CARBONDALE — Redshirt freshman Nic Baker was on his way to stepping out from SIU's three-headed quarterback race at the first fall scrimmage of the season Wednesday morning.
The two-time state champion at Rochester High School led the Salukis to their first scoring drive of the day and completed 3 of 4 passes for 30 yards on another that ended with a fourth-and-2 run at the 13-yard line. On the final drive of the 109-play workout, Baker took the offense down to the 20, when safety Qua Brown leaped up and snared his third-down pass just inside the far right pylon for an interception.
"They've all had different times where they've all had their days, their moments," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "You'd like to see Nic not turn it over there in the red zone at the end. That's a good play by Qua, but you still can't, third-and-long, can't make that decision. We put the (quarterbacks) in some tougher spots there at the end, with some two-and-three offensive linemen. You can't turn the ball over in the red zone, we had two of them today. We'll evaluate this film. It's an ongoing process with the quarterbacks."
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Karé Lyles, a transfer from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, was intercepted by Utah transfer Tré Strong on a diving play in the end zone on another drive. Stone Labanowitz, another junior college transfer, threw two touchdown passes and was not intercepted. Labanowitz found freshman tight end Avery Taggart over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown and Landon Lenoir for a 3-yard score.
With starting running back D.J. Davis out with an injury, Hill and his staff got a good look at the four players competing for carries behind him. Romeir Elliott, a freshman from Indianapolis, scored the first touchdown of the scrimmage on a 5-yard run. Javon Williams Jr. and Elliott combined for 70 of the 75 yards the offense marched on the opening scoring drive. Stats from the scrimmage were not released from SIU, but Williams, Elliott, redshirt freshman Tremayne Lee and junior Joel Blankenship all had big moments at Saluki Stadium.
Hill said he may travel with four running backs if they can also fill some spots on special teams.
"At some time of the year you'll have to use four running backs. I don't know when the last time was you went through a season with your top two backs not getting dinged up and your No. 4 guy becomes your No. 2 guy," Hill said. "Those guys have to be athletes on your team who can play special teams, too. You're usually going to travel four running backs and they have to have a role on special teams."
SIU opens the season at No. 17 Southeast Missouri State Aug. 29. Kickoff at Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau is set for 6:30 p.m.
On Twitter: @THefferman