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August 28, 2012

Opponents view: South Dakota State

To get a closer look at South Dakota State we caught up with Terry Vandrovec who covers the team team for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls.

What do you believe are the strengths of the South Dakota State offense this season?

The Jacks led the Missouri Valley Football Conference - the top-ranked league in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2011 - in passing offense last year thanks in large part to QB Austin Sumner, who earned conference freshman of the year honors after taking over the starting job in Week 4.

All-league pick Aaron Rollin leads a group of experienced and productive receivers.

However, the run game - a program staple - was non-existent in 2011 despite a deep and experienced offensive line and respectable backs. A new offensive line coach - former Oklahoma player and GA John Flynn - has simplified the blocking scheme. Former feature back Tyrel Kool was moved to WR in order to open up carries for sophomore Zach Zenner and redshirt freshman Reggie Gandy, a former prep player of the year in Minnesota.

What type of defense do they play and who are some of the key players returning?

SDSU plays a basic 4-3 with lots of zone coverage. It's vanilla and predicated on being assignment sound and making tackles. But both of those areas were problematic last year.

Individually, CB Winston Wright is a returning all-Valley pick. He began his career at Missouri. The linebackers are solid, although unspectacular. DT Andy Mink is an all-conference candidate, but is undersized.

The starting group should be OK. The backups are very inexperienced.

Who are some of the big losses from last season?

Receiver Dale Moss is now with the Green Bay Packers. He caught 61 passes in his only season of college football after spending four years playing hoops.

He's really the only noteworthy guy. The offense has nine starters back and most of its reserves. The defense has replaced its losses with guys who should be at least as good.

Have there been any interesting position battles, key injuries, or other notes from fall camp?

There were very few surprises from fall camp - the lineup was fairly set after spring, and has remained that way.

But there have been several injuries, the most important being to Sumner, also a team captain. He hurt his throwing hand at practice Thursday and is questionable for this week. If he can't go, Eric Kline will be the guy. He's a redshirt freshman from the Minneapolis area with a nice prep resume, but no college game experience.

Sumner is the leader of this team, and his absence for any length of time likely will be difficult to overcome.

What is your take on the season opener against the Jayhawks and how do you see the match-up?

Again, a lot of it depends on Sumner and his availability. If he plays, SDSU will have a chance to put up some points. If not, all bets are off.

Plus, it seems very likely that the Jacks will have to do more in-game adjusting than usual because they don't know what to expect from KU given its new staff. Frankly, that's made it difficult for the media to handicap the matchup, too.

SDSU outplayed Minnesota in 2009 and gave Nebraska problems in 2010. But pulling off the BCS upset generally requires great execution and a superior game plan. I'm not sure the Jacks are going to be as prepared as they would like due to the Sumner injury and the mysterious new Kansas club.

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