BY JEREMY HOECK
For a third straight season, the University of South Dakota football team will play a school from the Big Ten Conference.
So far in those games, the Coyotes are 1-1.
Getting above .500 doesn’t figure to be an easy task.
On Saturday afternoon in Evanston, Ill., USD (1-1) will face unbeaten Northwestern (3-0), a team that is receiving votes in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll and has beaten three FBS teams to start the season. In other words, the Wildcats have their only lower level contest this weekend.
It would be pointless for me to point out that the Coyotes are significant underdogs, right?
What say you, coach Joe Glenn?
“They’re a Big Ten team, but we’ve all been in games where we’re the underdogs. And I think our kids will take that role as a challenge. I know they will.”
It was much the same scenario last fall when USD geared up to face No. 6-ranked Wisconsin, a team would win 59-10 and go on to play in the Rose Bowl. Of course, when you go from down-trodden Minnesota (which the Coyotes beat in 2010) to a top-flight Wisconsin program, intimidation doesn’t figure to be a factor, USD offensive lineman Cody O’Neill said.
“You can look at it and think, ‘Holy cow, this is a Big Ten stadium’ with wide eyes and be intimidated, or you can think of it just like another Saturday. Once you get to the top, you somewhat get used to it.”
Something else the Coyotes will get used to?
A heavy dose of the run, an area they have struggled in this season. USD has surrendered 552 yards on the ground through two games.
Waiting its turn is Northwestern, which averages 202.7 rushing yards. Leading the way is running back Venric Mark at 94 yards per game, not to mention his nation-leading punt return average.
Glenn said the Coyotes are prepared to either punt the ball out of bounds at Northwestern or pin Venric to one corner. That was an area of focus during Wednesday’s practice; working on directional punts to the sideline.
With an extra week to prepare for Northwestern, the Coyotes are expecting to not only improve on defense, but stay competitive in the game, defensive back Charlie Goro said.
“We’re definitely going to be competitive. But we have to have all 11 players on defense doing their job on every play. There’s been an extra edge around us lately; we want to get better.”