Rice (0-3) at Southern Miss (2-2) (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: M. M. Roberts Stadium (36,000) — Hattiesburg,
Mississippi. Television: FCS. Home Record: Rice 0-1, Southern Miss 2-0. Away
Record: Rice 0-2, Southern Miss 0-2. Neutral Record: Rice 0-0, Southern Miss
0-0. Conference Record: Rice 0-1, Southern Miss 0-0. Series Record: Rice
leads, 3-1.

GAME NOTES: The defending Conference USA champion Rice Owls are still
searching for their first win of the 2014 season, and will take to the
unfriendly road this weekend as they square off against the Southern Miss
Golden Eagles in a Conference USA showdown in Hattiesburg on Saturday.

Rice played its first home game of the season last weekend, and hosted C-USA
newcomer Old Dominion. Bouncing back from a sub-par week, ODU quarterback
Taylor Heinicke carved up the Rice defense for 430 yards and five touchdowns
en route to downing the defending conference champions, 45-42, in front of
their home crowd.

Southern Miss has already surpassed its win total from a year ago, notching a
pair of victories in 2014 after earning just one last season. The Golden
Eagles have dropped games to, understandably, Mississippi State and Alabama,
but have beaten FCS opponent Alcorn State and new Sun Belt Conference member
Appalachian State.

These relatively new conference rivals have only met four times on the field
in their program histories, with Rice owning the 3-1 all-time series
advantage.

Rice’s contest against Old Dominion last Saturday was an offensive surge,
captained by quarterbacks from both sides. Heinicke had the best day, but Owls
signal caller Driphus Jackson had a strong day under center as well, passing
for 175 yards and a pair if touchdowns. As a unit, Rice is averaging 458 total
offensive yards per game, while 236.3 per game comes through the air. The
Owls’ 23 ppg mark is a little low, however.

While Jackson has held things down in the passing game, the Owls have employed
several running backs that, as a group, put up 221.7 rushing ypg and 4.5 yards
per carry. Jowan Davis got the bulk of the carries against Old Dominion,
registering 24 totes for 150 yards. His 269 yards this season on the ground is
a team best, but he has yet to find the end zone. Darik Dillard didn’t have
that problem last Saturday, taking three of his 14 carries for scores.

Dennis Parks (13 receptions, 119 yards) and Zach Wright (11 receptions, 151
yards, 2 TD) are Jackson’s top two targets this season. In order to win
against Southern Miss, though, the Owls will have to put up points like they
did last weekend against ODU.

While the offense for Rice has been about average, the team’s defense has
struggled to contain any opponent through three games. The Owls are allowing
the opposition to score an average of 43.7 ppg, and gain an eye-popping 527.7
ypg. It has to be tough for coach David Bailiff and his staff to think their
defense has allowed 45-plus points twice in three contests, and hasn’t limited
either of its three challengers to fewer than 38 points.

Defensive back Jaylon Finner led the Owls with six tackles against ODU, adding
a pass breakup to his stat line. Rice was able to put a little bit of pressure
on Heinicke and disrupt the backfield, but not enough to force ODU into making
mistakes. The team recorded four tackles for loss and two sacks, and has 12
tackles for loss this season. Defensive end Brian Nordstrom (eight tackles,
2.5 tackles for loss) will need to be active this weekend to try and limit
Southern Miss’ attack.

The Golden Eagles fought a close battle of their own last weekend, but the
outcome was better. Southern Miss narrowly defeated Appalachian State, 21-20,
in the Eagles’ first FBS win of the season. Although quarterback Nick Mullens
threw two interceptions, he still had a big hand in his team earning the
victory. Mullens threw for 268 yards and a touchdown, spreading around passes
and completing at least two throws to eight different receivers.

The running game has been well short of spectacular in four games for the
Eagles, who are averaging just 98.8 ypg on the ground. Sophomore running back
George Payne scored twice in the win over the Mountaineers, which served as
the first two rushing scores for Southern Miss this season. The team needs to
get better in the run game so defenses can’t cheat on the pass.

Looking at the numbers, it would appear on paper that Southern Miss is lucky
to have won two games already, considering the lopsided scoring averages. The
Eagles account for 14.8 ppg through four contests, while opponents are scoring
35.2 ppg and racking up 486.2 total ypg. The defensive unit is also allowing
the challengers to convert 46 percent of their third-down tries.

Led by Brian Anderson (34 tackles, two tackles for loss, one fumble recovery),
the Golden Eagles need to key on Rice’s Jackson this weekend, but can’t lose
focus on the Rice running backs. Rakeem Nunez-Roches up front on the defensive
line should be busy. He’s already recorded four tackles for loss and two
quarterback hurries in four games.

Southern Miss is a perfect 2-0 at home this season, but hasn’t had the most
challenging competition come to Hattiesburg. Rice, although winless at 0-3, is
anything but a pushover program. The Owls will be seeking revenge for losing
at home last weekend in conference play, and will take it out on the Golden
Eagles, who haven’t beaten Rice since 2011.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 28, Southern Miss 20