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With Christion, Jackrabbits have gone all-Big Sky on the Missouri Valley

FARGO--The role call of standout running backs at South Dakota State in the Division I era is pretty steady--a list from A-Z whether it was Anthony Watson or Zach Zenner. It's a philosophy that head coach John Stiegelmeier used to build his progr...

FARGO-The role call of standout running backs at South Dakota State in the Division I era is pretty steady-a list from A-Z whether it was Anthony Watson or Zach Zenner. It's a philosophy that head coach John Stiegelmeier used to build his program over the years.

Ground and pound on the old grass at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.

That changed this year in more than just the new Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium that includes a new artificial turf surface. The veteran coach has gone all Big Sky on the Missouri Valley Football Conference with an aerial attack that more resembles Eastern Washington than a Dakota school.

"It's been a lot of fun throwing the ball around and a lot of fun winning games," said SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion.

The Jackrabbits will be at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome to face North Dakota State on today in a battle of league leaders. They feature an individual conference leader in Christion, who is tops in the Valley in passing yardage at 327 per game.

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He's thrown for 827 yards in the last two games alone with last week's 466 against Southern Illinois breaking a school record set by Dan Fjeldheim in 2002 against St. Cloud State. Christion's 20 touchdown passes are tied for second in the FCS behind Eastern Washington's Gabe Gubrud, who has 23.

"You take your strengths and try to maximize them," Stiegelmeier said. "I prefer to run the ball, there's nothing more discouraging than when I was a defensive coordinator and a team would run 14 plays up the field and most were runs. But our goal is to win football games and we put it in the hands of our offensive coordinator and honor what he chooses to do."

With Christion, Stiegelmeier has a player who completed 55 percent of his passes last year. His completion rate skyrocketed to 68 percent so far this season.

"Just getting more reps with the wide receivers over the summer and over the winter," Christion said.

An improvement from his rookie year is a trait seen in most good throwing quarterbacks: poise in the pocket. Blessed with good quickness, the tendency for Christion last year was to take off and use that speed probably sooner than he needed, Stiegelmeier said.

"He used to panic and use his legs more," he said.

That's not the case with 6-foot-5 tight end Dallas Goedert and 6-4 wide receiver Jake Wieneke. They're second and third in the Valley in receptions with 34 and 33 respectively and they use their height to their advantage.

"It gives me a lot of confidence to put the ball wherever and they'll go up and get it," Christion said. "They're bigger than most defensive backs. It's just putting the ball up high enough to give them a good chance."

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And a chance to end an eight-game losing streak against the Bison, six of which were played for the Dakota Marker in the regular season.

"Every game in the Missouri Valley is tough and we know they're all going to be a battle," Christion said. "They're fun games to be in, especially the ones that are a shootout."

No. 14 South Dakota State at No. 1 North Dakota State

When: 2:30 p.m. today

Where: Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome

TV: KVLY. Radio: 107.9-FM

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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