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TONIGHT: South Dakota State eyes first ever win against a Big Ten opponent

Earlier this summer longtime South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier had toyed with the idea of playing a couple of different quarterbacks in tonight’s season opener against the Minnesota Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, but has subsequently decided to put his faith in redshirt freshman J’Bore Gibbs, a genuine dual-threat from Chicago.

“We have decided on J ‘Bore Gibbs as the starter” Stiegelmeier told The Fanatic on Monday evening.  “We will play one quarterback.”

This will be the first time since late 2015 that somebody other than record-setting Taryn Christion, arguably the best signal caller in program history, has started at quarterback for the Jackrabbits.  Christion started in 41 straight games, dating back to SDSU’s heart-wrenching 24-17 loss to Montana in the FCS Playoffs on Nov. 28, 2015.

This will be South Dakota State’s eighth meeting against Minnesota in a series dating back to 1905.  The Gophers won that initial contest by a resounding 81-0 and had little difficulty in five of the the six subsequent meetings, outscoring the Jackrabbits by a lopsided 281-26 in those seven games.  Four of them were shutouts.

Minnesota narrowly prevailed 16-13 on Eric Ellestad’s third and final field goal of the game with 2 minutes and 22 seconds remaining in their last meeting in 2009 — the first meeting between the two teams since 1933.  Neither team scored an offensive touchdown in that tightly-contested defensive struggle.

Coach Stiegelmeier, the winningest coach in South Dakota State history, hopes his team can exact some revenge a decade later while snatching his school’s first victory ever against a Big Ten team, but he also has a tremendous amount of respect for tonight’s opponent.

“We honor all our opponents, especially a Big Ten team like Minnesota,” he told us.  “They are a very good team.”  He described the Gophers as “big and very athletic at the skill positions.” 

He also said that he’s worried about third and long situations, especially since Minnesota has “a lot of different looks.”

Yet, the 23-year head coach said that he hasn’t prepared any differently for Minnesota than any other team on the schedule. 

“We have gone about our preparation like every other week,” he said, adding that the goal was simply to get better every day.

One of the youngest teams in the country, Minnesota (7-6) finished exceptionally strong last year, winning three of its final four games while ending a fourteen-game drought against Wisconsin by beating the Badgers 34-14 in its regular season finale and then running roughshod over Georgia Tech 34-10 in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Minnesota has as much depth as any team in the Big Ten.  The Gophers return sixteen starters from last year’s bowl team.

Minnesota finished 3-6 in the Power Five conference last season, but won all three of their regular season nonconference games, pummeling New Mexico State 48-10, defeating Fresno State 21-14 and overpowering Miami of Ohio 26-3. 

The Gophers, moreover, have received votes in this year’s Associated Press and Coaches’ preseason polls.

South Dakota State’s only previous victory against an FBS opponent occurred in 2015 when Stiegelmeier’s Jackrabbits shocked Kansas 41-38.  SDSU led 31-7 in that contest before the Jayhawks mounted a furious comeback only to fall short when they fumbled the snap while trying to kick a game-tying field goal as the clock expired.

Tonight’s game will be aired nationally on FS1 at 9PM Eastern Time.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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