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Zenner key for Jacks in upcoming NDSU rivalry game


Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. — South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier said his offense has the potential to be one of the best in his 17 years at the school. And if you need any witnesses, there were 90,614 of them last Saturday.

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That’s how many Nebraska fans watched Zach Zenner run for more than 200 yards in the first half alone. The final score didn’t work out so well for the Jackrabbits, who lost 59-20. Despite being shut down in the second half, Zenner finished with 202 yards to increase his FCS rushing lead to 185.5 yards per game.

“Watching him against Nebraska, he’s running away from Big Ten secondary guys,” said NDSU defensive end Mike Hardie, “so he’s gotten even better and faster. It’s going to be another tough, tough job to stop him.”

The Bison did it twice last year, holding Zenner to 43 and 46 yards, respectively. The first resulted in a 20-17 regular-season victory; the second a 28-3 win in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

“I can’t see him getting 185 yards and us winning,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “We need to do a better job than 185 yards.”

The SDSU offense, however, has been more than a one-man running back show. Quarterback Austin Sumner, who was hobbled with a hand injury last year, has already thrown for 908 yards this season. Just a junior, he needs just 291 yards to pass Ryan Berry to become the school’s all-time leading passer.

This year’s aerial production has come despite the loss of the top two receivers from a year ago. Junior Jason Schneider, who had 19 receptions last season, already has 23 for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

But the key to this offense having the potential to be one of Stiegelmeier’s best is the offensive line, he said. The unit consists of three seniors, a junior and a redshirt freshman.

“We have a lot of maturity in the offensive line, which is huge in the game of football,” Stiegelmeier said. “Our fat guys are doing a good job up front, and it starts there.”

And so far this year, it’s ended with Zenner weaving his way through an opposing team’s secondary.

“He’s a great player, and if we don’t do our job, he’ll gash us and have a great game,” said senior NDSU defensive tackle Leevon Perry. “This is our fourth year now, so we know how they play. It’s going to be a hard game. It’s never been an easy game.”