2021 Division I FCS Playoff First Round Preview: UC Davis at South Dakota State


Two power conference teams meet in this one. Both teams were ranked earlier this season in the Top 10 in the major FCS polls but both teams have had some unexpected set-backs in the later part of the season. Both teams though still finished with 8-3 records to make this one of the best first round match-ups in this year’s playoffs.

These two teams were actually conference members of the now defunct Great West Football Conference until SDSU left that league after the 2007 season. UC Davis left the league after the 2011 season. Both moved to their current leagues of the Missouri Valley Football Conference for SDSU and the Big Sky Conference for UC Davis.

The two teams have played seven times overall previously. SDSU leads the all-time series, 5-2, on the strength of winning each of the last four meetings.

The two programs first met in 1997, during the schools’ NCAA Division II era and in what was John Stiegelmeier’s first game as head coach of the Jackrabbits. SDSU came away with a 17-7 road win.

As the two schools made the leap to NCAA Division I and the FCS ranks, both were charter members of the Great West Football Conference, which began play in 2004. SDSU’s first-ever game as a D-I program was at UC Davis on Sept. 9 of that year, and the Aggies won that contest by the largest margin of any prior meeting, 52-0.

South Dakota State won each of the last three games between the two programs as Great West foes and added a 12-8 home victory on Sept. 15, 2012. Each of the last four matchups have been decided by seven points or less.

The two teams are also scheduled for another non-conference game also at Brookings next September.

Here is a look at how both teams stack up in this game based on their regular season statistics.

UC Davis Aggies (8-3, 5-3 Big Sky)

Coach: Dan Hawkins – 5th Year at UC Davis – 20 Years Total as a Head Coach
Record at UC Davis: 31-21
Overall Record: 143-82-1
Big Sky Championships: 1

The Aggies won their first five games of the season, including a FBS win to open their season over last year’s American Athletic Conference runner-up Tulsa. The first loss of the season for UC Davis came at Idaho State. The Aggies then would win their next three games.

But UC Davis is coming into this game limping a bit as it has lost its last two contests to Eastern Washington and Sacramento State.

Those last two game were the lone games UC Davis played against FCS playoff squads.

UC Davis is 50th in the FCS in red zone offense. They’re scoring 82% of the times inside the twenty. The Aggie have also struggled to find the end zone when they get inside the twenty. They’ve scored just 25 red zone touchdowns. Only 60.9% of their trips inside the red zone resulted in six points.

But the Aggie defense has made up some of the offensive woes. While the team has given up some yardage especially in the offensive happy Big Sky Conference, the team is ranked 22nd in the FCS in scoring defense and is 25th in red zone defense nationally.

RB Ulonzo Gilliam has been a solid for the Aggies this season in rushing for 828 yards, which is 37th best in the FCS.

Redshirt freshman QB Miles Hastings has been the starting quarterback for UC Davis in the last four games. His best game had to be against Northern Arizona where he was 24-36 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. On the year, Hastings has thrown for 1,101 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions this season.

Junior Hunter Rodrigues took the majority of snaps in six of the first seven games, but has only completed three passes since. He is the team’s passing leader at 1,233 yards this season.

The receiving game for UC Davis has been led by senior WR Jared Harrell who has 44 catches for 551 yards and five touchdowns, all of which lead the team.

TE McCallan Castles is a sophomore with 25 catches for 363 yards this season and four scores to give the Aggie passing game another target.

On defense, UC Davis has been led by redshirt freshman LB Teddye Buchanan, who leads the team in total tackles with 67 tackles.

Key Player: QB Miles Hastings

As mentioned above, Hastings took over the starting job under center four games ago. He looked well in the two games against non-playoff teams but has thrown for three interceptions and just one score in the two games against playoff teams (Eastern Washington & Sacramento State).

Hastings is more of a tradiational drop back style quarterback so he will need to use his running backs in this game to try to open up the passing game.

