Fresh off their bye week, the University of South Dakota Coyotes football team has their sights set for Flagstaff, Ariz., where they will be taking on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
Head coach Joe Glenn said the team used the bye week to rest up and prepare for a Lumberjack team coming off a 21-10 win against UC Davis.
“I feel real good about how hard we’re working and what we’re doing. We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves this week,” Glenn said. “We have to win a game on the road one of these times. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s a long trip and they (Northern Arizona) are a good football team.”
Northern Arizona’s defense is coming off a week in which they only gave up 154 passing yards and were led by senior defensive back Lucky Dozier, who was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week. He won the honors after picking up four tackles and scored the go-ahead touchdown with an interception with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
That’s not good news for the Coyotes passing attack. Through two games junior quarterback Josh Vander Maten only has 158 yards passing and one touchdown.
Vander Maten said they’ve watched tape on the Northern Arizona defense and it will be a good test for his offense.
“They’re a good, athletic team. They’ll press our receivers and get their hands on them,” Vander Maten said. “They’re a good team and that means we’ll have to play well to win.”
Senior tight end Tyler Wilhelm said he knows the passing game needs to improve and said it’s something that will come around.
“Our passing game is continuing to get better every day. Our running game has been doing really well and eventually teams are going to put more people in the box,” Wilhelm said. “That is going to open up some passing lanes, but I really wouldn’t be too concerned about our passing game.”
Vander Maten agreed with Wilhelm, and said he’s not too concerned about the passing numbers and knows the team is putting in the work to make it better.
“We have to keep doing what we’re doing, trust the scheme, trust the plays and it will all turn out in the end,” Vander Maten said. “I have all the confidence in the world in our offensive line, our receivers and myself that we’ll get this passing game figured out.”
The team’s rushing game has relied on two redshirt freshman, Trevor Bouma and Jordan Roberts, who bring the Coyotes their own version of “smash and dash.” Bouma, listed at 5’11” 215 pounds, is what Glenn described as “a bruising north and south runner who is country-strong.”
Roberts is listed at the exact same height and weight, but brings more speed to his game, evident with his 25-yard rush in the home opener and his 18-yard run vs. Kansas. Both are averaging over five yards per carry, while Bouma is averaging 73.5 yards per game. Roberts isn’t far behind, averaging 69.5 per game.
Glenn said he is pleased with what his running backs have given him this year and the emphasis on offense will continue to be on the ground.
“That’s a pretty good one-two punch for us, and we’ll keep calling their number” Glenn said. “We also have Khorey Kilgore coming on the trip with us and he’s a good running back. We’ll keep relying on these guys because we’re pretty strong at that spot.”
The defense has showed vast improvement in year two under defensive coordinator Jason Petrino. They held UC Davis to seven points in the opener and played Kansas tough before things unraveled in the fourth. The clear difference maker has been sophomore linebacker Keyen Lage, who leads the team with 16 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Glenn said the improvement on defense has come with the all the practice time and extra comfort level in the scheme, but said it’s still a work in progress.
“When you travel with 27 freshmen your depth isn’t quite what you want, but the kids are growing up fast and playing tough,” Glenn said. “I like where we’re at but we have to keep getting better.”
However, Glenn said the mistakes they’re putting an emphasis on to correct this week in practice are on special teams. Last week first-year punter/kicker Miles Bergner mishandled a poor snap and it resulted in a huge loss for the Coyotes.
“We have to execute better in the kicking game then what we showed vs. Kansas. Miles (Bergner) was a little bit off punting and our snapping was a little off. We’re working hard on both and hopefully we’ll be better,” Glenn said.
A win this week not only would outnumber last year’s total, it would also give the team some extra confidence heading into conference play. They kick off their Missouri Valley Conference schedule next week, Sept. 28 at Western Illinois. Glenn said the win plus the extra confidence is a big goal for his football team.
“I think it’s huge. It’ll get us on the map as far as where we want to be coming out of non-conference play and prove to ourselves that we’ve improved,” Glenn said.
Kick off vs. Northern Arizona will be at 6 p.m. CT.