Former UW-Stout coach Meierkort understands what his S. Dakota team faces
Ask him a direct question and you’ll get a direct response.
That attitude led to this commentary after South Dakota routed outmanned Northwestern Oklahoma State last week.
“It is what it is,” Meierkort said after the 48-10 victory over the NAIA program. “It’s a win against an inferior opponent. We knew that coming in. But it sure beats a loss against an inferior opponent.”
Meierkort, who was the head coach at UW-Stout from 1993-2003 and is in his eighth season at South Dakota, knows the roles will be different this week.
The Coyotes (2-1), ranked No. 18 in the Football Championship Subdivision Sports Network poll, face No. 6 Wisconsin (3-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Camp Randall.
“We’re going to be monster underdogs,” he said. “They’ve pistol-whipped everybody they’ve played.
“It’s exciting for the kids. It’s exciting for the program. We’re going to go out and figure out a way to compete our rear ends off, the way we always do, and let the chips fall where they may.
“You never know what can happen. You put a uniform on; you’ve always got a chance to win a game.”
Meierkort’s players have nothing to lose so they see no reason to fear the trip to Madison.
“We’re going to hit ’em in the mouth and see what happens,” sophomore defensive end Tyler Starr said. “It’s just football. Miracles can happen.”
Junior wide receiver Will Powell, the team’s MVP as a sophomore, remembers how the Coyotes stunned Minnesota, 41-38, last season in Minneapolis.
“I can’t even describe how excited I am to play Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s going to be fantastic going into that stadium.”
Meierkort is more realistic.
He remembers the three-point victory over the Gophers, a victory that turned the players into celebrities on campus and led to some ESPN airtime for the coach.
He also knows the Minnesota program last season was in disarray.
“Our alumni is all amped up over the Eastern Washington win and the fact we beat Minnesota last year,” said Meierkort, 50-31 with the Coyotes. “I keep trying to temper that. The Minnesota win has nothing to do with playing this team at Camp Randall.”
“(Minnesota) helps us because we’ve been in that environment. But they’re completely different programs, different teams. Wisconsin is a top-five team in the country. Minnesota was going through a coaching change. Camp Randall is significantly bigger and rowdier than it is playing at TCF (Stadium).”
Meierkort was at UW-Stout when Barry Alvarez was building a UW program that eventually recorded three Rose Bowl victories. He has kept tabs on the program since Bret Bielema took over after the 2005 season.
“Their quarterback just makes them a completely different team,” he said, referring to senior Russell Wilson. “I think their offensive line coach Bob Bostad is the best in the country. I really do. They just replace kids after they graduate and go to the NFL.
“Defensively they are solid. They’re not as juiced up as they were a year ago with some of the big-time playmakers. But they’re very well-coached and they defend their home turf.”
Meierkort knows the risk involved in facing UW. An ugly loss could damage the players’ psyche. A few key injuries could hurt the team’s depth.
The Coyotes were picked to finish fourth in the Great West Conference, but Meierkort believes he has a team that can contend for the league title before moving to the Missouri Valley Conference in 2012.
“But our kids are excited to play this game,” he said. “They really are. We don’t get an opportunity to go into that kind of environment. It’s one of the best college football environments in the country.”