After missing out on the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs last season, the Coyote football team is adjusting for the future.
As USD begins another season with a young squad, head coach Bob Nielson said he’s hopeful this team will continue developing. The Coyotes followed an 8-5 (4-4 CONF) 2017 season, which included a trip to the second round of the FCS playoffs, with a 4-7 (3-5) record in 2018.
“This is one of the youngest groups I’ve ever had,” Nielson said at USD football Media Day on Aug. 7. “They’re a group that’s worked really, really hard over the last year — a group that came away from 2018 not feeling good about the way we finished the year and set a course to be better in 2019.”
A new defense
The defense is undergoing the biggest transition as Nielson is looking to shake things up with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Travis Johnson from Grand View University, who is implementing a new multiple defensive scheme that will showcase a larger variation of looks and coverage drops.
“[The scheme] creates the thing that I was looking for,” Nielson said. “Which is a defensive system that makes for a very difficult preparation.”
Despite the deviation in scheme, Nielson said the team has picked up on the defense faster than he anticipated, already having almost the entire package installed with three weeks to practice and refine.
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Senior defensive lineman Darrin Greenfield, who is one of 25 players on the preseason watch list for the Buchanan Award for FCS defensive player of the year, said Johnson has done a great job working with the players to learn the scheme.
“Ever since [Johnson] came in, he’s laid down exactly how he’s wanted it to be,” Greenfield said. “He’s been focused on every day taking steps to get better. He understands that it’s a brand-new defense for everybody.”
Nielson also hired former NFL linebacker Abdul Hodge this offseason to serve as the team’s outside linebackers coach. According to junior linebacker Jack Cochrane, Hodge has quickly gained the respect of the members of the defense.
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“Coach Hodge is a guy who’s had success everywhere he’s gone,” Cochrane said. “He’s a guy who really knows what it takes to win football games. I think he will help out the entire defensive unit.”
Physicality and mentality on offense
Junior offensive lineman Mason Scheidegger, one of two upperclassmen on the offensive line, said the offense will undergo more refinements this season than changes.
“I don’t know if we’re really doing anything differently,” Scheidegger said. “We’re just focusing more on being more physical in the run game. Our pad level, technique, things like that.”
Physicality in the run game is where the offensive line looked to improve most over the offseason. As a team, the Coyotes’ run offense ranked ninth in the MVFC and 90th in the FCS last year.
At quarterback, junior Austin Simmons, who led the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 3,124 passing yards in the regular season last year, looks to lead his unit to more wins by altering the mindset of the group.
“There were a lot of games last year where we were kind of in them,” Simmons said. “We really didn’t get blown out in a lot of games. Coach Nielson has been saying it, it’s kind of been our team slogan: ‘No excuses, just win.’ I think that type of mentality is what we need to bring to the table.”
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In games decided by two scores or less, USD had a record of 3-4 last season.
Both Simmons and Allen believe the return of redshirt-sophomore Kody Case at receiver will certainly help the team achieve more victories. Case totaled 17 receptions and 163 yards in only four games last year due to injuries.
“Kody Case is a big asset to our offense,” Allen said. “With his speed, he’s great at beating defenders off the line. For anybody, it’s gonna be tough to guard him.”
“He’s very versatile,” Simmons said. “He can play in the slot, he can play outside. He can do a lot of different things, so he’s a good player to have,”
The Coyotes will kick off the season at home for the first time since 2013 against Montana Grizzlies on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 1:00 pm. The following week, they travel to Norman to face No. 4 Oklahoma in their lone FBS matchup of the season.