The key for an Aggie road victory is for this redshirt freshman to not turn the ball over and hit the timely throws to keep drives going to help keep the SDSU offense on the sidelines. If he can do this, the Aggies will be in the game late with a chance for the upset.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits (8-3, 5-3 MVFC)

Coach: John Stiegelmeier – 25th Year at SDSU – 25 Years Total as a Head Coach
Record at South Dakota State: 182-110
Overall Record: 182-110
Missouri Valley Football Championships: 2

South Dakota State is coming off the national title appearance from this spring and looked every bit of the preseason favorite is was to win the MVFC again this fall in its first game of the season where they dominated FBS Colorado State.

The Jacks would win their next three game rather easily, as they looked more and more like a similar team as the one in the spring. However, the Jacks stumbled in their fifth game of the season in losing at home to Southern Illinois in overtime. And after a win over Western Illinois in its next game, SDSU would stub their toe again at home against Northern Iowa.

That game seemed to right the ship, as the Jacks would win four of their next five games, including a home win over MVFC champion North Dakota State. The lone loss initially seemed to be a win over rival South Dakota, but the Jacks would lose with a last second Hail Mary pass.

SDSU is 12th in FCS for red zone offense as they are scoring on nearly 90% of their trips inside the twenty. Even better, the Jackrabbits are finishing with touchdowns. They’ve scored 44 times in the red zone this season and 34 of those have been touchdowns, that’s 77% of their red zone scores resulting in six.

The Jacks defense is allowing teams to score just 71% of the time in the red zone, which is 14th best in the nation.

SDSU’s offense starts with RB Pierre Strong Jr., who is second in the FCS for rushing yards at 1,317 yards. He also has a capable back-up in RB Isaiah Davis who came back into action in the regular season finale against North Dakota. After missing eight games due to an injury suffered on Sept. 11, Davis carried nine times for 64 yards and will likely also be a key if the Jacks are to have a long playoff run.

Senior QB Chris Oladokun grad transferred from Samford to be a fill-in for this past spring’s starter in Mark Gronowski after he was lost in the spring’s national title game. Oladokun has posted 2,450 passing yards (28th in FCS), 20 passing touchdowns (22nd in FCS) and just five interceptions this season.

His leading WRs are the Janke twins (Jadon and Jaxon), who have combined for 85 receptions, 1,370 yards and ten touchdowns. Jaxon has 876 of those yards (19th in FCS), but Jadon leads in touchdowns at seven (37th in FCS).

SDSU also has two talented TEs in Tucker Kraft and Zach Heins. Those two have combined for 69 catches for 795 yards and 12 touchdowns.

On defense, SDSU is led by LB Adam Bock who has a team high 100 tackles (32nd in FCS). DT Caleb Sanders has a team high 6.5 sacks as another defensive headliner.

Key Player: QB Chris Oladokun

The UC Davis defense will likely be trying to pick its poison in how it defends the Jacks. I would expect the Aggies to stack the box to try and stop Strong and Davis in the running game and force Oladokun to move the ball through the air.

He has shown he can do this many times this season but with the cold weather (highs expected to be in the low 40s with a strong wind), the Aggies will likely see how Oladokun does in these conditions.

He is a proven signal caller even though this is his first and lone season in Brookings so expect him to do well but if he can’t make the throws he needs, UC Davis will be right in this game to the end.

Fearless Forecast:

South Dakota State is the predominant favorite in this game as the 20 starters are back from its national title game team this fall. This is also the school’s tenth straight playoff bid (second only to MVFC rival North Dakota State’s 12th straight). UC Davis is making just its second FCS Playoff appearance (first was in 2018). But the Aggies were always a DII playoff contender and in fact are tied for fourth in DII postseason tournament appearances with 18.

The Jackrabbits look to strong though and with the home field, I think SDSU will win this game fairly easily. I like the Jackrabbits by two touchdowns but a game that will be close at halftime before SDSU pulls away in the second half. South Dakota State 42 UC Davis 28