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Veteran USD coach goes back in time, takes over play-calling duties

After two lackluster games, head coach Bob Nielson also assumed offensive coordinator title

NCAA Football: South Dakota at Kansas
Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold (left) talks with South Dakota Coyotes head coach Bob Nielson before a 2021 game at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports
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FARGO — It took almost 104 minutes before the University of South Dakota scored a point this season. And this was not a defensive soccer battle.

It’s Division I FCS football and the Coyotes, after getting shut out at Kansas State in their opener, didn’t score against the University of Montana until midway through the fourth quarter. By then, Bob Nielson had probably seen enough.

So he did something about it.

The veteran head coach went back to the future, back to his days at Division II Minnesota Duluth, and took over play-calling duties with the USD offense. The result has the Coyotes feeling better about their offense heading into Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener against North Dakota State at the DakotaDome.

“It makes you feel like you’re coaching again,” Nielson said. “I told somebody after the game, instead of standing on the sideline making a decision or two and being more of an overall watcher of the game. I know I had to knock a little rust off. There were a few series I'd like back.”

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The Coyotes had 270 total yards against the Big 12 Conference Wildcats. It wasn’t until a 25-yard touchdown run from Travis Theis with 6 minutes, 27 seconds left in the game in a 24-7 loss to the Grizzlies did USD get on the board.

Two days later, the USD athletic department announced Nielson was taking over play-calling from offensive coordinator Ted Schlafke, whose role moving forward hasn’t been announced. Schlafke is the quarterbacks coach.

The Coyotes jumped on Cal Poly last week with three first-quarter touchdowns in a 38-21 win.

“I’m more involved on the offensive side here as a head coach,” Nielson said. “Always have been. That’s where my background was.”

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The last time Nielson called plays was when he was the head coach at Minnesota Duluth, where the Bulldogs were highly successful, going 100-26 in his 10 years, including two undefeated Division II national championship seasons. Schlafke played quarterback for Nielson.

“It’s not like I didn’t have a good feel for our plans offensively,” Nielson said. “I’m not going to say there wasn’t a lot of transition, but at the same time being able to step into that role and have a good feel for what we were doing well and the things we weren’t doing well. One of the things we tried to do last week is simplify our plan to allow our guys to play a little bit faster.”

Playing fast translated into four touchdowns of at least 40 yards. Quarterback Carson Camp started it with a 75-yard touchdown run the first time USD had the ball.

Asked if he’s seen a difference in the Coyotes with Nielson calling the plays and NDSU head coach Matt Entz said it’s been too short of a sample size to get an accurate reading.

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“It did look like they’re using more of the play clock,” Entz said. “Maybe that’s the head ball coach trying to protect his defense a little more.”

Only 6,812 fans attended the home opener against the Mustangs. The crowd is expected to be much better with NDSU in town in an indoor arena that seats 9,100. Like Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, when the DakotaDome is packed, it gets loud.

“I hope our fans are excited,” Nielson said. “North Dakota State has certainly demonstrated they are at the top of the heap in FCS football. It’s a great challenge, but I always say a great challenge brings with it a great opportunity and we have an opportunity to go out Saturday and be the best football team we’ve been this year and find a way to do the things we need to do to come away with a win.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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