BY JEREMY HOECK
Is there a quarterback controversy in Brookings?
More to the point, Zach Lujan or Taryn Christion?
That second question is the one facing the South Dakota State football coaches after Christion – a true freshman – made national news for his performance in last Saturday’s home win over nationally-ranked Indiana State.
The issue of the quarterback position was one of the first questions directed at SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier during Tuesday’s Missouri Valley teleconference.
“It’s up in the air right now,” Stiegelmeier said.
Lujan, who guided the Jackrabbits (4-1) to an FBS win over Kansas in the season opener and who ranks sixth in the FCS in passing yards per game (311), suffered an injury in the loss to North Dakota State two weeks ago.
He was then replaced by Christion, a former Sioux Falls Roosevelt standout. All he did was pass for 221 yards and rush for 99 more in the win over Indiana State, a performance that earned him STATS National Freshman of the Week honors.
The question now is, who would get the start if Lujan is healthy in time for Saturday’s game at Youngstown State?
“In our program, in my 19 years as a head coach, if a starter is injured and loses his spot and comes back, he is automatically the number one,” Stiegelmeier said.
“And right now, our number one quarterback is Zach Lujan.”
Lujan went through some medical treatment on Monday, and the SDSU coaches will be better able to evaluate his readiness on Wednesday or Thursday, Stiegelmeier said.
“We didn’t practice (Monday), so I have no idea where he’s at,” Stiegelmeier said.
Where the Jackrabbits will be at Saturday will be away from home for the first time in six weeks.
The last time SDSU played a game away from home was the win in Kansas, and then came four straight at home (including a bye week). A routine can set in for players, particularly those true freshmen who have seen time this season, according to Stiegelmeier.
“We don’t want those guys walking into the stadium and thinking they’re a tourist,” he said. “We show them pictures of the stadium, but it’s up to all of us to handle those types of things.
“I think our leadership will do a great job mentoring those guys.”
The same could be said for what Bo Pelini has done so far this season at Youngstown State.
The Penguins (3-2, 1-1), ranked No. 11/12 this week, boast the nation’s fourth-best defense in terms of total yards allowed (268.4). They also lead the nation in fewest passing yards allowed (84.6), and a big reason for that improvement, Stiegelmeier said, is the leadership of Pelini, and his brother Carl.
“He’s taken a bunch of really good athletes and I think rekindled the spirit in those guys,” Stiegelmeier said. “They’re a much-improved team, and really athletic.
“It’ll be a huge test for us on the road.”