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Traxler: Strong-Davis rushing combo is unmatched in South Dakota State football lore

The backs have rushed for more than 3,800 yards since February.

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South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. carries the ball during a game Nov. 6, 2021 against North Dakota State at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Pierre Strong Jr. spoke it into being in the preseason.

After giving South Dakota State a sampling in the spring 2021 season, the senior running back discussed the dynamic of playing with Isaiah Davis. Plans called for Strong to be sharing a backfield with Davis, a similarly skilled sophomore rusher.

Lightning and thunder.

“I’m lightning,” the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Strong answered when asked which was his role.

There have certainly been games in which Davis, who is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, looked like lightning, too, or maybe they were both thunder. Either way, there haven’t been many defenses that have stopped the pair of Jackrabbit running backs.

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That’s even as Davis missed eight games due to a shoulder injury in September, and Strong is now banged up late in the season. (The Argus Leader reported that Strong was evaluated for a concussion after he departed the game at Villanova last week, and he’s questionable to play Saturday at Montana State.)

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South Dakota State's Isaiah Davis runs for a fourth quarter touchdown during the Division I FCS Championship football game at Toyota Stadium on Sunday, May 16, 2021 in Frisco, Texas. (Tim Heitman / USA Today Sports)
USA TODAY Sports

It’s a rushing combo unlike any other in SDSU football history. When running backs like Josh Ranek or Zach Zenner rushed for the Jacks, they didn’t do it with anyone as capable as Strong does with Davis, or vice versa. SDSU recognizes the value of having both backs, frequently running formations in the playoffs with both players on the field to make for difficult defensive decisions about who to key on.

“It’s hard trying to key in on one back. We just complement each other really well,” Strong said in August. “Ground and pound, pass game … We call it lighting and thunder. Outside runs, inside runs, all of it.”

When both have been healthy, a running back timeshare has been no problem for the Jacks and for the running backs involved. In the era of the transfer portal in college football, SDSU can be thankful for that.

Strong has rushed for 1,592 yards this season and 17 touchdowns, good for seven yards per carry. Since the start of the spring 2021 season in February, he’s rushed for 2,299 yards on 357 carries and 20 touchdowns.

Davis put himself into South Dakota State football lore forever with his national championship game effort in May against Sam Houston, logging 305 all-purpose yards and 178 rushing yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns, including a massive 85-yarder with 6 minutes to go in the fourth quarter that put SDSU ahead before the Bearkats final, rallying touchdown drive.

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For the calendar year, he has 1,506 yards and 17 touchdowns, rushing for 8.3 yards per carry. Of Davis’ seven career 100-yard games, five have come in the playoffs, all this calendar year.

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College recruiting is a funny thing. But Davis — the Gatorade player of the year in Missouri in 2019 with 2,283 yards and 45 touchdowns in his senior year against the largest schools in the state — ending up in Brookings and not on the roster of an FBS or FCS team closer to home is a heist. The same could be said for Strong, who hails from Little Rock, Arkansas. Chalk those up as additional items for which SDSU fans can be grateful.
All told, between the pair, 3,805 yards have been amassed by Strong and Davis for 37 touchdowns. They've accounted for 30 plays of 20 yards or more, including seven touchdowns. Behind a deeply experienced offensive line and good blocking tight ends, SDSU has rushed for 5,376 yards in 24 games in 2021 — just more than three miles — a number that’s at 5,561 yards with sack yardage taken out. (Quarterback sacks count against rushing yards in college football, where they do not in the NFL.)

Strong is a senior and the playoffs bring finality to seasons and careers no matter when it ends. He might have the NFL in his future.

For now, Jackrabbit history takes place every time either runner takes a handoff.

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South Dakota State running back Isaiah Davis carries the ball during an FCS playoff opening-round game against UC Davis Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Related Topics: FOOTBALLCOLLEGE FOOTBALL
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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