South Dakota State Offense Looks to Keep Good Times Rolling at Eastern Washington
If South Dakota State is going to keep pace with a high powered Eastern Washington offense Saturday in round two of the FCS Playoffs, the Jackrabbits are going to need to continue to run the ball with the same effectiveness they have the last two weeks - more than 600 combined yards on the ground against Youngstown State and Northern Arizona.
The running game, of course, falls squarely on the shoulders of junior running back Zach Zenner, who currently leads all FCS backs with 1,944 yards.
Zenner has been known to eat up chunks of yards on a single play, something he did in the playoff opener at Northern Arizona last Saturday, busting off an 87-yard scoring run. It was the type of play that had been missing from the Jacks arsenal since early October against Western Illinois.
The big play drought was due in part to Zenner being a bit banged up and as senior offensive lineman Bryan Witzmann told me, a missed block here and there:
With Zenner always a threat to go the distance, opposing defenses have had to key on stopping him, freeing up other runners, like Reggie Gandy to contribute.
Even quarterback Austin Sumner, never known for his speed, has benefited from distracted defenses, picking up more than 100 yards on the ground in the last two games:
When Sumner does throw the ball these days, he's getting better protection. The SDSU offensive line has allowed two of fewer sacks in four of the last five games - about half as many as the first half of the season.
When South Dakota State plays in Cheney, Washington Saturday afternoon in round two of the FCS Playoffs, the bright red turf at Roos Field will be a dead giveaway they're not in South Dakota anymore, but the weather will feel just like home.
Game time temperatures are expected to be in the teens - a full 20 degrees below normal for Eastern Washington in early December.
Witzmann is a big fan of that forecast:
The last time the SDSU offense faced lousy weather was in the regular season finale at
Youngstown State - a game the Jacks had to win to secure a post season spot. The conditions didn't slow down the running game that day as SDSU racked up 312 yards on the ground, en route to a 42-13 win.
That was one of five straight games now the Jacks have had to win to keep playing in 2013. That 'backs-against-the-wall' mentality will be nothing new for this team in Washington Saturday:
For the second straight year, the Jacks find themselves in virtually the same spot - on the road against a Top Five team in round two of the FCS Playoffs. But how this year's club arrived at this point is what's driving the confidence level of this team: