BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — As he previewed the upcoming 2015 season, University of South Dakota football coach Joe Glenn told the media last month that he would better be able to evaluate his Coyotes after their three non-conference games.
In that stretch, USD went loss, win, win.
With Saturday’s 52-0 rout of non-scholarship Drake signifying the end of that non-conference portion of the schedule, Glenn had a chance to stop and survey the landscape.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” he said. “We’re athletic enough, we’re old enough, and our quarterback’s working good enough.”
Glenn said the 34-0 loss in the season opener at Kansas State was at the time worrisome — “with the way we got stoned” — but he knew his team would rebound.
“I wasn’t ready to say, ‘Hey, we’re not any good,’” Glenn said Saturday. “It didn’t look like our other teams; I know we’re better than that.”
The ensuing performance at UC Davis — a 27-17 win highlighted by an aggressive defense and vastly improved special teams — eventually carried over into Saturday.
The signs of progress had been there, Glenn said.
“I knew, and then I watched us practice this week,” he said. “The effort’s great, their attitude is beautiful.”
The non-conference schedule this year certainly favored USD a little more than 2014, when the Coyotes played FCS games against Montana and Northern Arizona (as well as NAIA William Penn).
With UC Davis and Drake on the docket for this season, the Coyotes knew how important winning both would be toward any big-picture progress.
“Those are two must wins for this team, for this program going forward,” junior quarterback Ryan Saeger said, “because we know what the Missouri Valley gauntlet is like.”
Working in USD’s favor this time around?
• The Coyotes have put together back-to-back 200-plus yard games rushing the ball, 243 yards at UC Davis and 296 yards against Drake.
• Saeger has thrown only one interception on 71 throws through three games, with three touchdowns (two on Saturday).
• Paul Anderson has emerged as a legitimate special teams weapon. He nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown at UC Davis, and nearly did so again twice on Saturday.
• A switch to a four-man front on defense has already produced tangible proof of improvement. The Coyotes have recorded six sacks through three games (they had 8 all of last year) and have intercepted five passes (6 all of last year).
Now the Coyotes have to continue that momentum into the games that matter most, as Glenn said Saturday. That effort will begin in two weeks when Youngstown State and coach Bo Pelini come to Vermillion for the league opener.
“We have to get into our conference and make big plays,” Glenn said, “and that’ll be our next test.”
Donovan Out For Season
A persistent hip issue will cost junior wide receiver Riley Donovan the rest of the season, Glenn said Saturday.
Donovan will have surgery on both hips to alleviate an issue he was born with that can cause bone-on-bone problems.
Donovan, who has one catch for five yards this season, will use his redshirt year this season.
“Then he can play football with not much pain,” Glenn said.