Jackrabbits QB Gronowski ready for different Fargodome feel in 2nd Dakota Marker start
SDSU sophomore quarterback Mark Gronowski had a 1-0 record as a starter against NDSU in the Dakota Marker game.
FARGO — South Dakota State sophomore Mark Gronowski has led a team to victory in the Fargodome against North Dakota State, but that success came under much different circumstances than he'll face this weekend.
Gronowski guided the Jackrabbits to a 27-17 victory against the Bison during the 2021 spring season before a limited crowd of 8,762 fans due to COVID-19. More than double that crowd size is anticipated at 2:30 p.m. Saturday when the rival Missouri Valley Football Conference programs play for the Dakota Marker at Gate City Bank Field.
“There was only half the crowd as there is going to be this (game),” Gronowski said. “I learned a lot from that game how tough of a team they are and they’re always going to fight back. We’ve just got to stay on our pedal the entire game and not let up ourselves.”
Gronowski had a game-changing performance in that spring Dakota Marker game, completing 10 of 14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 126 yards on 16 attempts.
After starting all 10 games as a true freshman and leading the Jackrabbits to the Division I FCS national championship game, Gronowski sat out last fall due to a knee injury.
“Physically, I actually even feel better than I did my freshman year,” said Gronowski, from Napervlle, Ill. "I feel faster, I feel stronger. It took a couple weeks to get that juice flowing and getting back into that rhythm as I did my freshman year.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Gronowski has completed 91 of 151 passes (59%) for 1,119 yards and 10 touchdowns through six games. The Jackrabbits' (5-1, 3-0 MVFC) only loss came to Big Ten Conference member Iowa in their season opener in early September. The Hawkeyes earned a 7-3 victory.
“That Iowa game was great for us in the sense that we’ve been in that situation,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said, referring to an expected raucous Fargodome atmosphere.
“We learned a lot from that (Iowa) game and the crowd there,” Gronowski added.
The Jackrabbits have scored at least 24 points in the five games since Iowa, all victories. They're coming off a 28-3 victory against in-state rival University of South Dakota last weekend.
“He looks like he’s throwing it and spinning it and has great command of what they’re doing offensively,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said.
Gronowski completed 12 of 20 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown with one interception against USD, and added 43 rushing yards on nine attempts.
“I think he’s had a good year,” Stiegelmeier said. “I don’t think he’s playing necessarily to the level he did when he was a true freshman, there are a lot of factors with that.”
Gronowski likes the chemistry he has with SDSU offensive coordinator Zach Lujan, who is in his first season in that role for the Jackrabbits. Lujan, a former Jackrabbits quarterback, is in his fifth season as an offensive assistant at SDSU.
“I feel good in the pocket, trust the linemen up front, it’s been good so far,” Gronowski said. “I think our offensive line has been playing really, really great so far this year. I really like how coach Lujan is calling the plays. I have a really good relationship with him.”
Gronowski said NDSU's defense plays a similar style as the SDSU defense and added that practicing against the stingy Jackrabbits unit has the team’s offense well prepared heading into the Dakota Marker showdown. SDSU has won the previous two meetings for the rivalry trophy.
“We can’t get overhyped," Gronowski said, "but since it is a rivalry game we do have to get a little more amped than normal because they’re going to play better than they normally do so we’ve got to play a little bit better than we normally do, as well."
Stiegelemeier said Gronowski's success against the Bison in the spring of 2021 can’t hurt, but added that was a unique circumstance due to how COVID-19 impacted that season.
“I think it always creates confidence when you’ve been there and done that and done it well,” Stiegelmeier said. “He had an impactful game in the spring. We don’t dwell on it much because it was a different environment, a different setting, a whole different feel really in terms of playing your season in the spring.”
Gronowski could get a key target back against the Bison if SDSU tight end Tucker Kraft returns. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Kraft has been sidelined since the Iowa game with a lower-leg injury. Stiegelmeier told WDAY-TV’s Dom Izzo this week that Kraft will warm up prior to the game and play if Kraft gives the thumbs up.
Gronowski would welcome the return of Kraft, who is a highly regarded NFL prospect.
“Tucker is a great player.” Gronowski said. “He’s a big playmaker for us.”