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Oct. 1—After last Saturday's 44-0 home loss to South Dakota State, ISU coach Curt Mallory said he would get the Sycamores back on track and that "we have seven games to go, then we're going to make the playoffs."
To do that, the Sycamores realistically have to win five of their seven remaining games to pull that off. There are games on the schedule that, on paper, are possible wins. There are others that are not as likely.
Then there are 50/50 games ISU has to have to realize playoff aspirations. One of those 50/50 games comes on Saturday as ISU visits South Dakota.
In the recent visits, either went against a stout South Dakota (in 2017, when they faced now-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Chris Streveler) or ISU had problems of its own (the 2019 visit came shortly after quarterback Ryan Boyle was injured).
This time both teams are 2-2 with 0-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference starts, and while South Dakota has played an arguably stronger schedule with wins over Northern Arizona and Cal Poly, the Sycamores feel that if they can realize potential they've been chasing throughout the season, they can be successful for the first time inside the DakotaDome.
Statistically, it would seem that the Sycamores have quite a bit of progress to make to realize that potential. ISU is struggling at or near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. The Sycamores are last in total offense in the MVFC at 239.8 yards per game. ISU ranks 10th in rushing and 8th in passing. Though there were signs ISU might be breaking out of its rut last week — Peterson Kerlegrand ran the ball effectively — the production isn't what it needs to be.
One change ISU will make it to have pass game coordinator Jeff Kastl call the plays. One change that will not be made is at the quarterback position.
Mallory said he intends to use the quarterback rotation of Anthony Thompson and Kurtis Wilderman again. However, Mallory also said Thompson has been taking the majority of the practice reps.
"We plan on using them both, but Anthony has had a good week and has taken the majority of the reps, but we plan on using both just like we have," Mallory said. "You always want to look at how the flow of the game goes. We thought there were times Anthony did some good things, running the ball and managing the offense. There were other things that stalled and it's not just the quarterback. We have to come together as a unit and be together.
ISU will not have wide receiver Dante Hendrix back. Wildcat quarterback and all-around offensive troublemaker Michael Haupert could be back, but he's questionable at best.
No matter who is on the field. ISU needs more balance according to one of their primary contributors.
"We have to be more balanced in the run and pass game. Our identity is to run, but we have to get the linebacker and safety out of the box by throwing the ball," ISU wide receiver Rontrez Morgan said.
South Dakota also ranks in the bottom half of the MVFC in most categories, however, their offensive output (402 yards) is much greater than the Sycamores' production has been.
The Coyotes have skill where it matters. Quaterback Carson Camp has been steady and mistake-free. Running back Travis Theis is consistent and wide receiver Carter Bell is a threat that has to be accounted for.
"We don't feel like we executed the best this past week. That stung a bit. We have to be locked into our keys and know we have to play all four quarters. We plan to do that this weekend," ISU cornerback J.J. Henderson said.
USD's defense has been good, conceding just 17.2 points per game. The Coyotes lead the MVFC in total sacks with 13, spread out among 11 different Coyotes.
History hasn't been kind to the Sycamores on their trips to USD's Vermillion, S.D. campus. ISU lost there in 2013, 2017 and 2019. The 2013 game was a three-point defeat, but the last two visits were nightmarish as the Sycamores lost by 50 and 38 points, respectively. ISU will try something different on this trip. They went to the Dome from their Sioux City, Iowa team hotel on Friday to get a feel for the venue. Every dome is different with unique lightning, and in the DakotaDome's case, very springy turf.
"The challenge is for every coach and every player to get the job done up there. We haven't done it and it's a big challenge for everyone in this program," Mallory said. "One thing we're doing different is go over to the stadium, walk around, have a bit of time to do that. We've never done in that in any Dome we've played. I want them to get the feel for what the field is like, what the lights are like. It's a fun place to play, it just hasn't been fun for us."
Time — 3 p.m. Saturday.
Place — DakotaDome, Vermillion, S.D.
Webstream — ESPN3.
Radio — WZJK-FM 105.5.
Series — USD leads 4-2.
Last game — ISU lost to South Dakota State 44-0 and South Dakota lost 31-23 to Missouri State on Sept. 25.
Last meeting — USD won 38-0 in 2019.
Next — ISU hosts Western Illinois and USD hosts North Dakota on Oct. 9.