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Five questions for SDSU’s defense heading into the season

BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State football team will open fall camp in less than a month and with the season opener seven and a half weeks away, I decided to come up with the five questions for the Jackrabbit defense heading into the 2024 season.

SDSU was the top defense in the FCS last season and a lot of people regarded it as one of the best defenses the subdivision has ever seen. Last year the Jacks gave up 257.2 yards and 9.2 points per game, both of which were the top in the FCS.

The Jackrabbits returned everyone on the defensive side in 2023, but heading into 2024 they will have to fill six starting spots. So, let’s take a look at some of those positions, along with some other key storylines.

Who will fill in the depth at the linebacker
position?
Three of the biggest losses on the defense come at the linebacker position as Jason Freeman, Isaiah Stalbird and Saiveon Williamson all graduated. Stalbird and Freeman started every game for the Jacks the past two seasons and Williamson filled in for Adam Bock when he was injured.

Whoever replaces Freeman and Stalbird will be playing the outside linebacker positions. Seniors Caleb Francel and Graham Spalding are prime candidates be the two starters as Francel had 26 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in 2023 and Spalding was even better with 35 tackles, one TFL and one interception.

Seniors Daeton Mcgaughy and Adam Kusler will likely see a lot of playing time as well; they both played in double digit games in 2023. Mcgaughy had 23 tackles in 12 games and Kusler had 13 tackles in 15 games.

Sophomore Cullen McShane also played in double digit games in 2023 and had 12 tackles and a forced fumble.
Redshirt freshman Chase Van Tol could be the guy that turns some heads in 2024. Van Tol, who is from Tea, made a lot of plays during the Spring Game in April and has been talked highly of by the coaching staff.

Who will be starting opposite of Dalys Beanum?
Over the past two seasons the Jackrabbits have had a lot of experience at the cornerback position with the likes of Malik Lofton, DyShawn Gales and Dalys Beanum. With Lofton graduating in 2022 and Gales graduating in 2023, that leaves an open starting spot opposite of Beanum, who decided to return for his fifth season at SDSU.

That battle will be between juniors Myles Taylor and Ayden Dautermann, senior Steven Arrell and sophomore Jalen Lee. All four saw playing time in 2023.

Arrell led the four in tackles with 14 and Dautermann was the only one to have an interception. Lee played in just two games and Taylor played in nine games and had 10 tackles and two passes defended.

All four players have shown promise, whether it has been in game or in practice. It will be fascinating as to who takes over for Gales and how he does in that role because Gales was on the All-MVFC Team in both the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

Will the Jacks have the same amount of depth on the defensive line?
Last season the Jacks played eight defensive linemen every game with ease. However, they lost three of their starters on the defensive line to graduation in Cade Terveer, Ryan Van Merel and Quinton Hicks. The lone returning starter is defensive tackle Jarod DePriest.

SDSU returns graduate senior Blake Peterson, senior Randy Keumogne, junior Aaron Wolfcale-Holsten, senior Max Baloun, junior Levi Vanden Bos and senior Zach Wilson on the defensive line as well. Those six players combined for 42 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 2023.

The Jacks will rely on those players to step into bigger roles in 2024. SDSU’s depth along the defensive line over the past two seasons has led to them having one of the best pass rushes and rush defenses in the country. The depth allows them to have fresh bodies and wear down the opponents offensive line.

Luckily for SDSU, all of those players are upperclassmen and have experience playing. I wouldn’t expect there to be too big of a drop off, but don’t be surprised if the chain gang gets off to somewhat of a slow start.

Can Tucker Large take another big step?
Tucker Large broke onto the scene late in the 2022 season and he followed that with a strong campaign in 2023. The junior safety from Sioux Falls had 49 tackles, four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and 13 passes defended last season.

He was a spark for the special teams unit as well as he returned one punt for a touchdown and averaged 18.9 yards per return in 21 returns.

Large was named to the All-MVFC First Team in 2023 and if he continues the upwards trajectory that he’s on, he may find himself on an All-America team in 2024, whether it be as a safety or as a punt returner.

Will Adam Bock return to All-American form?
Sixth year senior linebacker Adam Bock was one of the best defensive players in 2021 as he was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the nation’s best defensive player at the FCS level.

He was named to the HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team in 2021 after leading SDSU with 125 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The past two seasons Bock has performed well when he’s been on the field but has missed a total of nine games due to injury. During those two seasons he totaled 141 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Bock is the leader of the SDSU defense as he’s been a captain for the past two seasons. If Bock can stay healthy for the 2024 season there’s no reason he can’t get back on the All-American team.

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