SDSU defense dominates early, offense emerges late in spring game
BROOKINGS—The featured storyline during South Dakota State University's spring football practices has been finding a replacement for record-setting quarterback Taryn Christion.
Mitchell alum Kanin Nelson dueled with newcomers J'Bore Gibbs, Matt Connors and Kurt Walding, but early on during Saturday's spring game at Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex, it was the defense that reigned supreme.
The defense held a 24-14 lead at halftime, but the offense was able to find a spark in the second half to come away with a 47-37 win.
"There were some big plays by our offense, which is disappointing to me. I'm a defensive guy," SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier quipped. "... I think the spring game was good and I was really excited about the flags that were thrown. Without officials, nobody calls a penalty and it makes us play the game the way it was meant to be played."
Despite the quarterback battle, the Jackrabbits focused on their rushing attack in the first half. SDSU has a stable of talented backs, led by Pierre Strong, Jr., who reeled off a 35-yard run in the first half to set up the first of two touchdown runs by Mikey Daniel. Blair Mulholland also added a rushing score in the second half.
In the second half, the offense opened up the passing attack. Nelson led the offense to a field goal on the first possession, but an injury suffered on a scramble in the first half forced him to miss the remainder of the game.
In his place, Gibbs threw for 148 yards and a touchdown, while Connors went 8 of 12 for 108 yards and a rushing touchdown and Walding—who started the game—completed five passes for 55 yards.
"You make your quarterback better if you ask him to do the things he can do," Stiegelmeier said. "Nothing against these four guys, but they're not to the level Taryn Christion was. So we spread the responsibility around a little bit. We, as coaches, give them the stuff they can handle and see how good a football team we can be."
The quarterback competition remained unresolved as spring ball concluded, meaning it will continue when fall practice commences. The coaching staff does hope a frontrunner will emerge early in practice, however.
"I think it's still pretty competitive. It'll be a big battle in the fall," Stiegelmeier said. "We always have a point in the fall—about two weeks in—where we say set the depth chart. Ideally you're able to do that earlier, especially at quarterback. You want your quarterback leading the first string offense as early as possible."
While the Jackrabbits employed a typical vanilla gameplan for the spring game, it was the first game action for new offensive coordinator Jason Eck and co-defensive coordinators Jimmy Rogers and Brian Bergstrom.
With the defense shining in the first half behind linebacker Kyle Tuttle's eight tackles and the offense exploding for 33 points in the second, Stiegelmeier was pleased with how his reshuffled coaching staff performed throughout the spring.
"I had the offense write down 10 things defenses do to them that they struggle with and I had the defense do the same," Stiegelmeier said. "Literally, we implemented some of that stuff to help us become a better team and become a better program."
Fall camp opens in late July, with opening day set for Aug. 29 at the University of Minnesota.