Enterprise staff writer
With four-year starting quarterback Noah Shepard having graduated, it was expected that the South Dakota football team would go through some growing pains early in 2010.
The CoyotesÕ season-opening 37-6 loss to a Football Bowl Subdivision Central Florida squad went exactly as expected. But that was about it for the growing pains, as the play of new quarterback Dante Warren has been a revelation for a Coyote team that will be in town to play UC Davis this week.
Through five games, Warren is putting up Shepard-like numbers, and South Dakota hasnÕt missed a beat. The junior signal-caller had 433 total yards and five touchdowns in the CoyotesÕ upset of FBS Minnesota on Sept. 11 and is a big reason why USD is 3-2 on the year and a perfect 1-0 in the Great West.
Because Warren has the dual threat of throwing (1,037 yards, 10 TDs) and running the ball (252 yards, 5 TDs), he will have the full attention of the Aggie defense when the two teams meet on Saturday at Aggie Stadium.
ÒThe quality (Warren) has is that he can take any broken play and make it a big play,Ó said UCD head coach Bob Biggs. ÒHeÕs going to get his yards and is going to do some things with his feet but you just donÕt want him to hurt you with some big plays.Ó
In 2009, Shepard averaged 245 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, two passing touchdowns and 1.3 rushing touchdowns per game with a 149.22 passer rating. WarrenÕs statistics so far this season are very similar Ñ 207 passing yards a contests, 50 rushing, three touchdowns per game and a 146.7 rating.
If the opener against Central Florida is removed Ñ and as South Dakota head coach Ed Meierkort admitted, the play-calling was conservative in WarrenÕs first start Ñ the quarterbackÕs play is even more impressive.
ÒI donÕt think thereÕs any specific way of shutting him down, but you try to limit the things he can do and try to make their game a little bit more one-dimensional,Ó Biggs said.
But Warren is not the CoyotesÕ only weapon.
Running back Chris Ganious has gained 313 yards and three touchdown on 75 carries, while Marcus Sims has proven to be a capable backup, averaging over six yards per rush.
Warren spreads the ball around through the air as six Coyotes have at least seven catches, 84 yards receiving and one touchdown. WarrenÕs favorite targets, however, are sophomore receivers Will Powell and Tom Flanagan, who have combined for 45 catches, 633 yards and seven touchdowns. Powell is a big-play threat, averaging 17.5 yards per grab with five scores.
ÒThey do a great job with their offense,Ó Biggs said. ÒThey throw the short-pass game but then their play-action game is really solid as well. They try to get your linebackers to bite up and then (they throw) in the seams behind them.Ó
Defensively, the Coyotes line up in a 3-4 and tend to bring a fourth rusher on most plays.
The unit is led by junior middle linebackers Shea Williams (40 tackles, two for loss and one sack) and Adam Broders (36 tackles, 3.5 for loss and one interception). The starting safeties Ñ junior Shane Potter and true freshman Aaron Swift Ñ are very active, with 71 tackles and an interception between them.
ÒThey play a lot of different players,Ó Biggs said. ÒTheir linebackers are good players and we thought they were good players last year. They have a lot of new people in their defensive line because I think they had two or three seniors last year. … I think their scheme presents as much problem as their personnel.Ó
Ñ Reach Conor Tekautz at email@example.com or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story or check out The Enterprise sports blog at www.davisenterprise.com. To view photo galleries and purchase prints of UCD football visit http://photos.davisenterprise.com