Rice Football returns from their second bye week in search of their first win over Middle Tennessee. How to watch, stats to know, x-factor picks for both teams and more.
Rice football makes their first-ever trip to Murfreesboro, TN this weekend in search of their first win over Middle Tennessee and their first win of the 2019 season. The Owls lost a close contest to Marshall in their last game before their Week 10 bye.
Like the Owls, the Blue Raiders also had last weekend off. Prior to that, they’d lost three of their last four conference games, all of which were away from home. Middle Tennessee is a perfect 2-0 in Conference USA home games this season, beating FIU and Marshall by a combined score of 74-30.
Here’s what you need to know about both Middle Tennessee and Rice before their Week 12 game.
We’ll preview the Middle Tennessee game on Episode 17 of The Roost Podcast which will be released on Thursday. Find us on the podcast page or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. (And consider leaving us a 5-star review while you’re at it.)
Sizing up the contenders
Sitting at 0-9, Rice football has had patches of success but has yet to connect those moments into a full four-quarter performance. Despite their lack of wins, the Owls have been in every game after halftime, often finding themselves in a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
Middle Tennessee hasn’t played many close games. Other than a 33-30 loss to North Texas on October 19, their eight remaining contests have been decided by at least two scores, three wins and four losses.
Rice will hope their experience in close games will give them an edge on the road, should they find themselves in that familiar situation once more. Middle Tennessee will do all they can to avoid a close game entirely.
All Time | No Previous Meetings
Last Five | N/A
Last Meeting | N/A
Rice Stat Notables
Passing | Stewart – 49/87 (56.3 percent), 538 yards passing, 4 TD, 1 INT
Rushing | Walter – 112 carries, 509 yards (4.5 yards per carry), 5 TD
Receiving | Trammell – 46 receptions, 559 yards (12.2 yards per reception), 3 TD | Rozner – 39 receptions, 551 yards (14.3 yards per reception, 2 TD
Tackles | Alldredge – 74, Montero – 61, Chamberlain – 53
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Thornton – 5 PBU, Smith 2 – INT
Middle Tennessee Stat Notables
Passing | O’Hara – 152/246 (61.8), 1792 yards passing, 13 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | O’Hara – 137 carries, 757 yards (5.5 yards per carry), 7 TD
Receiving | Pierce – 31 receptions, 414 yards (13.4 yards per reception), 2 TD | Lee – 32 receptions, 281 yards (8.8 yards per reception), 1 TD
Tackles | Moffatt – 74, Blankenship – 58, Thomas – 58
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Patterson – 6 PBU, Moffatt – 3 INT
Middle Tennessee X-Factor | Asher O’Hara
As Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara goes, so does Middle Tennessee. The dual-threat quarterback is the entirety of his team’s offense. In the Blue Raiders’ three wins, O’Hara is averaging 330 total yards and three touchdowns per game with one interception across those contests. In their losses, he’s been limited to 256 yards per game and 1.8 touchdowns with five turnovers, almost one per game.
Leading receiver Jarrin Pierce has just 31 receptions on the year. No player, other than O’Hara, has more than 36 carries over the course of the season. 11 different Middle Tennessee have scored this season — a byproduct of a system that feeds off of O’Hara’s ability rather than the skillsets of a select group of playmakers.
O’Hara is going to be leaned on to carry this team for a full 60 minutes. If the Owls can stop him, they’ll stop the Middle Tennessee offense. If they can do that, they’ll have a chance to win.
Rice X-Factor | Finding Explosive Plays
Rice found a spark on offense behind freshman quarterback JoVoni Johnson who left the Owls’ last game early with a lower-body injury. He can play in one more game this year and still retain his redshirt eligibility. Whether it’s Johnson or veteran Tom Stewart at the helm, the Owls must turn that spark into a full-fledged flame.
The Owls have had games where three-and-outs hampered their offense. That wasn’t the case against Marshall. They drove down the field successfully but frequently stalled out, failing to turn first downs into touchdowns.
Explosive plays are the missing part of that equation. Rice has proven their ability to generate first downs, but collecting them in bunches is much more challenging of a proposition than stringing a few together with a big play to link them together. Johnson and Juma Otoviano gave this offense a fresh feel. If they can take the next step, and someone else can join in, the Owls could complement a stingy defense with points.
The bye week came at a good time for Rice football on the injury front. Anthony Ekpe, Andrew Bird and Brian Chaffin all could return to action this week. All three have progressed from where they were last week. In addition to the quarterbacks, those three will be names to watch during the weekend.
The Roost’s 2019 Rice Football Season Preview has four pages dedicated to every opponent the Owls face. There are depth chart, important new arrivals and depth chart breakdowns for each foe. Better yet, it’s not just speculation, each profile was created with insight from local experts who cover those teams day in and day out. Pick up your copy today and get four pages and more than 1,000 words on every foe.
Pick ‘Em Contest
If you haven’t yet, make sure you submit your entry for The Roost’s weekly pick’em challenge. Choose an answer to each of the six questions below and submit them on the forum thread to enter.
- How many combined touchdown passes will be thrown (both teams)?
Over 3.5 / Under 3.5
- Which team converts more third downs?
Rice (or tie) / MTSU
- Which team has more time of possession?
Rice / MTSU (or tie)
- How many passes will Rice quarterbacks complete?
Over 15.5 / Under 15.5
- Which total is higher?
Number of Rice first downs / Number of Blaze Alldredge tackles (or tie)
- Who wins?
Rice / MTSU
One Final Thing
In many ways, the Middle Tennessee matchup is a favorable one for Rice. Their strength on defense pitted against a potent offense will be the most intriguing battle, but it’s what happens on the other side of the ball that might win this game.
The Middle Tennessee defense has talent, but hasn’t been able to turn their collection of playmakers into a consistent unit. If Rice football is going to turn things around, this is a unit that doesn’t appear to be as daunting as some of the other defensive fronts they’ve faced yet this season.
Combing both facets of their game — a strong defense with a growing offense — could give the Owls a dose of energy headed into the home stretch. They could use the jolt.
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