FCS Quarterfinal-Round Playoff Preview: Southern Illinois at South Dakota State
By CRAIG HALEY
FCS Playoff Quarterfinal
Southern Illinois (6-3) at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (6-1)
Site - Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota
Kickoff - 9 p.m. ET Sunday
TV Coverage - ESPN2
Series - South Dakota State leads 8-3 (last meeting: SDSU won 44-3 on the road on March 20)
Coaches - Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (23-31, fifth season); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (172-106, 24th season)
3 Players to Watch - Southern Illinois: QB Stone Labanowitz (85 of 116, 994 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs), WR Avante Cox (61 receptions, 780 yards, 5 TDs), ILB Bryson Strong (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles); South Dakota State: QB Mark Gronowski (88 of 154, 1,204 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs; 398 rush yards, 6 TDs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (93 carries, 529 yards, 2 TDs), LB Logan Backhaus (43 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)
The Skinny - Top-seeded South Dakota State has been on a tear with its running game and defense. The Jackrabbits mauled Southern Illinois in last month's Missouri Valley Conference matchup by scoring 41 points over the second and third quarters, with RB Isaiah Davis (150 yards, 3 TDs) and Gronowski (103-2) leading a 392-yard ground assault. The defense hasn't bent or broken while allowing only 23 points (a mere two touchdowns) and just 219 yards on average in the Jackrabbits' last three games. LBs Preston Tetzlaff (49), Adam Bock (47) and Backhaus (43) rank 1-2-3 on the team in tackles. Southern Illinois has gotten hot at the right time of the season behind Labanowitz, whose last-minute TD pass to Branson Combs in the final minute at Weber State produced the only road upset of the first round. It doesn't seem to matter who's available for the Salukis at running back because Javon Williams Jr. (507 yards, 7 TDs), Romeir Elliott (491-4) and Justin Strong (370-2) keep eating up yardage. Conversely, though, the Salukis aren't exactly stout against the run, having allowed nearly 201 rushing yards per game on five yards per carry. CB James Ceasar has an FCS-high 13 passes defended (one INT, 12 breakups).
Up Next - The winner will play either Delaware (6-0) or No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (10-2) in a national semifinal on May 8.
Prediction - South Dakota State 31, Southern Illinois 17
Updated April 28, 2021