU's 103rd Hobo Day game.
The 13th-ranked Penguins (5-1, 3-0) have tormented opposing quarterbacks with 22 sacks over a four-game winning streak. Rivers, the program's all-time sack leader, is second in the conference with eight, while fellow end Avery Moss has six.
"Youngstown plays great defense and you knew they were going to do that eventually with coach (Bo) Pelini," Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier said. "They're very fast. Their ends are really good - they're both FBS-type players and so we need to be ready. But we're playing at our place with our crowd and it's going to be a great environment."
Youngstown State ranks third in the nation in average time of possession and controlling the football figures to be the game plan again Saturday as it tries to keep the Jackrabbits' prolific offense off the field. Martin Ruiz led the way with 100 of the team's 226 rushing yards in last weekend's 14-10 home victory over then-No. 21 Northern Iowa.
SDSU is giving up a league-high 456.5 total yards per game, and it has been particularly vulnerable against the run. The Jackrabbits are allowing an average of 198.5 rushing yards, though they did hold the Bison to just one second-half touchdown.
Freshman linebacker Christian Rozeboom, who has earned two of the last three MVFC newcomer of the week awards, has racked up 42 tackles in the past three weeks after finishing with 12 and a big sack late against North Dakota State.
The Jackrabbits have won seven of the last eight meetings, including a 38-8 rout in Ohio last October. Christion was 8 of 14 passing for 122 yards and a touchdown while also running for 75 yards and a score in that contest.
"(That blowout) hasn't left my mind," Rivers admitted. "I know it hasn't left the coaches' minds and my teammates' minds. That's in the past. This is a new year and a new team."