BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — Issues after halftime have been magnified of late for the University of South Dakota football team, which is still searching for its first Missouri Valley victory this season.
They were on full display Saturday.
Including a second-half performance that saw Western Illinois surge to a 44-29 victory at the DakotaDome, the Coyotes have now been out-scored 66-16 after halftime in their last three games.
And it was something that produced a lot of head-scratching during the post-game press conference.
“We’ve got to come out with a little more fire in our belly and battle,” said head coach Joe Glenn, whose Coyotes (2-8, 0-6) have lost 10 consecutive league games dating back to last season.
Following a rather high-scoring, back-and-forth first half, the Leathernecks held USD to two field goals after halftime. It was reminiscent to a week earlier, when the Coyotes allowed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter in a loss at Youngstown State.
Asked if the second-half issues were more mental or physical, Glenn couldn’t really pinpoint an answer.
“I’m not very good at those head games to know if our psyche is weak in the second half,” he said. “I don’t sense that.”
He did, though, mention more than once an early third-quarter fumble by Jordan Roberts, which resulted in a touchdown and a 30-23 lead for the Leathernecks.
“That was the beginning of the end, and it’s happened too many times,” Glenn said.
Unlike what they did in the first half, the Coyotes were unable to respond — with touchdowns, especially — after halftime. For example, after Western Illinois went up 30-23, the Coyotes drove all the way down to the 13-yard line but stalled, having to settle for a field goal.
The Leathernecks, in turn, responded with a touchdown to go up 37-26. And the same thing happened again, when the Coyotes hit another field goal and WIU scored a touchdown to close the scoring.
“You have to answer in a track meet like this,” Glenn said.
Asked the same question if the second half issues were more mental or physical, not even junior quarterback Kevin Earl had an answer.
“It’s hard for me to tell,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell you, honestly.”
The combination of bad field position (USD’s average drive start after halftime was the 18-yard line) and injuries (which meant younger guys seeing the field) may have played a role, according to junior Eric Shufford.
“We’ve got to find a way to make more plays,” said Shufford, who caught eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. “On offense, we’ve got to find a way to convert things, and the defense has to find a way to stop things. And that’s it.”
Another issue, though, was that the Coyote defense struggled to stop the Leathernecks.
Sophomore quarterback Trenton Norvell had had touchdown passes of 12, 34, 22, 12 and 17 yards (all to different receivers), with other completions of 33, 43 and 56 yards.
“We’re not good enough to cover some of the guys in this league consistently,” Glenn said.
Glenn pointed later to USD’s man-to-man defense as an area that needs adjustments — zone is probably the best option, he said.
“We can’t keep giving up such huge chunks of real estate based on one guy one-on-one, and we’re not winning the lion’s share of those,” Glenn said. “So we better think of doing something different.”
The Coyotes will close their home schedule Saturday with a matchup with No. 12-ranked Illinois State (8-1, 5-1), which beat No. 10 Youngstown State on Saturday.
With two games left in the season, USD isn’t about to quit, according to sophomore linebacker John Wessel.
“It hurts, we’ve been close a lot of times,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting. We’ve got to figure it out.
“We’ve got two games left, we’re not quitting.”