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SIU Football | 4-Down Territory: Salukis must be efficient in red zone at SDSU

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SIU offensive lineman and team captain ZeVeyon Furcron (59) is all smiles after the Salukis’ 35-17 win overIllinois State at Saluki Stadium on Saturday in Carbondale.

SIU must be efficient in the red zone if it's able to get there Saturday at South Dakota State, in today's Saluki Football 4-Down Territory.

For all the latest on SIU Football and the MVFC, tune in to the 4-Down Territory at thesouthern.com every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4 p.m. during the season. Digital subscriptions start at $1 for six months ($10.99 a month after that) or $3.77 for 13 weeks for Digital Platinum, for faster-loading web pages. Print and digital packages, which include The Southern Illinoisan in your mailbox every Tuesday through Saturday, start at $32 a month.

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First Down: Red zone results

The Salukis may not reach the red zone at No. 2/3 South Dakota State this weekend, but if they do, they'll have to make the most of it if they want to win, according to coach Nick Hill. 

SIU (4-1, 2-0 MVFC), the No. 7/8 team in the country, is 21 for 22 scoring in the red zone this season. Nico Gualdoni's missed 45-yard field goal at the end of regulation at Western Illinois Oct. 2 is the only fail so far this fall once the Salukis pierce the opponents' 20-yard line. 

SDSU (4-0, 1-0) has only given up 37 points all season. 

"Obviously, we gotta be ready for any type of game," Hill said. "That's what we talk about each week. Whatever it takes to win. Historically, it's been tough to score on these guys, and I don't know how many points they, historically, give up at home. It's not many. And so, we gotta be efficient with our drives. As we found out in the playoff game, when we get down in the red zone, we gotta score touchdowns. We can't settle for too many field goals."

SIU has been balanced this season, with 12 touchdowns rushing and 12 passing through five games. Running back Javon Williams Jr. leads the Salukis with six touchdowns rushing. Wide receiver Landon Lenoir has five receiving, and quarterback Nic Baker has 11 passing and one rushing. 

SDSU has allowed two touchdowns rushing and three passing this season. The Jackrabbits are allowing only 73 yards a game on the ground and 211.1 through the air. SDSU has three preseason all-conference first team picks on offense and defense, with defensive lineman Caleb Sanders, linebacker Logan Backhaus and cornerback Don Gardner on the defensive side. Gardner didn't play against Dixie State after starting the first three games. 

Opponents against SDSU have scored on five of nine red zone chances so far this season (56%). Four of those scores were touchdowns.

Second Down: Baker into top 18

Baker moved up to 18th place on SIU's all-time passing list after throwing for 240 yards and two scores in the Salukis' 31-30 overtime win at Western Illinois. Baker's 2,035 yards are 19 yards behind Ron Winter (1959-61) for 17th place. 

Baker's 66.2% completion percentage ranks tied for fourth in SIU history with Mark Iannotti (2014-15).

Third Down: Perfect so far

There are 11 unbeaten teams left in the FCS entering this weekend, with two of them in the MVFC. SDSU is 4-0, and No. 5 North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0) are still perfect. NDSU hosts No. 12/16 Northern Iowa (3-1, 1-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Fargodome (ABC ND, ESPN+). 

Here's a quick look at the unbeatens:

5-0 ETSU, Eastern Washington, UC Davis

4-0 JMU, NDSU, Rhode Island, Sam Houston, SDSU

3-0 Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton

Fourth Down: YSU's two-way starter

Youngstown State junior cornerback Natavious Payne made his first career start on defense at Northern Iowa. Payne had spent the first three years with the program as a wide receiver.  Impressively, he started six games at wide receiver in the seven-game spring campaign before switching positions in fall camp.

Payne caught a team-high 12 passes for 141 yards in the spring. This fall, he has 11 tackles, including 10 solos and a sack. In his career he has 30 receptions for 313 yards and a TD. YSU (1-3, 0-2) hosts No. 15/16 Missouri State (3-1, 2-0) Saturday at 1 p.m. (ESPN+).

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Four of the five conference games this weekend will feature a top 25 team, with two games between top-15 teams.

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