Rice Football will take a winning streak into their 2019 finale against the UTEP Miners. How to watch, stats to know, x-factor picks for both teams and more.
Fresh off a slew of program firsts, Rice football is riding high. The Owls are in the midst of their first winning streak since 2016 and their first C-USA West win of the Mike Bloomgren era. They achieved both with a Senior Day win over North Texas in Week 12. Buoyed by a defense that continues to make highlight-reel plays, Rice is aiming to finish strong.
UTEP was less fortunate. The Miners feel for the tenth consecutive time last week, succumbing to a New Mexico State team that had yet to beat an FBS team this season. Here’s what you need to know about UTEP and Rice before their season-ending showdown in the desert.
We’ll preview the UTEP game on Episode 19 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
Mike Bloomgren and Dana Dimel both took over their respective programs during the same offseason. It’s been a tough road for both headmen, but to this point, Dimel has one notable upper hand. UTEP beat Rice in Houston last year, marking the only win for Dimel’s crew in his first season.
Each team has a win over an FCS squad in that time. UTEP beat Houston Baptist to open its 2019 campaign. Rice beat Prairie View at the start of last season, the first win of Bloomgren’s tenure. In total, though, Rice has four wins to UTEP’s two with the Owls’ tripling the Miners’ C-USA victories in that span.
Both programs can show quantitative improvement in the win column with a win on Saturday. UTEP can move from a one-win 2018 to a two-win 2019 with Rice hoping to go from 2-11 to 3-9. For two programs which haven’t done as much winning as they’d have liked to so far, the difference made by a single win would be huge.
All Time | Rice leads 14-8
Last Five | Rice leads 3-2
Last Meeting | Home 2018, UTEP won 34-26
Rice Stat Notables
Passing | Stewart – 84/137 (61.3 percent), 939 yards passing, 7 TD, 1 INT
Rushing | Walter – 129 carries, 622 yards (4.8 yards per carry), 7 TD
Receiving | Rozner – 52 receptions, 751 yards (14.4 yards per reception), 5 TD | Trammell – 56 receptions, 672 yards (12.0 yards per reception), 3 TD
Tackles | Alldredge – 88, Montero – 72, Chamberlain – 60
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Nyakwol – 6 PBU, Smith/Chamberlain – 2 INT
UTEP Stat Notables
Passing | Locksley – 95/169 (56.2), 1229 yards passing, 5 TD, 5 INT
Rushing | Hughes – 154 carries, 653 yards (4.2 yards per carry), 12 TD
Receiving | Cowing – 24 receptions, 494 yards (20.6 yards per reception), 3 TD | Wolf – 32 receptions, 397 yards (12.4 yards per reception), 2 TD
Tackles | Lewis – 93, Rogers – 68, Hynson – 54
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Caldwell – 11 PBU, Ross – 2 INT
UTEP X-Factor | Weathering the early storm
The Rice offense has been at its best in the first half over their last two wins. Rice scored 75 points in the first halves of their first nine games, all losses. In their two wins, they’ve scored 51 points before the break.
The offensive explosion hasn’t been without its drawbacks. Rice hasn’t scored a point in the second half of a game since October. Middle Tennessee and North Texas, neither of which is known for their defensive prowess, were able to shut the Owls out in the second half.
UTEP isn’t going to blow anyone away with their defense, but recent history suggests they might not have to play their best game to keep the game close. If the Miners can keep the game close before the halftime whistle and make the necessary adjustments, they’ll have a punchers chance.
Rice X-Factor | Winning on third down
The Owls have seen their third down successes slow down after halftime in each of their last two wins. Rice saw their conversion rate drop from 50 percent to 38 percent in the two halves of the Middle Tennessee game. They experienced a similar dip against North Texas, falling from 44 percent before the break to 38 percent afterward.
In totality, Rice converted seven third downs on 16 tries in each of their last two games. That’s better than their 5.1 conversions per game average entering the winning stretch, but a 37 percent season clip makes it extremely difficult to sustain offensive production.
With their defense playing as well as it’s been in the past several weeks, a few more drive-extending plays could give Rice some much-needed breathing room down the stretch.
Center Shea Baker missed the North Texas game as the flu ran rampant through the Rice locker room. True freshman walk-on Isaac Klarkowski started in his place. Baker is expected to be back in action this week, along with a healthy running back Aston Walter who could not finish the North Texas game after giving it a go early on.
The availability of defensive ends Anthony Ekpe and Trey Schuman is in question. Ekpe seemed closer than Schuman last week, but neither played. There’s a possibility Ekpe can go for the season finale.
Running back Juma Otoviano and quarterback JoVoni Johnson were both kept out of last week’s game as they recovered from lower body injuries. Their return to the field seems plausible this week, but their status will be something we’ll track closely this week.
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 points does Rice score after halftime?
Over 7.5 / Under 7.5
- Will either team have a touchdown play of longer than 35 yards?
Yes / No
- How many sacks will the Rice defense register?
Over 3.5 / Under 3.5
- Which team has more pass break ups?
Rice / UTEP (or tie)
- Will UTEP lead at any point during the first half?
Yes / No
- Who wins?
Rice / UTEP
- Bonus (3 pts)
How many points does Rice score? (Must be exact score)
One Final Thing
Saturday marks the second time this season Rice football has been the oddsmaker’s favorite to win. The other instance came on the road against UTSA, a game Rice led in the final minutes of the fourth quarter but was unable to close out.
Rice has learned a lot this season. Beating UTEP would be proof they’ve taken those lessons to heart. It was Dimel himself who said during Conference USA Media Days that a coach should be measured by his ability to win the games he is “supposed to win”.
Winning on the road in conference is never easy, but Rice has done that already this season. Beating UTEP would be proof of this team taking that next step and moving further into the process. Plus, a three-game winning streak entering 2020 would do wonders for the team this offseason.
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