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South Dakota State at Missouri: Perusing the Jackrabbits' depth chart

Running back Zach Zenner and an active secondary could allow South Dakota State to stay close to Missouri for a while, but Mizzou's advantages in the trenches should allow the Tigers to pull ahead and win comfortably.


Well, we know what Missouri's depth chart looks like heading into Saturday's season opener against South Dakota State. Now let's take a look at South Dakota State's.

Coaching Staff

Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier
Offensive Coordinator: Eric Eldsness
Defensive Coordinator: Clint Brown

John Stiegelmeier has had a tough job, basically standing in the shadow of the giant that Craig Bohl built at North Dakota State. But the SDSU program Stiegelmeier has built has grown proud and consistent in its own right through the years.

Steiegelmeier took over as the Jackrabbits' head coach in 1997 after six seasons as SDSU defensive coordinator. It was a slow go at first -- he went 10-11 in his first two years and 29-25 in his first five; since then, however, SDSU has been rather consistently solid. They're 82-56 since 2002, with 10 winning seasons in 12 years in that span. They're 18-9 in the last two years, and they finished 13th in the FCS polls last year, hanging with Nebraska for a while (it was 21-17 NU midway through the second quarter before the Huskers pulled away to win, 59-20) and reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs for the second year in a row.

Eric Eidsness has been Stiegelmeier's offensive coordinator since 2011 after a stint as Southwest Minnesota State's head coach (before which he was also a Stiegelmeier assistant). He called a pretty balanced attack last year -- SDSU attempted 492 non-sack rushes and 460 passes (including sacks).

Defensive coordinator Clint Brown is a Nebraska grad who evidently enjoys living in wide-open country. He spent time as an assistant at New Mexico State and Bethel College (in Kansas) early in his career, and he was the defensive coordinator at Wayne State (in Nebraska) for four years. He showed up as co-coordinator at SDSU in 2009 and became sole coordinator in 2012. His 2013 defense was aggressive and opportunistic, logging 82 tackles for loss, forcing 14 fumbles, and reeling in 22 interceptions.


Austin Sumner (6'5, 235, Sr.) (2,999 yards, 59% completion rate, 19 TD, 8 INT, 10% sack rate)
Zach Lujan (6'2, 195, So.)
Tyler Finnes (6'4, 200, Jr.)

SDSU's quarterbacks reside from South Dakota, Alaska, and Minnesota, respectively. They lack for prototypical locations, but they certainly look the part. Austin Sumner is a three-year starter who passes the eyeball test at 6'5, 235. He's a pocket passer -- not including sacks, he only rushed about three times per game last year -- and he's perhaps a little too composed, taking about twice as many sacks as a passer normally should. But if you don't get pressure on him, he can get the ball downfield a bit. Mizzou, however, will certainly look to make his life miserable in the pocket.

Zach Zenner (6'0, 220, Sr.) (2,015 yards, 5.7 per carry, 23 TD; 21 catches for 251 yards, 2 TD)
Reggie Gandy (5'9, 195, Jr.) (297 yards, 5.0 per carry, 2 TD; 10 catches for 61 yards, 1 TD)
Brady Mengarelli (5'10, 190, RSFr.)

Zach Zenner is the star. A Payton Award front-runner (the FCS' Heisman) and preseason All-American, Zenner has rushed for 4,059 yards and 36 touchdowns in the last two seasons. He'll also catch a couple of dump-offs per game out of the backfield. He averaged 25 carries and 1.5 catches per game last year; that's a lot of touches, but he's got the build to withstand the beating. And because he's so durable, we don't really know much about his backups.

Zenner has thrived on FBS stages: against Kansas in 2012, he rushed for 183 yards on 23 carries, ripping off a 99-yard score in the first quarter. And against Nebraska last year, he carried 21 times for 202 yards and scored on a 40-yarder early. He's built like a mule, but he's got nice speed in the open field.

Jason Schneider (6'5, 225, Sr.) (78 catches for 1,088 yards, 10 TD)
Brandon Andrews (6'0, 190, Jr.) (4 catches for 35 yards, 1 TD)
Connor Landberg (6'3, 195, So.) (1 catch for 16 yards)

Trevor Wesley (5'11, 175, Jr.) (15 catches for 176 yards)
Matt Raymond (5'9, 175, Jr.) (1 catch for 16 yards)

Jake Wieneke (6'4, 205, RSFr.)
Larves Jones (6'4, 215, Jr.) (2 catches for 12 yards)
Dom Wright (6'1, 180, Sr.) (1 catch for 17 yards)

Cam Jones (6'5, 250, Jr.) (18 catches for 315 yards, 1 TD)
Mitch Vejvoda (6'4, 250, So.) (2 catches for 18 yards)

Stop Zenner, and you stop SDSU. While Mizzou's secondary is young, it's not really less seasoned than SDSU's receiving corps. Leading receiver John Schneider returns and provides a unique threat at 6'5, 225. We'll find out if the experience of guarding Mizzou's huge trio of starting 2013 receivers in practice pays off for Aarion Penton, John Gibson, and the MU corners. But beyond Schneider, the other seven wideouts listed above combined for 24 catches and 272 yards last year. Tight end Cam Jones is a potential play-action threat if Zenner gets rolling.

Bryce Siverling (6'3, 285, Jr.)
Nick Carr (6'8, 310, So.)

Dylan Seiter (6'3, 275, Jr.)
Andrew Mueller (6'4, 295, Sr.)

Jacob Ohnesorge (6'3, 275, RSFr.)
Travis Zimmerman (6'4, 275, Jr.)

