BOZEMAN — Jake Wieneke has ruled over opponents during his career at South Dakota State, and he’s been roundly compared to another receiver that made mincemeat of defenses during his time at the FCS level — Eastern Washington star Cooper Kupp.
Surely the two are cut from the same cloth in that they flew under the radar coming out of high school. It seems crazy now, but Kupp walked on at EWU out of Yakima, Washington, and Wieneke’s only real collegiate offer came from South Dakota State.
For Montana State coach Jeff Choate, whose team has the task of containing Wieneke and the Jackrabbits this week, that’s where the resemblances end. Wieneke is a different animal.
“Physically, they're very different. Short-area quickness is (Kupp’s) strength,” Choate said. “I don’t know what (Wieneke) runs on the clock but he is very fast. He’s a big target; big catch radius. The best thing he does is go up and win the 50/50 ball and go vertical.
“Wieneke is a really competitive guy. He knows he’s going to get doubled. He knows they’re going to try to beat him up at the line of scrimmage. And yet week in and week out he just seems to produce.”
How the Bobcats fare this week against Wieneke, a product of Maple Grove, Minnesota, will go a long way toward their prospects of upsetting SDSU, the No. 4-ranked team in the FCS poll.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Wieneke is a troublesome matchup for defenses. His size, speed and ability to make plays in the air has put him squarely on the NFL radar. Wieneke had a huge debut to his senior season last week when he caught four touchdowns in a 51-13 home win over Duquesne.
Wieneke’s stats may be Kupp-lite, but they’re still very impressive. His 229 career receptions are a school record, and his 4,267 yards and 47 touchdown catches are Missouri Valley Football Conference marks.
(By contrast, Kupp, who now plays for the L.A. Rams, had 6,464 receiving yards and 73 touchdowns at EWU, which are all-time Division I records.)
“He’s just very athletic,” said MSU safety Bryson McCabe, who started his career at SDSU and is a former teammate of Wieneke’s. “He can run very well. He doesn’t look too fast on film but when you see him in person, he flies.
“You’ll be seeing him on Sundays. He’s a heck of a player. He’s a very smart football player and he’s just fun to watch.”
SDSU’s offense, quarterbacked by dual-threat junior Taryn Christion and supplemented by 260-pound senior tight end Dallas Goedert, a highly regarded NFL prospect in his own right, creates advantages all over the field.
“We’re very confident. It’s a veteran offense,” Wieneke said. “Taryn is a great leader. Everything he brings to the table, it’s so much. He can do it all physically. He can run, he can pass, and he stays composed.
“Dallas Goedert, you see for yourself what he can do. He’s a freak, just big and fast and athletic. You’ve got to focus on him. Corners can’t tackle him, safeties can’t run with him, and nobody can jump with him. He’s a nightmare matchup.”
Last week, the Bobcats used a prevent defense to try to slow quarterback Luke Falk and Washington State. The plan accomplished much of what it was designed to do, though MSU still lost 31-0.
Is a similar game plan in the works this week?
“We’re not going to be able to play umbrella defense against everybody,” Choate said. “There’s going to be times where we have to be more aggressive and be able to play some man coverage on the outside. This may not be the week.”
Wieneke and the Jackrabbits have had recent success at Bobcat Stadium.
In the first round of the 2014 playoffs, SDSU beat Montana State 47-40 during a blizzard. Wieneke, then a freshman, had four catches for 57 yards, but the real star was running back Zach Zenner, who rushed for 252 yards and scored five total TDs.
“Every time Zenner touched the ball he was running away from everybody,” Wieneke remembered.
The Jackrabbits don’t have a ball-carrier like Zenner this time around, but senior Brady Mengarelli is closing in on 2,000 career rushing yards. The offensive line is well built, and is anchored by upperclassmen.
This is coach John Stiegelmeier’s 20th season at SDSU, and true to form his team is veteran-laden.
“They expect to win,” Choate said. “They’ve got good leadership and continuity.”
NOTES: Junior LB Koni Dole, noticeably absent from the Bobcats since the start of fall camp, is no longer with the program, an MSU spokesman said. Dole made national news when he returned to play football after having his right leg amputated, the result of a compound fracture suffered during a high school game at Huntley Project in 2012. Attempts to contact Dole have been unsuccessful.