Bob Nielson called it "not winning football."
When you essentially give your opponent 21 points, you’re going to indeed find it hard to win.
And that’s what the South Dakota football team discovered in Saturday night’s 42-28 loss to Northern Iowa at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
The Coyotes committed three turnovers deep in their own territory — at the 4-yard line (a fumble on a kick return), the 25-yard line (an interception) and a fumble that was recovered in the end zone.
Here are five takeaways from the loss for the Coyotes.
1. The turnovers were of the ‘costly’ variety
Had the Coyotes instead fumbled twice or thrown an interception deep in Northern Iowa’s territory, they might not have turned into points.
The defense might have been able to stiffen up and picked the offense up.
But when you’re giving the opponent the ball twice at or near the goal line, and another time just outside the red zone, it’s tough to overcome those mistakes.
"We’re probably fortunate to be as close as we were, honestly," head coach Bob Nielson said.
Turnovers that result in points are momentum changers, and the Coyotes twice discovered that on Saturday.
Northern Iowa scored a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining in the second quarter and took a 14-13 lead. South Dakota, though, fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Panthers ended the half with a short touchdown run to lead 21-13 at the break.
And then there were the two USD turnovers in the fourth quarter that resulted in a pair of UNI touchdowns within 11 seconds — and suddenly a 28-21 Panthers lead ballooned to 42-21.
2. Run game still needs some work
Northern Iowa’s defensive line caused problems for USD all game, and most of the time it was with only a three-man front.
Still, the Panthers were able to pressure USD quarterback Austin Simmons (he was sacked five times and rushed out of the pocket numerous other times) and they were able to hold the Coyotes to 38 rushing yards.
"We needed to be able to run the football," Nielson said. "We’re going to watch the film and going to be disappointed in terms of how we blocked.
"We weren’t very consistent there."
3. Missed opportunities were damaging
A week ago against Missouri State, the Coyotes were still able to muster out a victory despite settling for two short field goals and missing two others.
Against Northern Iowa, though, it was going to take seven points instead of three to keep pace.
"We said going into the game that one of the big things that we had to do was be a really good red zone team," Nielson said.
Instead, the Coyotes had to settle for field goals early on Saturday — a 39-yarder from Mason Lorber midway through the first quarter and a 22-yarder from Lorber early in the second quarter.
"When you play a team like Northern Iowa, you better put points on the board when you get chances to put points on the board, because they’re going to be hard to come by," Nielson said.
4. The two QBs spread the wealth
If you were an offensive skill player on either side of Saturday night’s showdown, you had to figure you’d get the ball.
A total of 18 guys between the two teams caught a pass: 10 for USD and eight for Northern Iowa.
South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons completed 34-of-47 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
Dakarai Allen and Kai Henry each caught six passe, Brett Samson and Levi Falck caught five each and Shamar Jackson caught four. Caleb Vander Esch had three receptions, Reggie Crawford had one, and Connor Herrmann, Alex Jensen and Randy Baker all had one reception.
Northern Iowa quarterback Eli Dunne was 24-of-33 passing for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
Trevor Allen had a team-high five receptions, while Briley Moore, Deion McShane, Nick Fossey, Jaylin James and Marcus Weymiller all had three catches. Elias Nissen and Jalen Rima both had two catches.
5. Is it time for playoff talk?
With a month now remaining in the regular season, might the Coyotes be in a position where Saturday’s game at Youngstown State is close to a ‘must win’?
"I think it’s way too early to even talk about playoffs," Nielson said.
"You have to win football games, that’s what it’s all about."
South Dakota has five league games remaining in the season, but two of those are against No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 2 South Dakota State.
That’s why the game at Youngstown State is so important.
• If USD loses in Ohio, it would be at 3-4 (2-2 in the Valley), and would probably need to win three of its final four games.
• If USD wins in Ohio, it would be at 4-3 (3-1) and could still remain in the playoff hunt with two wins in the final four — depending on who they come against, of course.