Nick Purcell (6'3, 295, Sr.)
Taylor Bloom (6'4, 295, Jr.)

Trevor Greger (6'5, 315, Sr.)
Ryan Ode (6'6, 290, Sr.)

As Jack mentioned in Wednesday's Anthrascience, the line is a potential source of weakness for SDSU. That's a very good thing considering the high expectations we have for the MU defensive line. Right tackle Trevor Greger is a two-year starter, but he's the only returning starter on the two-deep after SDSU lost three to graduation and one to injury. The Jackrabbits don't lack severely in size -- they're not big by FBS standards by any means, but they do still average 6'3, 289 across the starting lineup, with 6'8, 310 Nick Carr coming off the bench -- and they still have two juniors and two seniors on the first string. They're not exactly starting five freshmen. Still, this is probably the greenest unit on the SDSU offense, and it's going against the most proven unit on the MU defense.

(Backup LG Andrew Mueller, by the way, is a Raymore-Peculiar grad. In all, SDSU has six Missourians on the team, including starting DT Auston LaBlance, from Kansas City University Academy, and DBs/Rock Bridge products Freeman Simmons and Mark Pickerel.)


Jack Sherlock (6'4, 250, Sr.) (14.0 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF)
Kevin Klocek (6'3, 230, Sr.) (4.5 tackles)

Cole Langer (6'2, 295, So.) (25.0 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 2 QB hurries)
Shayne Gottlob (6'5, 270, So.)

Auston LaBlance (6'3, 260, Sr.) (21.0 tackles, 1 QB hurry)
Kellen Soulek (6'5, 305, RSFr.)

J.R. Plote (6'3, 245, Jr.) (6.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU)
Landon Schultz (6'2, 250, Jr.)

Not including sacks, SDSU allowed 5.0 yards per carry last season -- neither great nor terrible. They have to replace some play-makers in the front seven, however. Three line regulars return in Cole Langer, Auston LaBlance, and Jack Sherlock, but of the three, only Sherlock showed a ton of disruptive potential. Meanwhile, of the eight players listed above, only two are bigger than 270 pounds, and one of those (backup NT Kellen Soulek) is a redshirt freshman. If Mizzou's run blocking is what we expect it to be in 2014, Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy, etc., should have room to run.

Dallas Brown (5'11, 190, So.) (22.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
Drew Kreutzfeldt (5'11, 195, Jr.) (3.0 tackles)

T.J. Lally (6'0, 220, Jr.) (69.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 QB hurry)
Tom Peitz (6'0, 225, So.) (15.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU)

Jesse Bobbit (6'2, 215, So.) (4.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
Patrick Schuster (6'1, 230, Jr.) (4.0 tackles)

T.J. Lally is a keeper at the MIKE position, with solid disruptive stats and a quarterback-of-the-defense role. Meanwhile, Dallas Brown showed major potential in pass coverage last fall (he better show potential in pass coverage as a 195-pound linebacker). Brown is probably the most important player here -- with his size and stats, I assume he plays the role of SDSU's nickel back, and he could contribute to what is a pretty active, interesting pass defense.

Jimmie Forsythe (5'10, 185, Jr.) (28.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
Trey Carr (5'11, 185, Fr.)

Je Ryan Butler (5'11, 180, Jr.) (25.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 INT, 6 PBU)
Freeman Simmons (5'9, 180, RSFr.)

Melvin Taveras (5'11, 185, Sr.) (30.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU)
Nick Mears (5'11, 195, So.) (19.0 tackles)

Jake Gentile (6'1, 205, Sr.) (31.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU)
Nick Mears (5'11, 195, So.) (19.0 tackles)

The SDSU secondary, and Je Ryan Butler in particular, should provide an interesting litmus test for Mizzou's offense. SDSU made quite a few plays on the ball last season -- Butler had four INTs and six break-ups -- but also allowed 13.0 yards per completion. The Jackrabbits had all-or-nothing tendencies last year, and how much "all" and "nothing" they get in this game might tell us quite a bit about how the MU receiving corps will fare over the next 11 games.

Justin Syrovatka (5'9, 200, Sr.) (49-50 PAT, 9-16 FG under 40, 3-4 FG over 40)

Ethan Sawyer (6'2, 205, Sr.) (67 punts, 40.3 average, 23 fair caught, 5.8 average return)

Trevor Wesley (5'11, 175, Jr.) (5 returns, 17.2 average)
Je Ryan Butler (5'11, 180, Jr.)

Je Ryan Butler (5'11, 180, Jr.) (21 returns, 11.8 average, 1 TD)

If special teams plays a role in this game's outcome, that might not be a great thing for Mizzou. Butler is a hell of a punt returner, Justin Syrovatka is a hell of a place-kicker, and you could do worse than Ethan Sawyer at punter. Granted, Mizzou's got some potential strengths of its own here, but SDSU's special teams unit is a strength.


SDSU is, quite simply, a good FCS team. We saw plenty of good FCS teams faring well against FBS teams early last season, and SDSU is certainly experienced enough to hang around for a little while. As Jack put it yesterday, if this game is tight midway through the second quarter, it wouldn't really be a surprise. Zach Zenner will have at least a couple of big runs, and the secondary could stifle Mizzou's receiving corps for a bit. But I see pretty big advantages for both Mizzou lines, and the Tiger running game should produce more big plays than Zenner does. The F/+ projections, which are almost intentionally conservative in favor of FCS teams in Week 1, say this should be about a 36-16 Mizzou win. I'll stretch that out a bit and say I see something in the 41-13 range.