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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | October 8, 2021

No. 7 Southern Illinois visits No. 3 South Dakota State in Week 6's FCS game of the week

Sam Houston defeats South Dakota State 23-21 to win first FCS title

For this week's FCS game of the week, head to Brookings, South Dakota, where No. 7 Southern Illinois faces No. 3 South Dakota State in the Week 6's top-10 matchup that's scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 9. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

The Salukis visiting the Jackrabbits get the nod for Week 6's game of the week out of five games that feature two ranked teams. While games like No. 9 Villanova at No. 2 James Madison and No. 12 Northern Iowa at No. 5 North Dakota State also received consideration, Southern Illinois and South Dakota State are the two highest-ranked teams this week to play. 

The football world will see the Jackrabbits in their first real test since falling short in the spring 2021 FCS Championship game. Meanwhile, Southern Illinois is undefeated in FCS play, with their lone loss coming to Kansas State.

Entering Week 6's contest, Southern Illinois is 4-1 while South Dakota State is 4-0. 

Week 6 FCS game of the week: 

Southern Illinois at South Dakota State | 3 p.m. | ESPN+

After a close call that saw Southern Illinois get away with a Week 5 overtime win, the Salukis will face the first of three straight ranked opponents. The Salukis will look for their first ranked win of 2021 with 5’9 sophomore QB Nic Baker leading the offense. Don’t let Baker’s small stature fool you; he makes big-time plays for the Southern Illinois offense. He’s helped by two star wide receivers in All-American Avante Cox and Landon Lenoir. Currently, Cox is questionable for this week’s game after suffering a shoulder injury. If Cox is unable to play, Southern Illinois may rely heavily on their rushing attack powered by RB Javon Williams Jr.

RANKINGS: Check out the latest FCS rankings

On defense, Southern Illinois is led up front by defensive ends Jordan Berner and Richie Hagarty. Berner, a preseason all-conference pick, has taken some pressure off of Hagarty, a freshman, allowing Hagarty to lead the Salukis in tackles for loss and sacks through five games. The backend of the defense features All-American S Qua Brown. The versatile safety is second on the team in tackles and tied for first on the team in interceptions. Southern Illinois will need big days from all three to slow down South Dakota State.

South Dakota State has won the last six meetings against Southern Illinois and the Jackrabbits will look to make it seven in a row behind a strong offense. Fittingly, RB Pierre Strong Jr. leads the way for South Dakota State. He is the nation's fourth-leading rusher. Even with the loss of backfield mate RB Isaiah Davis (Davis underwent surgery on Sept. 14), Strong has the Jackrabbits rolling through the competition, third in FCS scoring offense at 48.2 points per game. However, South Dakota State’s offense is more than just a dominant rushing attack; new transfer QB Chris Oladokun has been efficient through the air, tossing 11 touchdowns on the season.

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South Dakota State balances having the third-best FCS scoring offense by having the third-best FCS scoring defense. The Jackrabbits are the only FCS team with top-3 spots in both categories. The defense is led by LB Logan Backhaus, a preseason Buck Buchanan award candidate, and DT Caleb Sanders, who leads the team in tackles for loss. They are a part of a playmaking group coming off a four-interception performance in last week’s win against Dixie State. It’s a good sign for the Jackrabbits entering Week 6’s matchup, especially after forcing three Saluki turnovers in the last meeting between the two schools.

LEADERS: See every FCS statistical leader

When Southern Illinois plays South Dakota State on Saturday, it will be the third meeting in less than seven months. The winner of the latest battle will get an early lead in the race for the Missouri Valley Football Conference crown while sending a statement as one of the FCS's best teams.

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