No. 3 South Dakota State visits Springfield this week for a historic matchup with fourth-ranked Missouri State in Saturday’s 2 p.m. game at Plaster Stadium.
To get to know the Jackrabbits ahead of the game, we shot a few questions to Matt Zimmer, who covers SDSU in Sioux Falls, the leader of the Argos.
Here’s what Zimmer had to say about Jax earlier in the year:
How do you see the perception of Missouri State changing among SDSU fans? The Jacks haven’t played the Bears since 2019.
Zimmer: It was 2015, the first year I covered high schools after several years of SDSU wins, and I vividly remember thinking that the Bears weren’t going to be competitive in the D2 league I was covering.
While Bobby Petrino brought some instant credibility when he took over, I think the fact that the Jacks haven’t played them yet and the strange nature of the spring season makes it hard to accept them as legitimate contenders.
MORE: Why No. 4 Missouri State’s football game against South Dakota State is already historic.
But what they did last fall certainly changed that perception, and there was a lot of buzz around Dana J. Dykehouse Stadium last Saturday as the Jacks’ next opponent, Arkansas, threatened to beat them.
South Dakota State’s defense has been great to start the year. Where could Petrino have a weakness that he could exploit?
Zimmer: The Jacks got beat in the second round. Both of their starting quarterbacks have missed games. A young group of cornerbacks has dealt with some injuries. And they were already entering the season replacing their best cornerback and best safety.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a weakness because they’ve held up pretty well so far, but they haven’t had that kind of offense. In particular, Jason Shelley is unlike any quarterback SDSU has ever faced. It will be interesting to see how the Jacks fare against a quarterback who can make plays outside of the pocket.
SDSU QB Mark Gronowski’s return from injury was the big story heading into the season. Does the Spring 2021 season look like the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year?
Zimmer: Not yet. The numbers were poor in the opener against Iowa, but he didn’t play badly with poor offensive line performance, numerous penalties and constant terrible field position. Chance.
He was better but still in a Week 2 win at Cal-Davis, and was significantly better last week against Butler. He threw for 279 yards, ran for 55 and had four total touchdowns in three quarters of work. It was against a team that didn’t have a scholarship, but he and the offense needed a game like this regardless of the opponent.
MORE: Back at Arkansas, Missouri State’s Bobby Petrino reminded the world of his coaching prowess.
He’s saying he feels 100% but he doesn’t always see it. I think he’s just knocking off the rust.
Local fans know Isaiah Davis because he went to Joplin and was not offered by the former Bears coaching staff. What makes it special?
Zimmer: Yeah, that’s not a good look for the (Dave) Steckel regime. If you watched the national championships this spring, you saw what Davis can do – he’s absolutely electric at times. He’s big and fast and packs a punch going downhill.
He had trouble getting into second base at first, which is a little concerning, but I’m impressed with his patience. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 78.7 yards per game without rushing more than 14 yards. It is bound to be resolved sooner rather than later.
Is SDSU’s offense still a concern? The first two weeks have been against good opponents, but does a good performance against Butler give you confidence going into the week?
Zimmer: No question. They lost tight end Tucker Kraft to a major injury early in the season, and new offensive coordinator Zach Lujan has clearly built a lot of offense around the upcoming NFL Draft pick. That, combined with Gronowski’s rustiness and the dominance of Iowa’s defense, gave the offense an unexpectedly rough start.
I’m not mad at Butler, but they did enough to restore their confidence and maybe get a sense of who they are offensively for the first time this year until Kraft returns (which isn’t expected until the end of the season).
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can reach him at 417-371-6987, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WyattWheeler_NL. He is the sports talk host on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6pm.