Rice football is looking to finish the regular season strong. Can they top UTEP on the road? How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Rice football and it’s been a rough couple of weeks for the UTEP Miners. Both programs bring three-game losing streaks into their late-November showdown at the Sun Bowl on Saturday. Most recently Rice fell to WKU, officially ending any bowl game aspirations. UTEP fell to North Texas last time out. Here’s what you need to know for this matchup:
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs UTEP on this week’s episode of the Blue and Gray Preview Show, streaming live on Wednesday at Noon on the Rice Athletics YouTube channel. You can also catch the recap of last week’s game on The Roost Podcast, which should be released shortly. 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
Neither Rice football nor UTEP are contenders for C-USA West, nor are the postseason fates of either program on the line this coming Saturday. These two teams will play for pride, but more than that, they’ll play for perception.
Dana Dimel and Mike Bloomgren took over downtrodden programs and were given plenty of leeway to build them up from the ground floor. The Miners appear to be cresting, finally coming to the apex of that upswing. The last few weeks have been troubling, but a win against Rice might just solidify that the trajectory of the UTEP program remains pointed upward.
On the other sideline, Rice can still reach record win totals under Bloomgren this year, but achieving those goals starts with a win over UTEP. A loss would decidedly place Rice behind UTEP in the rebuilding race, and that’s not something many of the Owls’ faithful want to be forced to contemplate.
All Time | Rice leads UTEP, 15-8
Last Five | Rice leads UTEP, 3-2
Last Meeting | Away 2019, Rice won 30-16
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Rice Stat Notables
Passing | Constantine – 112/181 (61.9 percent), 1439 yards, 6 TD, 7 INT
Rushing | Broussard – 102 carries, 533 yards (5.2 yards per carry), 2 TD / Myers – 89 carries, 334 yards (3.8 yards per carry), 8 TD
Receiving | Bailey – 51 receptions, 656 yards (12.9 yds/rec), 2 TD / Patterson – 31 receptions, 430 yards (13.9 yds/rec), 3 TD
Tackles | Montero – 60 / Garcia – 55 / Smith – 52
Pass Breakups | Dunbar – 7, McCord – 5, Smith/Taylor – 4
Interceptions | Smith – 3, Nyakwol/Lockhart – 2
UTEP Stat Notables
Passing | Hardison – 142/263 (54.0 percent), 2396 yards passing, 14 TD, 10 INT
Rushing | Awatt – 131 carries, 672 yards (5.1 yards per carry), 5 TD / Hankins – 99 carries, 357 yards (3.6 ypc), 5 TD
Receiving | Cowing – 51 receptions, 1097 yards (21.5 yards per reception), 5 TD / Garrett – 40 receptions, 542 yards (13.6 yds/rec), 3 TD
Tackles | Hayward – 84 / Knight – 68 / Barnes – 46
Pass Breakups | Richardson/Amawhule – 7, Wilson – 5
Interceptions | Barnes – 2, Five tied with one apiece
UTEP X-Factor | Make the easy throws
As productive as the UTEP offense has been, it hasn’t been the most efficient, especially through the air. Quarterback Gavin Hardison ranks 12th among C-USA quarterbacks with a 50.9 completion percentage in conference play this season.
Completing more than a coin-flips worth of passes is an easy starting point, but given the cushion the Rice secondary has afforded other passing attacks so far this season, that has to start with the easy throws. If Hardison and UTEP are able to find success on the easier throws, early-down routes with space and wide windows, they’re going to find it easier to connect on the intermediate and deep routes later in the game.
If Hardison can unlock every level of the field and make the Rice defense have to guess, it’s going to be a long day in El Paso for the Owls.
Rice X-Factor | Get to the quarterback
Fixing the leaky secondary doesn’t seem to be a viable solution at this point in the season. If that was something the Owls’ were capable of patching up on the fly, they probably would have found a way to keep their previous game against Western Kentucky somewhat more competitive. The Owls best chance of doing that against UTEP is getting to the source of the passing attack and stopping it there.
UTEP wide receivers Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett each have big-play potential. If the ball gets to them, they can make the defense pay with a first down and more. They’re going to get yards. Rice just needs to make sure they’re not getting hit in stride with green grass in front of them. And that means getting to Gavin Hardison, something few have been able to do so far this season.
UTEP has allowed 13 sacks in 10 games, tied for third fewest in Conference USA. The Miners’ offensive line has been solid. Rice has found success against some of the conference’s sturdier front fives before. They’ll need to do it again this weekend.
Pick ‘Em Contest (Subscribers only)
Make sure you submit your entry for The Roost’s weekly pick’em challenge. There will be swag and prizes for the top finishers at the end of the season. Choose an answer to each of the six questions below and comment on this post on the Patreon page to enter. It’s that easy.
Injury Report (Subscribers only)
One Final Thing
With bowl hopes dashed, Bloomgren said this team would be “playing for each other” from this point onward. From a wins and losses perspective, the Owls do have some positive thresholds to reach on that front.
Ultimately, though, these last two games are an opportunity to prove they have what it takes and were a few bad bounces away from their goals. That might not satisfy all the critics and it might not prove to be enough the program maintains the same upward trajectory Bloomgren remained confident it does, but it’s all they can control going forward.
Beating UTEP, and doing so without an overtime period or controversy, is a must. Winning convincingly and accruing some “style points” is exactly what this team needs right now. Whether or not they can do that is on them.
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