FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (70,000) — Houston, Texas. Television: FS1.
Home Record: Texas-El Paso 4-1, Rice 3-1. Away Record: Texas-El Paso 2-3, Rice
3-3. Neutral Record: Texas-El Paso 0-0, Rice 0-0. Conference Record: Texas-El
Paso 4-2, Rice 4-2. Series Record: Rice leads, 11-6.
GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls will try to get back into the win column after
seeing a six-game win streak was snapped last weekend, as they host the Texas-
El Paso Miners in a Conference USA clash at Rice Stadium.
Rice dropped the first three games of its season, then proceeded to win six
consecutive games until the team was dismantled by Marshall, 41-14, over the
weekend on the road. With two games left in the regular season, Rice sits at
4-2 in conference play.
UTEP is one of the hotter teams in Conference USA as well, having won four of
its last five outings. Following a 35-27 defeat at the hands of Western
Kentucky two weeks ago, the Miners got back into the win column with a 35-17
triumph over North Texas.
This meeting represents the 18th contest played in the series all-time, with
Rice owning an 11-6 lead. The two programs met last year, with Rice coming out
victorious at home, 45-7.
UTEP was able to take down North Texas the same way the Miners have been doing
all season long: with a powerful run game. The Miners gained 351 yards on the
ground in the lopsided win, thanks to 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns by
Aaron Jones (who leads the team this season with 1,063 yards and 10 scores)
and three touchdowns from Nathan Jeffery (455 yards, five touchdowns). The
UTEP offense is averaging 30.3 ppg and just shy of 225.0 rushing ypg thanks to
the efforts of Jones and Jeffery.
Quarterback Jameill Showers just needed to be accurate when called upon in the
win, and he was about as efficient with his 11 pass attempts as he could be.
He completed 8-of-11 for 87 yards in the win, and has 1,417 yards and 11
passing touchdowns this season against just five interceptions. He’s known to
be somewhat active in the run game as well, having gained 255 yards on the
ground with two rushing touchdowns.
With such a strong stable of running backs that features two of the best in
Conference USA (Jones and Jeffery), the wide receiving corps simply needs to
bail out the run game when necessary. Autrey Golden has a team-high 245
receiving yards with two touchdown catches this season. Golden, Jones and Ian
Hamilton are all tied atop the touchdown chart with two receiving scores
Defensively, the Miners struggled earlier in the season to contain an
opponents offensive attack. The worst was letting up 58 points to Kansas State
and 55 points to Louisiana Tech in consecutive weeks. Those high scoring
totals have led to a 29.2 ppg average for opponents.
Wesley Miller leads the Miners this season with 53 tackles. Alvin Jones and
Roy Robertson-Harris have each recorded a team-high 7.5 tackles for loss,
while Cooper Brock has a UTEP-best three sacks on the season. The Miners have
forced eight interceptions and recovered nine fumbles in 10 games, and
creating turnovers against Rice will be the key to a road victory.
It’s not overly surprising that Rice wasn’t able to get much done against a
Marshall team that is ranked in 18th in the country, but the Owls didn’t just
lose the game – they were destroyed. Marshall held Rice to 180 total yards of
offense and 15 first downs in the contest, so the Owls will need a much
greater effort on the offensive side of the ball against UTEP. The run game
produced two touchdowns against the Thundering Herd, and is averaging 184.5
rushing ypg this season. Jowan Davis has a team-high 824 yards with six
touchdowns, and Darik Dillard has notched eight rushing scores in 10 games.
At the center of the Rice offense is quarterback Driphus Jackson, who has
passed for 1,960 yards and 15 touchdowns against four interceptions this
season. He averages 196.0 passing ypg, and has helped the Owls average 28.2
ppg through 10 contests.
Jackson’s top receiving threat is Jordan Taylor, who has caught 37 passes for
608 yards and four touchdowns this season. Mario Hull has added another four
scoring receptions. Against Marshall, Taylor had nine catches for 88 yards,
while the rest of the Owls had two receptions for 11 yards.
It’s hard to limit Marshall’s offense, which is ranked near the very top in
the nation in both scoring offense and total offense. That game being the
outlier, Rice’s defense has played well recently, only allowing over 20 points
three times in the team’s six game win streak. The team was able to lower its
ppg allowed average to 27.5 during that stretch, but it’s still not an overly
Alex Lyons and Jaylon Finner have each notched more than 50 tackles for the
Owls defense this season, with Finner adding five pass breakups and a forced
fumble. Defensive lineman Brian Nordstrom will be exceptionally busy trying to
limit the UTEP run game. Nordstrom has recorded 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5
sacks this season, while Zach Pratt has chipped in with 9.5 tackles for loss
and a team-high 8.5 sacks. They’ll need to disrupt the Miners’ backfield early
and often in the game.
Rice was on a roll until the team suffered such a crushing setback to
Marshall, which means the team needs to win out to even have a shot at the
Conference USA title game. That motivation should be enough to spark the Owls
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 28, UTEP 26