Following two close losses, the University of South Dakota football team finished its season with a disappointing 31-8 loss to in-state rival South Dakota State University, capping off a 1-10 season. The 2012 season was the first time since 1991 that USD failed to win more than one game and marked the second time since 2003 that the team won more than five games.
Despite a difficult first season for head coach Joe Glenn, a massive recruiting class and a promising spring practice session has Glenn optimistic for next season.
“We’ve committed to it, in the weight room and our effort on the field,” Glenn said. “We’re taking steps in the right direction. Realistically we lost three games by three points and another game by seven points, so if we get eight points better, there are some wins right there.
He also cited USD’s favorable schedule in 2013, as the Coyotes will play six games at home in the DakotaDome after playing just four games at home, since USD faced NDSU in Sioux Falls.
“We play six games at home this year — that’s a big difference. That gives us the chance to play in front of our home crowd two more times so I think we’ll be a lot more competitive and maybe do some growing up,” he said.
USD returns multiple starters on both sides of the ball, including four of five starters on the offensive line.
Junior quarterback Josh Vander Maten will captain the USD offense for a second season after throwing for 1662 yards with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also finished as USD’s second leading rusher with 495 yards on 138 attempts and 6 touchdowns.
Coach Joe Glenn said last year USD’s offensive line struggled with injuries, which gave Vander Maten limited ability to throw the ball. With four of five returning starters on the line and an older, more experienced Vander Maten, Glenn believes the Coyotes should produce results through the air similar to the annual spring game, which Vander Maten completed 7 of 12 passing attempts for 112 total yards.
“A year ago, he had to sprint out and it’s hard to throw on the run. It narrows the amount of field he can throw to. He got better as the line got better but he’s always been good,” Glenn said.
However, USD will likely center its offensive attack around the run game, as it did last year. The team finished with 1,320 yards on the ground and scored 13 of its total 21 touchdowns via run plays. Glenn said the Coyotes will look to senior running back Jasper Sanders to pick up the load left behind by Marcus Sims, USD’s leading rusher in 2012. Sanders started one game at running back and saw action in all 11 games, rushing for 297 yards on 81 attempts and three touchdowns.
“Jasper’s probably as fast as anyone on the team but he’s also got some shake,” Glenn said. “He’s 200-plus pounds so he can bring some power if he has to and he brings experience at Division I. Our other three running backs that are in the mix have very little experience.”
Behind Sanders, Glenn said senior Earv Archambeau provides additional speed as a relief back. He also boasted of two first-year running backs, Jordan Roberts and Ben Gardner, as a pair of bruisers that will add the physicality USD lacked in 2012.
“We’ve got two freshmen brutes that have really brought some toughness to our football team, running inside, blocking for each other. I know they’re going to help us be a tougher football team. So many times last year in those close games, we didn’t win the 3rd-down-and-short, the 4-and-short, especially on offense and maybe its going to take a couple guys like this to win those battles,” Glenn said.
On defense, the Coyotes return three members of the secondary, including senior safeties Devin Taverna and Aaron Swift, as well as sophomore defensive back Ricky Reeves. Reeves started 8 of 11 contests and saw significant minutes in every game while both Taverna and Swift started at least 10 games, with Taverna playing as the No. 1 safety.
Taverna finished second on the team in tackles with 79 total, including 31 unassisted and lead the team in interceptions with three. Swift also made significant contributions, finishing with 74 tackles including three for loss. Glenn said the secondary will anchor the defense, while USD decides on its line backing rotation for the 3-4 scheme.
“Our two safeties Aaron Swift and Devin Taverna had a really great spring, as did Dyllon Knox at corner,” Glen said. “Those three guys were special. In our spring game, Will Knox had a real nice game. Keyen Lage opposite of Tyler had a really nice spring and we’re looking real hard at the other inside linebacker spot.”
The Coyotes will start the 2013 season on the road against Big 12 opponent Kansas, at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas, Sept. 7.