Start Time: 6 p.m. CST, Saturday, Oct. 29
Location: Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston
Radio: Rice IMG Sports Network, KXKZ 107.5 FM
Streaming: Campus Insiders
Series: 5-4 Louisiana Tech
Point Spread: La Tech by 28
Over/Under: 71 1/2
What’s at Stake
Louisiana Tech (5-4, 3-1) will attempt to become bowl eligible and maintain the lead in Conference USA West. Rice (1-6, 0-4) is trying to prove it can beat a FBS team and perhaps save some jobs with a respectable second half of the season.
During Rice’s 65-44 win over Prairie View A&M Saturday, Tyler Stehling and Samuel Stewart became the second QB/RB duo in school history to post a 400 yard passing and 100 yard rushing day in the same game. The first was Tommy Kramer and James Skyes in 1976.
Stehling was 22 of 31 for 406 yards, and he spread the ball around. Ten different receivers caught balls. His favorite target was Temi Alaka, who caught six passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
“Every athlete is different. They mature in different ways and Temi is coming to the point now where he’s starting to play with confidence,” Rice associate head coach Darrell Patterson said at Monday’s press conference. “He’s starting to realize he has good speed (and) great ball skills. He does something that a lot of players don’t do. He’ll jump for that ball. He fights for it.”
Alaka and his fellow receivers may have opportunities to get open Saturday. La Tech has given up nearly 300 yards a game passing, ranking 121st in the country.
Defensively, Rice is still a work in progress. Prairie View averaged 5.6 yards per rush and completed 62 percent of passes thrown. Still the Bulldog coaches realize Rice defense can pose some problems.
“They play pretty much every front you can play,” Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said in his weekly news conference. “They play every coverage you can play. They are very active and a pressure-oriented football team. It is also starting with (Emmanuel) Ellerbee, their linebacker, who is third in the league in tackles and all over the field.”
Louisiana Tech Outlook
The Bulldogs are third in the nation in passing offense with 369 yards a game. Rice has the third worst pass defense in the country, giving up an average of 323 yards per game. It’s a safe bet that La Tech will throw early and often Saturday.
The Ryan Higgins redemption story has been on display during the quarterback’s senior season. He has passed for 2,622 yards and 24 touchdowns. Jarred Craft has added 782 yards on the ground.
“There’s no question (Louisiana Tech) is a great team,” Patterson said. “(They’re the) No. 1 offense in the conference. Coach Holtz does a fantastic job calling plays. They only run the ball when they need to. But they are capable of doing it at any time. The quarterback has a lot of athleticism. He’s a great scrambler. He can extend plays.”
La Tech has won four straight games, including a 44-24 win at FIU last week. Holtz was pleased with the offense churning out 7.2 yards per play and committing no turnovers. He also saw significant strides in special teams.
“Our kickoff team had two tackles inside the 20-yard line,” he said. “I thought they did a really nice job of containing field position for us. Our punt return had a 19-yard return that set up a score. Our punt team downed a ball on the one-yard line, putting them in a hole. Our kick return had a 50-yard return and a 92-yard return for a touchdown, so far and away our best special teams performance of the season.”
The Bulldogs are 3-0 at home, but this will mark the first home game in 23 days. La Tech is scoring an average of 45 points at home this season.
La Tech closes the season playing three C-USA West contenders, so there’s a chance they could overlook Rice. Nonetheless, Higgins and his weapons should be able to rack up the yards and scores against a Rice passing defense that hasn’t slowed down above-average quarterbacks. Still, I think Rice will keep it competitive into the third quarter before the Bulldogs pull away. La Tech wins 48-24.