UW football: Battle-tested Coyotes coy about their chances

2011-09-21T04:30:00Z 2011-09-21T16:00:20Z UW football: Battle-tested Coyotes coy about their chancesANDY BAGGOT | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

It's hard to tell exactly where the sincerity ends and the gamesmanship starts with South Dakota football coach Ed Meierkort.

As his Coyotes prepare to face the University of Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, a game that will allow him to get in touch with his occupational roots, Meierkort is big on deference.

After all, South Dakota is a Football Championship Subdivision team stepping up a weight class to face the sixth-ranked Badgers. These tend to be mismatches and Meierkort did a nice job of feeding that rhetorical beast even though his team has a lot going for it.

"It's going to be tough for us to keep this game civil," he said.

Meierkort, who spent 11 years as coach at UW-Stout before taking the job in Vermillion, S.D. in December 2003, said the Badgers are the most athletic opponent he's faced and that while he and his fellow Wisconsin transplants in the entourage will be thrilled to take the field, he "wants to make sure we're excited to take it in the second half, too."

Meierkort suggested UW is looking beyond this game to the highly anticipated Big Ten Conference opener against No. 9 Nebraska on Oct. 1.

"This is a team that's maybe going to make a run at a national title," he said of the Badgers. "I'm not playing them up because we're playing them. I'm sure they're a little more preoccupied with next week's game than our game."

Senior nose tackle and co-captain Jesse Weisbrod, once a blip on the recruiting radar screen for UW coach Bret Bielema and his staff out of Waupaca High School, put the game in simple context.

"We're expected to lose," he said.

Perhaps, but the Coyotes, ranked 20th among FCS schools, won't be intimidated and shouldn't be taken lightly. Meierkort acknowledges this might be his best team in his eight years there, one stacked with veterans on the offensive line, defensive line and secondary, as well as proven players at the skill positions.

South Dakota opened the season with a 37-20 loss to Air Force, a Football Bowl Subdivision team like the Badgers, but followed it up with a 30-17 win over defending FCS national champion Eastern Washington and a 48-10 win over Northwestern Oklahoma State.

That many of the Coyotes have not only played in a Big Ten stadium, but won, is a major benefit. Quarterback Dante Warren, now a senior, orchestrated a 41-38 upset of Minnesota last season by rushing for two touchdowns and passing for three more.

Weisbrod said the lesson he and his teammates draw from that experience is reflected in their attitude.

"We were impressed with the stadium and playing in a Big Ten game and everything, but when it came to game time, none of us were really jaw-dropping with the crowd," he said. "It was 11 guys on 11 guys."

Meierkort, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2000, has two assistants from the state: Co-defensive coordinator Jake Sprague (Oak Creek) won two Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowls with the Badgers in 1998 and '99, while special teams coordinator and secondary coach Jake Dickert (Kohler) was an All-WIAC wide receiver with UW-Stevens Point in 2006.

In addition to Weisbrod, senior strong safety Jim Thompson (Hayward), junior punter Cole Zwiefelhofer (Chippewa Falls) and sophomore defensive lineman Taylor Moore (Milwaukee) are from the state.

"These kids are excited to go into Camp Randall," Meierkort said. "The fact they're playing there is a dream come true for them and their parents.

"I'm the same way. Nobody's going to be more excited to take that field than I am."

Meierkort said he hopes to get out of the game — South Dakota is getting a $425,000 guarantee from UW — with enough health and confidence to stage a strong finishing kick.

"If we can keep our senses and get through this game," he said, "then we have a chance to make a run at this Great West title and that's what excites us."

The chance to make a strong impression on a bigger audience does, too.

"You just don't get these opportunities very often, so we've got to take our shot," Meierkort said.

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