By Jeremy Hoeck
Any such concerns about the running game following a 60-yard effort a week ago were put to rest in a big way by the University of South Dakota football team.
Totals of 238 yards and an average of 5.9 per carry made sure of that.
Senior Marcus Sims highlighted that performance with 127 yards and sophomore quarterback Josh Vander Maten ran for two scores in a game USD won 31-21 over Colgate University in Saturday's home opener at the DakotaDome.
"There was a lot of room out there, you could go full speed, and that's a testament to our offensive line," said Sims, whose 5-yard touchdown run with 9:31 left put the Coyotes ahead by 10.
"I'm just glad we go the run game established last week we weren't able to," he added. "It's good to get things going."
It took a while for that to happen, however.
The visiting Raiders (0-2), a non-scholarship team in the Patriot League, used half of the first quarter on 14-play drive that resulted in a 3-yard run by quarterback Gavin McCarney — who continually torched the Coyote defense with heavy use of the zone option.
Vander Maten scored on a 2-yard touchdown run on USD's ensuing drive, but Colgate continued its ground assault. McCarney hit Chris Looney on a 22-yard touchdown pass on fourth down, putting the Raiders up 14-7.
The Coyotes tied the game on a Vander Maten 18-yard touchdown run, once again scoring on a designed keeper that took advantage of giant holes by the line.
"I'm very proud of our offensive line, they came to play. They really won that game for us," Vander Maten said. "They made it easy for us to run."
Sophomore transfer running back Jasper Sanders put the Coyotes ahead for good, 21-14, early in the third quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run.
The Coyotes took advantage of a turnover — on a questionable fumble call — and turned it into a field goal by Kevin Robb at the 4:31 mark. Colgate, though, turned a USD turnover (an interception) into a 13-yard touchdown run by McCarney to cut the deficit to 24-21.
Consecutive punts led to the 8-play drive, seven on the ground, that resulted in Sims' touchdown with 9:31 to play. The rushing trio of Sims, Vander Maten and Sanders accounted for all 238 yards on the ground for USD.
"We made plays that were called and plays that weren't called. That's when you let an athlete be an athlete," head coach Joe Glenn said later, pointing to Vander Maten in the post-game press conference.
"We did what we had to do to win the game."
Tops among those areas was the USD defense eventually figuring out Colgate's zone option offense that rushed for 237 yards. Most of those came on plays right up the middle, which Glenn later said was "all of the above" when asked if it was because of size or schemes.
On fourth down with 3:56 to play, Coyote linebacker D'Angelo Butler sacked McCarney (the fifth for USD), and with 1:33 to play, cornerback D.J. Wakes dove for an interception.
"Defensively, we're still struggling trying to get that dive shut down, but we got it shut down enough through the game to get a victory," Glenn said. "We made some big plays on defense to save the day."
For the second straight week, though, the USD defense allowed its fair share of big plays.
Montana used a similar option style to put two rushers over 100 yards, and Colgate did the same thing with Jordan McCord (125) and McCarney (108).
"Whenever you play an option-type team like that, it's all about discipline, getting your eyes in the right place and filling your gaps soundly," USD senior linebacker Tim Marlette said. "It's tough to practice with scouts, but you have to get in the game and get rolling."
After winning his first home game as coach at USD, his alma mater, Glenn was later able to reflect back on days when he was on the other side of the coin.
"That was a Kodak moment for me, to have a win at South Dakota," he said. "I brought a national championship team in here and got beat, so I'm not used to really winning any games here.
"But we have to get better and we know that."
The Coyotes have two weeks off before a Sept. 22 matchup at Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference.