Rice (0-4) at Southern Mississippi (2-2)
The Sports Network
FACTS & STATS: Site: Roberts Stadium (33,000) -- Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Rice 0-2, USM 1-0. Away Record: Rice 0-2, USM 1-2. Neutral Record: Rice 0-0, USM 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 0-0, USM 1-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: A couple of teams meeting for the first time ever collide at Roberts Stadium this Wednesday, as the Rice Owls tussle with the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in Conference USA action. The Owls, who joined C-USA in 2005 and play in the opposite division of USM, enter the game still in search of their first win of the season, as they have dropped all four of their previous contests, including a 58-14 beating at the hands of nationally- ranked Texas on September 22nd. It was the third straight loss by 24-plus points for Rice, which has been competitive in just one game and that was a season-opening 16-14 loss to Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) member Nicholls State. The Owls now turn their attention to C-USA play, where they finished 6-2 a year ago. As for USM, it concluded a long three-game road swing by dropping a 38-16 decision at Boise State this past Thursday. The team ended up losing two of the three games on the road trip, but that lone win was a 28-21 triumph over East Carolina in league play. Now at an even 2-2 overall, the Eagles return back home for the first time since posting a 35-13 triumph over FCS member Tennesee-Martin in their season-opener on September 1st.
The Owls haven't had much success moving the ball on offense, as they are averaging just 285.6 total ypg, including a mere 78.8 ypg on the ground. Miscues have also been a problem for Rice, which has turned the ball over 11 times already. Last game, the Owls committed two turnovers and were held to just 279 yards of total offense in a 58-14 loss to Texas. Chase Clement was under heavy pressure all game, so he didn't fare all too bad by completing 18- of-32 pass attempts for 220 yards and a score. He did, however, throw a pair of interceptions, pushing his season total to seven. Still, Clement is a dangerous quarterback and he has thrown for 740 yards and three scores thus far, in addition to rushing for 54 yards and two more touchdowns. Jarett Dillard, who had an All-American year in 2006 with 91 catches and 21 touchdowns, has been Clement's favorite target, although he is off to a slow start. Through four games, Dillard has pulled in 19 balls for 254 yards and just one score. Against Texas, Dillard was virtually nonexistent, as he hauled in just three passes for 30 yards. If Rice is going to turn things around, it will need the Clement and Dillard connection to produce like it did a year ago.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Owls need a serious turnaround if they hope to win a game, as they are currently allowing a whopping 43.8 ppg and an equally as bad 488.5 total ypg. The defense has been simply abused through the air, surrendering 331.0 passing ypg and 16 touchdowns. Generating big plays has also been a problem for this unit, which has recorded just five sacks and six turnovers thus far. In the team's last game, Rice was burnt by Texas for 560 yards of total offense, including 333 via the pass. Texas converted on 20- of-31 pass attempts in the game and averaged 7.9 yards per play against the soft Owls' defense. Brian Raines paced the defense in defeat with nine stops and a sack. He has been the best player for the Owls on this side of the ball this season, as he leads the team in tackles (35), TFLs (3.5) and sacks (two).
Offensively, the Eagles have been sound through the first four games of the season and they are averaging 24.5 ppg behind 371.8 total ypg. The team has displayed good balance between the run (165.5 ypg) and pass (206.2 ypg), and it is also converting on 48.0 percent of its third down attempts. In the team's last contest, USM was held to just 318 yards of total offense in a 38-16 setback to Boise State. Damion Fletcher paced the ground attack, which gained 116 yards, with 83 yards and a score on 21 totes. A consensus Freshman All-American in 2006, Fletcher has gotten off to a solid start this season, as he leads the team with 387 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Jeremy Young has also played a part in the team's success on the ground, ranking second to Fletcher with 134 rushing yards. Against Boise State, Young was limited to just 14 rushing yards, but he did throw for 190 yards and a score on 13-of-23 pass attempts. For the year, Young has completed 54.0 percent of his tosses for 796 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His primary outlet is Chris Johnson, who has pulled down 21 passes for 295 yards and two scores. On Thursday, Johnson snared five balls that went for 71 yards in a losing cause.
The Eagles have yet to find their rhythm on the defensive side of the ball, but this unit is far too talented to be allowing 27.8 ppg and 383.0 total ypg for much longer. Last game, USM was simply abused by Boise State to the tune of 506 total yards, including 307 via the pass. The Eagles, who are giving up 242.8 passing ypg on the season, allowed Boise State to convert 19-of-28 throws. Third down conversions was also a problem for USM last Thursday, as Boise State made good on 10-of-15 attempts. On a positive note, the Eagles did manage to force a pair of turnovers in the loss, pushing their total to six for the year. Gerald McRath continued his hot start to the season, as he record 13 tackles to give him a team-best 53 stops for the year. That is 20 more tackles than the next closest players on the roster.
The Eagles are simply the better team on both sides of the ball and they should be able to control the game with their ground attack en route to the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Mississippi 35, Rice 17
Re: Wednesday Football
What bettors need to know: Rice at Southern Mississippi
Rice Owls at Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (-20)
There is one big question surrounding the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (2-2) meeting with the Rice Owls (0-4): Who will be the Golden Eagles’ starting quarterback?
Senior QB Jeremy Young suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s 38-16 loss to Boise State and backup Stephen Reaves left Sunday’s practice with a strained oblique.
"He pulled a muscle in his abdomen," said Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower. "I don't know what this means for Wednesday. It is going to be a game-time decision. He has not practiced today or yesterday.”
Golden Eagles’ red-shirt freshman Martevious Young could start at quarterback if backup Reaves is not healthy by Wednesday. Young should challenge Reaves for more playing time this season.
"When I get under those lights I might be a little nervous, but I think that will pass pretty quickly," Young said.
Rice opens C-USA schedule
The Rice Owls have lost four straight games this season, including Saturday’s 58-14 loss to the 19th-ranked Texas Longhorns.
Could there be light at the end of the tunnel for the Rice Owls?
The Owls open their third year of Conference USA competition on a six-game conference winning streak. Rice had lost nine of its first 10 games against C-USA competition before finishing last season with six consecutive wins, including three straight road wins.
Rice is 7-9 all-time in league play, including a 3-5 record in conference road games. This will be the first meeting between Rice and Southern Miss.
Home sweet home
The Golden Eagles return home for the first time in a month when they meet Rice at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Wednesday.
Southern Mississippi was 5-1 as the host last season. They will be looking to home-field advantage to help make up for last week's disappointing road loss to Boise State.
"We have played four games and we haven't played a good game yet," Golden Eagles’ coach Bower said. "We have not played a complete game and that's what gives me the red butt."
The Rice Owls are 0-2 on the road this season with a 34 ½-point average margin of defeat.
Owls in no rush this season
It’s evident that the Owls aren’t going to pound the Golden Eagles into submission with their ground attack.
Rice ranks 152nd in the nation with under 80 yards rushing per game. Sophomore starting running back C.J. Ugokwe is averaging a meager 53.3 yards per contest this season.
Not surprisingly, Rice’s inability to move the ball on the ground was on display last Saturday in a 58-14 loss to the Texas Longhorns. The Owls rushed for minus-11 yards and gave up five sacks against the Longhorns.
"Texas is absolutely the best, most athletic, biggest, fastest and strongest football team we are going to play this year," Rice's first-year head coach David Bailiff said.
The Owls may not have to deal with the Longhorns this week, but they will be facing another strong rush defense. Southern Miss ranks 70th in the nation with 140.2 rushing yards allowed per game.
The Southern Miss defense held Boise State’s 40th-ranked rush offense under its 198.5-yard season average in a 38-16 loss last Thursday.