Familiar foe: Get to know SIU's Missouri Valley foe turned playoff opponent

The DakotaDome is a 9,100-seat multi-purpose stadium in Vermillion, South Dakota. It opened in 1979 for a cost of $8.2 million and is home to the University of South Dakota Coyotes for numerous athletic events. (photo courtesy gocoyotes.com)

The Southern Illinois football team opens the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs Saturday against the University of South Dakota. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.

“I’m really looking forward to this game. Should be a great matchup,” USD play-by-play broadcaster John Thayer told Prairie State Pigskin.

Like SIU, South Dakota is a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. As a general rule, the FCS playoff committee cannot put two teams in the same league against one another in the first round unless those schools did not play during the regular season.

That is the case as the last meeting between the Salukis and Coyotes was in Oct. 2019 with SIU winning 48-28.

“As far as strengths (of USD this fall), the improved defense has been huge,” Thayer said. “The linebackers are tremendous. They’ve dealt with some injuries there, but guys have stepped up. The defensive line has really gotten better.

“Another strength is the running back position. Those guys have been really good this year.”

Whether SIU fans are traveling to Vermillion, S.D. for the game or just watching it on ESPN-Plus or listening on the radio or internet, here’s a primer on the Salukis’ opponent:

The University of South Dakota

Founded:  1862

Enrollment:  9,464

Nickname:  Coyotes

Colors:  red and white

Location:  Vermillion, S.D. (692 miles from Carbondale; 519 miles from Chicago, according to Google maps)

Population of city:  14,244

Conference:  Missouri Valley

Record:  7-4 overall, 5-3 in conference

Ranking: 17th in the Nov. 22 STATS Perform FCS poll (SIU is 21st)

Head coach:  Bob Nielson (5th season)

Key players:  QB Carson Camp, RB Nate Thomas, RB Travis Theis, WR/PR Carter Bell, TE Caleb Vander Esch, LB Jack Cochrane, LB Brock Mogensen, DB Elijah Reed, K Mason Lorber

Stadium:  DakotaDome (synthetic turf)

Current NFL players: DT Kameron Cline (Colts); OL Tom Compton (49ers); QB Chris Streveler (Cardinals)

Best NFL player:  DE Ordell Braase, Baltimore Colts (1957-1968) 157 games, 123 starts

Notable alumni:  Tom Brokaw, former anchor & managing editor of NBC Nightly News; Tom Laughlin, actor best known for lead role in Billy Jack films of 1970s; Teresa McGovern, daughter of 1972 presidential candidate & former U.S. Sen. George S. McGovern who often shared the public spotlight with him; Joe Robbie, principal founder of the Miami Dolphins

Land of Lincoln links: The Coyotes have eight players from Illinois on their roster, including starting quarterback Carson Camp (Normal West HS) and leading rusher Nate Thomas (Thornwood HS).

“Nate has been great to have,” Thayer said. “He was waiting in the wings and then as soon as he got his opportunity, he’s really showed his ability.”

Bob Nielson was the head coach at Western Illinois (2013-15) prior to the job at USD.

Tight ends coach Tyler Paopao is a former SIU quarterback. After transferring to Occidental College, he was a two-time all-league quarterback and led the team to a conference title. He was drafted by the Ottawa Renegades of the Canadian Football League in 2002 and served as an assistant coach there in 2005. A year later, he served as offensive coordinator for the Lazio Marines in Italy. 

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