South Dakota Preview: Coyotes Host #25 Montana
South Dakota will have to wait no further than week one of the 2019 season to find out if this year's team has what it takes to make a run at the FCS Playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons.
The Coyotes host number-25 Montana, Saturday (August 31), in USD's first season opener at the DakotaDome since 2013. Head coach Bob Nielson likes being at home to open the year:
USD is trying to bounce back from a 4-7 season in 2018, where they dropped five-of-six to end the year.
Staying healthy and finishing games will be two big keys for the Coyotes in 2019.
There were positives on the offensive side of the football where quarterback Austin Simmons, in his first year as a full-time starter, led the number-one passing attack in the Missouri Valley Conference (286 yards per game). Nielson says he's seeing a lot of growth from his quarterback:
There's no reason to believe that the Coyotes can't put up those kinds of numbers again through the air with preseason All-Conference standout Dakarai Allen back for his senior season after leading USD in catches, yards, and touchdowns in 2018. Juniors Levi Falck and Caleb Vander Esch both return giving USD three of its top four receivers back this season. The passing game will also benefit greatly from the return of redshirt sophomore Kody Case, who missed seven games last season due to injury. As a freshman, Case racked up more than 400 receiving yards.
Nielson says this group is the strength of the offense:
On the ground, the Coyotes need better production and durability.
USD's running attack with only the ninth-best in the MVFC last season (125 yards per game).
The Coyotes' top three running backs return, but they'll need to be healthier this season as neither Kai Henry, Ben Klett, nor Canaan Brooks played a complete schedule in 2018.
The ability to run the football will be a key to the Coyotes success in 2019:
The offensive line is a work in progress with starters Mason Scheidegger and Braden Schneider returning. Senior Michael Bianchi has seen some limited time in the past, but the remaining 14 linemen on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores.
Nielson is very high on some of the young talent at this position:
On defense, the Coyotes made a change after giving up better than 34 points per game and ranking eighth in the conference against the run, allowing better than 211 yards per game last season. New coordinator Travis Johansen arrives from Grand View University in Iowa where he made a name for himself by putting speedy and attacking defenses on the field.
Nielson says freedom in the new scheme is the key:
The strength of the defense is up front where All-American and All-Conference lineman Darin Greenfield anchors a line with a strong veteran presence with fellow seniors DeValon Whitcomb, Kameron Cline, and Luis Peguero, as well as junior Nick Kramer. That group combined for 11 sacks last season for a defensive unit that saw a number of players either severely limited of sidelined due to injuries.
At linebacker, there are 18 players on the roster but only one, junior Jack Cochrane, with a ton of experience. Juniors Jake Richardson and Jake Matthew, along with sophomore Jonathan Joanis are expected to make major impacts in 2019.
At defensive back, Mark Collins and Phillip Powell were both limited by injuries last season but when Collins was on the field he tied for the most passes defended in the nation. Cameron Tisdale is coming off an impressive freshman season which saw him get eight starts.
At safety, Elijah Reed and Jakari Starling are both back after appearing in nearly every game last season.
On special teams, the Coyotes return both placekicker Mason Lorber and punter Brady Schutt.
Montana, like USD, is trying to return to playoff form. The Grizzlies, out of the Big Sky Conference, haven't made it to the postseason since 2015 when they beat South Dakota State before losing to North Dakota State.
The Grizz started 2018 4-1 before losing four of six to end the year 6-5.
Quarterback Dalton Sneed is back for his second season after transferring to Missoula from UNLV. He led Montana in both rushing and passing in 2018.
He has three of his top four receivers back, including pre-season All-American Samuel Akem who caught 13 touchdowns a year ago.
Adam Eastwood is Montana's top running back with nine touchdowns and more than 500 yards on the ground last season.
The offensive line for the Grizz was a problem last season. They struggled in short-yardage situations and gave up 25 sacks. Two starters return from that group.
Nielson says Sneed is a difference-maker at quarterback:
Defensively, Montana has a pair of preseason All-Americans: linebacker Dante Olson and defensive back Robby Hauck. Olson led all of FCS in tackles last season (17 per game) while Hauck was second on the team with 95 tackles.
Defensive tackle Jesse Sims and linebacker Jace Lewis will also play big roles for this unit which was third against the run in 2018.
Nielson says trying to stop Olson will be a tall task for his offense:
Kickoff is 2:00 PM in Vermillion, Saturday.
In week two, the Coyotes travel to Oklahoma for a Saturday, September 7 game with the Sooners. Nielson says he likes the challenges the first weeks will offer his football team: