Rice (4-3) at FIU (3-5) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FIU Stadium (23,500) -- Miami, Florida. Television: American Sports Network. Home Record: Rice 2-1, FIU 2-4. Away Record: Rice 2-2, FIU 1-1. Neutral Record: Rice 0-0, FIU 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 2-1, FIU 2-2. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: After an 0-3 start to the year, the Rice Owls will go for their fifth consecutive win as they travel to face the FIU Panthers in a Conference USA clash at FIU Stadium.
The Owls suffered through a very slow start to the year, but have since scored 41 points in three of their last four games, and have won all four of those contests handedly. The defending C-USA champions look to move up toward the top of the West Division standings against FIU.
Like Rice, FIU struggled to a very slow start on the season. The Panthers lost three of their first four games, but haven't turned things around totally like the Owls have. FIU has lost two in a row, including a 45-13 beatdown at the hands of Marshall two weekends ago.
This contest will represent the first meeting between Rice and FIU in their program histories.
Rice absolutely manhandled North Texas in last weekend's 41-21 drubbing of the Mean Green. The Owls defense stepped up and held North Texas to 216 yards of offense, including just 26 rushing in the contest. But the Rice offense certainly wasn't quiet, led by quarterback Driphus Jackson and a running game that dashed for 188 yards and three touchdowns in the contest.
Jackson completed 13 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown in the win, completing four passes for 127 yards and the lone touchdown to receiver Jordan Taylor. In seven games this season, Jackson has thrown for 1,418 yards and 12 touchdowns against just three interceptions, and has helped the Rice offense average 31.4 ppg.
Darik Dillard gained 80 yards and scored a touchdown against North Texas last Saturday, while Jowan Davis ran for 55 yards and a pair of scores. The running game this season for Rice averages 199.3 ypg, and has scored 14 touchdowns, led by Dillard. The redshirt sophomore has accumulated 487 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games, while Davis leads the team with 572 yards, adding four scores of his own.
The defense has fueled the team, though, and did so against North Texas when Ryan Pollard returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown. The team is still allowing 30 ppg to opponents, but much of that is residual scoring left over from the beatings the team took in non-conference play. Now the team is holding opponents to 389.1 offensive ypg, 38 percent on third-down conversions and an average of just over 25 minutes in time of possession.
Tackle totals for individual Owls players are low this season, but the sack and tackles for loss count is still pretty high. Jaylon Finner leads the team with 35 tackles, trailed by James Ratcliffe, Gabe Baker and Alex Lyons all with 31. Brian Nordstrom leads with 10 tackles for loss (and a team high-tying three sacks), while Graysen Schantz adds seven tackles for loss. The Owls will look to get after FIU freshman quarterback Alex McGough to effectively shut the Panthers offense down.
The last time FIU took the field, the Panthers were faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of taking down C-USA giant Marshall. The Panthers accomplished something no other team had done against the Thundering Herd all season up to that point: lead Marshall at any point in the game. The Panthers took a 7-0 advantage early, and only trailed 14-7 at halftime. But the FIU offense went quiet in the second half, and the Marshall offense exploded in the eventual 45-13 Herd victory.
McGough struggled for a majority of the game trying to crack the Marshall defense, and ended up only scoring on a rushing touchdown early in the game. He threw two interceptions and had just 176 yards before E.J. Hilliard came in the game. In eight games, the freshman McGough has passed for 1,129 yards and eight touchdowns, but has struggled with six interceptions as well. He helps the team average a dismal 179.8 passing ypg and 21.5 ppg.
The run game isn't any better for the Panthers, who, in their wins this season, have relied on a strong defensive effort. The team averages 113.6 rushing ypg, and has scored just seven times on the ground all season along. Alex Gardner leads the team with 582 rushing yards, but both Anthon Samuel and McGough have an FIU-best three rushing scores.
For a team that has performed so poorly on offense, it's a wonder how the defense got to be so effective. The Panthers lead the nation with 25 turnovers gained, and are tied for seventh in the FBS in turnover margin (plus-1.25). They're holding their opponents to an average of 23 ppg, and that includes having faced teams like Pittsburgh and Louisville. The team's 16 fumbles recovered is the most in the nation by four (Michigan State and South Florida are tied for second with 12 apiece).
Demarkus Perkins leads the team with 55 tackles this season, adding 3.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery to his stat line. Lineman Denzell Perine has registered 7.5 tackles for loss, and Mike Wakefield has a team-best nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Each player has 5.5 sacks - the team high. Davison Colimon and Richard Leonard each have a team- best three fumble recoveries, so the Rice offense will need to stress ball security this weekend.
The Owls will try to crush FIU right out of the gate using an explosive offense that mixes a strong run game with the talented Jackson under center passing the football. The Owls will have to be careful about holding onto the ball, but even if Rice does cough it up, the FIU offense has been having a hard time making teams pay. Even on the road, Rice shouldn't be stopped in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 27, FIU 17Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 1, 12 p.m. (ET)