Rice Outlook: If you've come looking for answers about how Rice, a preseason favorite to challenge Louisiana Tech for control of the West, ended up with a 4-6 record despite a favorable schedule I'm afraid I don't have any answers to offer. I didn't think Rice would be a world beater after losing most of their defensive standouts from last season but I was anticipating them being a solid contender, certainly able of knocking off a struggling UTSA team. Instead, the Owls shamble into San Antonio three point underdogs after taking it on the chin against Southern Miss to the tune of 65-10. Sixty five to ten. My face just melted while typing that.
Senior quarterback Driphus Jackson hasn't quite blossomed as expected this season. His stats are still solid but certainly more pedestrian than one would expect from a senior surrounded by some nice talent in the offense. What is that nice talent, you ask? The Owls are stacked in the backfield. Junior running back Darik Dillard leads the way with 566 yards and four touchdowns on the season. He's followed by promising, stout freshman Samuel Stewart who caught my eye during Rice's game against UT. Freshman running back Austin Walter is also an electric change-of-pace back that is averaging 6.1 yards per carry on 55 touches. Receivers Dennis Parks (6'2", 200) and Nate German (6'2", 200) are also dependable targets out wide.
UTSA might be looking in the mirror defensively when lined up against Rice. Just like the Roadrunners, Rice has little depth on the defensive line which causes them to struggle getting off the field on third and long.
Linebacker Alex Lyons holds it all together for Rice. He's totaled 48.5 tackles (10% of the team's total), 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and three pass break ups for the Owls this season. It's hard to find anyone that jumps off the stat sheet past Lyons as the Owls have only brought down two interceptions and 10 sacks on the year. That defensive line concern I voiced earlier? Only four defensive linemen for Rice have over 10 tackles this season.
UTSA Outlook: The Roadrunners were finally able to snap their four game losing streak after knocking off the woeful Charlotte 49ers in overtime last week. While it was great for UTSA to get the proverbial monkey off of their back, the Roadrunners played very poorly against an opponent that they heavily outmatched in size and speed.
After sophomore quarterback Dalton Sturm threw three interceptions in the first half the Roadrunners relied heavily on running back Jarveon Williams to win the game. I expect to see more of the same against Rice. The Roadrunner offensive line had a bit of a resurgence against Charlotte as Sturm was afforded more time to sit in the pocket than usual and the running backs only suffered 12 yards of losses. Although starting center Juan Perez-Isordio appears to be out for the game, I still like the Roadrunners chances to ground-and-pound Rice. Freshman Clayton Woods has held his own in limited playing time this season.
Defensively, UTSA will lean on defensive end Jason Neill to reproduce his six tackle, two sack, one QB hurry performance against Charlotte. The Roadrunners will get a bit of a boost on defense as starting defensive tackle Brian Price will return from injury to man the interior for UTSA.
Prediction: On paper I really, really like UTSA's odds in this game. In my gut and heart? I have a hard time believing that a.) Rice is as bad as the statistics make them look and b.) UTSA is mentally prepared to win a close game against a solid divisional opponent. The Roadrunners don't have much to play for besides their own pride but Rice is still fighting for a bowl bid. On the flipside, it's extremely hard to beat a team four years in a row.
My gut tells me that Rice grinds out a win on the ground in a close, entertaining game marked by mental mistakes for UTSA.