BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION – In one of those random statistical finds (I call those “nerd stats”) this week by the University of South Dakota sports information staff, redshirt freshman defensive end Andrew Van Ginkel has more sacks (8) than eight FCS teams this season.
But don’t forget about his counterpart on the other side of USD’s new 4-man front. His name is Colin Mertlik.
A junior from Blair, Nebraska, Mertlik recorded a pair of sacks – the same number as Van Ginkel – in USD’s loss at Northern Iowa last Saturday, and he forced a turnover on both.
The five total sacks by the Coyote defense was the program’s most in a single game since 2013 when a guy by the name of Tyler Starr was wreaking havoc in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Mertlik, like Van Ginkel, is a rather quiet guy, but took a few minutes after practice Tuesday to answer a few questions from the Press & Dakotan.
How has the switch to a 4-3 front on defense helped this season?
I think it’s helped a lot in the Missouri Valley, where the majority of the teams run. We’ve got more people in the box consistently, and I think it’s helped there, to stop the run.
Everyone has said the change was a product of your personnel, to fit better what you guys have.
Yeah, I think so. The coaches moved everybody around to their better position and it’s worked out well so far.
What has that meant to have a guy like Andrew Van Ginkel on the other side, and then the two big guys (Drew Iddings, Nick Jacobs) in the middle?
It’s good that we have two big guys in the middle, with Drew and Nick and Sean Bredl. That’s a nice contrast between Andrew and I. It’s worked out so far.
With the defense getting five sacks last week, do you think that was your best performance, pressure-wise, getting to the quarterback?
That’s the most sacks I think we’ve had all year, and it was spread across the board. We missed some too, but it wasn’t just one person getting sacks. That was nice to see.
And that quarterback (Aaron Bailey) looked tough to bring down. Was that a factor in not having as many sacks as you guys could have?
Yeah, he’s big and he’s fast. We went into the week knowing that’s who we had to stop, so that’s what we tried to do.
What do you think Saturday with Mark Iannotti of Southern Illinois, probably a whole different challenge? He’s not as much of a runner, but looks pretty dangerous throwing the ball.
What we’ve seen on film is that he definitely likes to throw. He’s their best player; one of the best players in the conference. We’ll have to stop him.
With what coach Glenn was talking about after practice today, do you still feel like playoffs are realistic?
Yeah, I think so. If we win a couple more games, hopefully people take into consideration the conference we play in and some of our big wins. Getting there is a goal we’ve had since the beginning of the season, and I think it’s still within our grasp.
How nice is it knowing you’ve got two of the final three games left at home?
That really helps. It’s a lot easier to play in front of your home fans.
I’d think it’d be easy to look at the final three as a group, with how much is at stake. How do you stay focused on Southern Illinois?
Just focusing on day by day, just looking at one team at a time helps out a lot.
Wasn’t it probably the same with North Dakota State? That you keyed yourselves up for that game?
We don’t look at teams we play two or three weeks down the road. We have to focus on the week at hand.