Start Time: 8:00 PM EST, Friday, November 6
Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
Radio: Rice: here. UTEP: here.
Records: Rice: 4-4. UTEP: 3-5. Rice leads the overall series 12-6.
Live Stats: here.
Line: Rice -7. Over/Under: 57.
Rice Outlook: It has not been pretty so far, but the Rice Owls head into this game with a chance to get to eight wins on the season.
On offense, everything comes down to taking care of the football. That has not been a virtue of the Owls on offense with 16 fumbles on the season. Of those 16, 11 were lost to the other team. When not fumbling the football, the Owls are very successful at a 48.5% rate, but not explosive at all. It is all about moving the ball slowly downfield with Darik Dillard, Samuel Stewart, Austin Walter, and Jowan Davis. None of the four will completely blow you away, but Walter has been impressive with a 6.5 yards per carry average. Combined, the quartet of rushers have gained 1,251 yards and nine touchdowns.
When quarterback Driphus Jackson is on target, the Owls are hard to beat. The problem is that he hasn't been on target all that often in 2015. His 61.2% completion rate is decent, but it drops to only 55.3% when targeting his favorite reciever, Zach Wright. Senior Dennis Parks has stepped up with 403 yards receiving to lead the team. Sophomore Temi Alaka rounds out a trio that account for 53.3% of all targets on the season. Overall, Rice is passing for 233.6 yards per game and totaling 416.9 yards per game of total offense.
The biggest surprise for the Owls in 2015 has been the inability of the defense to stop pretty much anyone. The defense ranks #123 in IsoPPP, #111 in defensive success rate, and #127 in points allowed per trip inside the 40. Basically, the Owls give up big plays, cannot make stops, and give up lots points. The rush defense is bad in giving up 5.3 yards per carry, 196.5 yards per game. The pass defense is even worse with teams averaging over ten yards per pass attempt.
Players to watch on the Rice defense include: Alex Lyons, Brian Womac, Derek Brown.
UTEP Outlook: Despite this season being a bit of a mess, the Miners head into this game still in the running to become bowl eligible.
It took six games, but the Miners finally have a new leading rusher for the season. LaQuintus Dowell is the team leader with 257 yards on 58 carries. One of the biggest problems for the run game is a stuff rate that is nearly 25%. That will not win many games. Dowell is flanked by Jeremiah Laufasa's 200 yards rushing in the backfield. Overall, the Miners are among the worst in the nation with only 135.2 yards per game on the ground.
Other than a game in which Ryan Matz went interception crazy, the Miners have been acceptable passing the ball. Mack Leftwich is back in charge and likes to spread the ball around. Jaquan White, Hayden Plinke, Autrey Golden, and Tyler Batson make up a group that has 87 catches on the year. The quartet make up 61.7% of all passing targets on the season for UTEP. Overall, the Miners account for 210.9 yards per game in the air.
The Miners have improved somewhat on defense, but are still among the worst in the nation at stopping offenses. The biggest issue is the inability to stop the big play with the defense ranking dead last in the FBS in defensive IsoPPP. Offenses run the ball at a 5.4 yards per carry average, dominating the line of scrimmage in the process. The pass defense is giving up nearly 300 yards per game in the air. Overall, UTEP is allowing an astounding 482.5 yards per game of total offense.
Players to watch on the UTEP defense include: Alvin Jones, Nick Usher, and Jimmy Musgrave.
Prediction: A high-scoring game. Neither defense has shown the ability to stop anyone on a regular basis, so why would anyone think that would stop now? Rice has the better and more balanced offense and a slightly better defense. The Owls have just enough defense to avoid falling further back in the CUSA West. Rice 38, UTEP 28.