- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota football fans looking to catch their Division I teams this weekend have to hit the road to the state of Kansas.

Saturday’s cross-state doubleheader begins at 11 a.m. in Lawrence as South Dakota State takes on Kansas. It’s followed by an evening nightcap in Manhattan, with South Dakota facing Kansas State.

South Dakota State, which posted a 9-5 record in 2014, is retooling its offense after the graduation of running back Zach Zenner, the first player in FCS history to post three consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons. Zenner is competing for an NFL job with the Detroit Lions after signing a free-agent contract.

“Good players graduate, and we don’t dwell on that,” said South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier. “We rejoice in the time you have with a good player, then you look to the next guy.”

The “next guy” at running back could be sophomore Brady Mengarelli, junior Kyle Paris or redshirt freshman Isaac Wallace, all of whom had good camps, Stiegelmeier said. Senior Reggie Gandy will also be in the mix in the backfield.

Zach Lujan will get the start at quarterback with the graduation of Austin Sumner. The Jackrabbits lost a bunch of good players on the offensive line, Stiegelmeier said, but the crew has a strong leader in sophomore center Jacob Ohnesorge.

Senior tight end Cam Jones said the biggest challenge in facing Kansas right out of the gate is that the program has a completely new coaching staff and kept their cards close to their chest in their spring game. He said SDSU’s coaches have done well preparing players for different looks, and the team will be ready to make adjustments on the sidelines after a couple series.

“We’re going to react quick, and we’ll play fast for sure,” Jones said.

The Jackrabbits should set the tone on defense, with a slew of strong linebackers headed up by four-year starter T.J. Lally and a solid line.

“We want to play great defense, and if that defines us, so be it,” Stiegelmeier said. “It don’t like a 48-46 football score. That looks like basketball to me.”

South Dakota is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2-10 season marred by a string of injuries beginning when quarterback Kevin Earl broke his thumb in the season opener at Oregon. Head coach Joe Glenn said he’s happy to get off to a healthy start in 2015.

“It’s fabulous to coach a team when you’ve got all your horses, and it hasn’t been that way,” Glenn said.

Junior Ryan Saeger gets the start at quarterback after stepping into that role for four starts in 2014. The 6-foot-4 native of Heartland, Wisconsin, impressed coaches by completing 50-of-92 passes for 660 yards.

“He is absolutely the leader on our team,” Glenn said. “There’s an old expression you can’t lead a cavalry unless you look good on a horse, and he’s John Wayne for us.”

Also returning healthy is running back Trevor Bouma, who Glenn says is a great all-around athlete.

“You could put him in any position and he’d be the best football player on the team,” Glenn said. “If he’s healthy we’ll be in games, many games.”

Keyen Lage, a senior linebacker who will share captain duties with Saeger, Bouma and receiver Eric Shufford Jr., said the defense is anchored by a lot of three- and four-year starters who exude a quiet confidence and know what they’re supposed to do.

“We’re returning a lot of guys, and guys have gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger,” Lage said.


Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ddlammers

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