Rice (7-4) at Louisiana Tech (7-4) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Joe Aillet Stadium (27,717) -- Ruston, Louisiana. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Rice 4-1, Louisiana Tech 3-1. Away Record: Rice 3-3, Louisiana Tech 4-3. Neutral Record: Rice 0-0, Louisiana Tech 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 5-2, Louisiana Tech 6-1. Series Record: Rice leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls and Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will clash head to head Saturday at Joe Aillet Stadium to determine which Conference USA West Division team will be the league's representative in the championship bout opposite powerhouse Marshall.
Rice sits on a 7-4 record with a 5-2 mark in conference play. The Owls downed UTEP, 31-13, last weekend to set up a meeting with Louisiana Tech for a chance at the Conference USA title game. The Owls are bowl eligible regardless.
Louisiana Tech was unbeaten in conference play at 6-0 before the Bulldogs dropped an overtime contest to Old Dominion, 30-27, last weekend. That loss hurt the Bulldogs in the sense that if Rice wins this meeting, the Owls and Bulldogs will be tied at 6-2 in the conference, giving Rice the head-to-head advantage. Louisiana Tech is also bowl eligible with a 7-4 record.
This meeting between the division rivals will be just the eighth in the all- time series. Rice owns a very slim 4-3 advantage in the seven previous meetings, including last season's 52-14 beatdown of the Bulldogs in Houston.
Rice had won six straight games before a loss to Marshall two weeks ago set the team back. But the Owls got back in the win column last weekend with the defeat of UTEP, and now the Owls will need a strong offensive effort against the Bulldogs this weekend to come away victorious. Rice is averaging 28.5 ppg this season largely behind the efforts of quarterback Driphus Jackson, who has thrown for 17 touchdowns and 2,187 yards against just five interceptions. He's added a rushing touchdown to his resume.
The run game for Rice is effective as well, notching 182.7 ypg. Jowan Davis leads the team with 891 yards on 948 carries, adding six touchdowns. But Darik Dillard tops the squad with 10 rushing scores on the year in 11 games played. The team has scored 21 times this season via the ground attack.
Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull have been Jackson's top two targets through the air this season, each securing five touchdown grabs. Taylor missed some time earlier in the year, but has performed well since coming back, averaging 80.6 receiving ypg in eight games played.
Defense has been a strong suit for the Owls, despite the fact that the team lost some key contributors in the offseason to graduation. The team is allowing 26.2 ppg to opponents, and is giving up just 371.4 offensive ypg in 11 games. Save for the 41 points the team gave up to Marshall, Rice hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points in a single game since September.
Alex Lyons leads the Owls this season with 59 tackles, followed closely by Jaylon Finner and his 53 stops. Defensive lineman Brian Nordstrom has been the real story, notching 18.5 tackles for loss with 7.5 sacks on the year. He and Zach Patt (9.5 tackles for loss, team-high 8.5 sacks) have been a force to be reckoned with all season long. They'll need to be active against a strong Louisiana Tech run game, while Finner and Ryan Pollard will try to lock down the defensive backfield.
Louisiana Tech had the Conference USA West Division all wrapped up, but the team wasn't able to defeat new FBS program Old Dominion on the road last weekend to lock things up. So now the Bulldogs, who offensively average 35.4 ppg behind strong rushing efforts, now have to win at home against the defending C-USA champs. Kenneth Dixon is the team's main offensive weapon, gaining 943 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns this season on 203 carries.
Cody Sokol has proven to be a very capable passer for Louisiana Tech, completing just shy of 60 percent of his season attempts for 2,730 yards and 25 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He's added two more rushing scores this season for 27 total touchdowns, and is averaging 248.2 passing ypg through 11 contests played.
Dixon has shown to be one of Sokol's favorite targets through the air as well, racking up 26 receptions for 306 yards and five touchdowns. But he has nothing on top receiver Trent Taylor, who has notched 688 yards and seven touchdowns on 54 receptions this season. But with 113.5 all-purpose ypg, Dixon is the man for the Owls to watch.
Louisiana Tech has been dominant on the defensive side, allowing just 347.6 offensive ypg and 24.6 ppg to opponents in 11 games played. For a stretch of four consecutive games during the season, the Bulldogs surrendered a combined 53 points to opponents, but have since allowed 51 points to their last two challengers combined.
Kentrell Brice leads the way for the Bulldogs' defense with 70 total tackles on the season, adding in three sacks, two interceptions and four forced fumbles to his resume. Vernon Butler has registered a team-best 11.5 tackles for loss, while Houston Bates and Vontarrius Dora each have four sacks to best the squad. Xavier Woods's five interceptions will be useful as the Bulldogs try to shut down Jackson.
There's so much at stake in this contest for both teams, and after the offseason Rice had in which the program lost some very good talent after a C- USA championship season, it's a bit surprising to see the Owls back fighting for first. But they are, and they have to do it against a very strong offensive team on the road in enemy territory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana Tech 32, Rice 28Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 29, 12 p.m. (ET)