Published Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm / Updated at 1:10 am
FOOTBALL
Difficulties on defense leave Jackrabbits frustrated

LINCOLN — South Dakota State is crafting its 2013 season around a simple mantra: Play in the Present.

That philosophy worked well in the first 15 minutes of Saturday's 59-20 loss to Nebraska. The 3-1 Jackrabbits led 17-14 heading into the second quarter.

But the Jackrabbits managed just three more points the rest of the way, making SDSU players, coaches and fans look back and long for that success found in the first quarter.

The Jackrabbits simply couldn't keep up with NU after that.

Nebraska's offense was so effective that the 645-yard performance was the first time in the 124-year history of NU football that the Huskers had rushed and passed for more than 300 yards in the same game.

“Even when we blitzed, they threw the ball early or they picked it up,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said. “We never stopped them on defense, so I don't know how many games you can win when you don't stop a team.

“That to me was the huge factor. We did go ahead in (the first quarter), and I was proud of our team that we didn't hang our heads and we weren't giddy when we were ahead. But we didn't respond the way we needed to defensively in that situation.”

SDSU's 465-yard output doesn't accurately reflect how dominant the Huskers were in the final three quarters.

SDSU gained 40 percent of those yards — 186 — in the first quarter. At one point the Jackrabbits' total was 205, but sacks of quarterback Austin Sumner for 8- and 11-yard losses on the final two plays took a bite out of the total yardage.

The Jackrabbits then went for 103 yards in both the second and third quarters before the Blackshirts gave up 73 in the fourth.

Despite the lack of points in the final three quarters, Stiegelmeier was still pleased with the play of his offense.

“If you get 465 yards against Nebraska and you're in a situation where you don't have to throw the ball and try to come back, you've done a pretty good job,” Stiegelmeier said. “So I'm happy with our offense, our (line) and Zach Zenner. He's a good football player.”

Zenner gained 202 yards rushing — and another 21 on a pass reception. The junior from Eagan, Minn., was averaging 180 yards per game through the first three games and is one of 20 players on the 2013 Walter Payton Award watch list for the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

But the first part of the game was much better for Zenner than part two. He gained 123 yards and scored both of his touchdowns in the first quarter, had 41 more yards in the second quarter and 38 in the second half.

“I felt like we executed our game plan really well until we made a couple of mental mistakes,” Zenner said. “I think the game plan was going really well. We got away from a couple of things and made some adjustments and still managed to move the ball.”

While SDSU still gained some yardage, the defense wasn't close to holding up its end of the bargain as Nebraska scored 38 points in the middle two quarters. That means plenty of tape needs to be evaluated before the Jackrabbits' showdown next weekend with North Dakota State.

“You get (NU) into third-and-10, you give up a 12-yard pass play,” Stiegelmeier said. “I think (we need) to identify where we fell short and correct it in a matter of three days.”

Senior linebacker R.C. Kilgore — who finished with a game-high 15 tackles, including eight solo stops — said mental mistakes were a problem.

“I thought we had good schemes, but a lot of mental errors that we need to fix going into next week,” Kilgore said. “Film will tell a lot. We have to look at it as a great opportunity to get better.”

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini talks after the game:



Video: Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong talks after the game:



Video: Nebraska QB Ron Kellogg talks after the game:



Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:



Video: Jack Hoffman and others get their own tunnel walk:

Contact the writer: Steve Beideck

stevebeideck63@gmail.com    |   402-618-4113    |  

Steve is a correspondent for The Omaha World-Herald and covers the Omaha Lancers and high school sports.

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