Rice football is anxious to put last weekend behind them. Can they bounce back against UTEP? How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
Both Rice football and UTEP are anxious to get on the field again after dropping conference home games as favorites last weekend. Rice was blown out by Charlotte while UTEP watched MTSU pull away late. As the calendar turns to November, both teams want this one. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s game.
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. Look for a recap of the game on the site afterward as well as on The Roost Podcast, which should be released early next week. 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
It’s entirely possible the loser of this game all but ensure they’ll be sitting at home this December without a bowl berth. After UTEP, Rice closes at WKU, vs UTSA and at North Texas. UTEP finishes with FIU and UTSA. Both teams need two more wins and don’t want to count on an upset of the defending champs to get there.
All Time | Rice leads, 15-9
Last Five | Rice leads, 3-2
Last Meeting | Away 2021, UTEP won 38-28
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | McMahon – 131/224 (58.5 percent), 1703 yards, 16 TD, 11 INT
Rushing | Montgomery – 51 carries, 333 yards (6.5 yards per carry), 0 TD / Broussard – 91 carries, 251 yards (2.8 yards per carry), 9 TD
Receiving | McCaffrey – 47 receptions, 613 yards (13.0 yds/rec), 6 TD / Rozner – 27 receptions, 579 yards (21.4 yds/rec), 7 TDs / Esdale – 21 receptions, 255 yards (12.1 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Conti – 47 / Morrison – 40 / Taylor – 36
Pass Breakups | Dunbar – 5 / Fresch – 4 / Morrison, Taylor – 3
Interceptions | Taylor – 2 / Morrison, Nyakwol, Chamberlain, Fresch – 1
UTEP Stat Notables
Passing | Hardison – 156/297 (52.5 percent), 1941 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT
Rushing | Hankins – 110 carries, 547 yards (5.0 yards per carry), 2 TD / Awatt – 124 carries, 538 yards (4.3 ypc), 2 TD
Receiving | Smith – 56 receptions, 803 yards (14.3 yards per reception), 5 TD / Flores – 42 receptions, 472 yards (11.2 yds/rec), 1 TD
Tackles | Knight – 74 / Hylton – 70 / Wallerstedt – 69
Pass Breakups | Johnson – 6 / Barnes – 5 / Knight, Shelton – 4
Interceptions | Johnson, Knight, James – 1 each
UTEP X-Factor | Establish it
In many ways, Rice and UTEP have built their offensive identities on a similar tenant: run the ball. Rice hasn’t had as much success on that front as they’d like, but UTEP has. And when the Miners do get it going on the ground, the rest of the offense rises with it.
Outside of a two-sore win over Boise State, UTEP hasn’t played in games this season in which they jumped out to a huge early lead and stockpiled rushing stats to salt the game away. No, they’ve run the ball to set up the rest of their offense and the numbers bear that out.
In UTEP wins, the Miners are averaging 4.6 yards per carry and average 198.3 rushing yards per game. In losses, they averaged 3.1 yards per carry and average just 94.2 rushing yards per game. If UTEP can run the football, they can dictate the terms on that side of the football and make Rice play off schedule. That’s not where the Owls want to be, and it’s been painfully evident in recent weeks.
Rice X-Factor | Figure it out on defense
After having the ability to lean on their defense for much of the past several seasons, the past two weeks have been rocky for the Owls on the back end. Rice allowed eight passing touchdowns in their first six games combined. They’ve given up 10 scores through the air in the last two weeks. The run defense started to sag last weekend against Charlotte, too, ceding 5.6 yards per carry, their worst mark in conference play.
A few weeks ago this team was musing about getting a shutout. For now, they’ll have to focus on getting one stop at a time. Fortunately, UTEP is not nearly as explosive through the air as either Louisiana Tech or Charlotte.
This defense needs a pick-me-up. They need a reminder that they can play at a high level, and that has to start with solid run defense and a more robust coverage plan down the field. Both Louisiana Tech and Charlotte were able to expose the Owls in the gap between the corners and safeties on the sidelines. Rice has to get that cleaned up, pronto. That way they can play their game instead of being forced to play catch up.
Injury Report (Subscribers only)
One Final Thing
Following Saturday’s crushing loss to Charlotte, head coach Mike Bloomgren stuck to his guns and remained resilient. “We’re trying to find a way to play for 60 minutes in all three phases. I still think we are a scary football team, with very good players [and] very good coaches when we do that,” he said. “That’s what our goal is. That’s what our goal will be next Thursday.”
Through eight weeks, that complete showing has yet to materialize. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it does mean the Owls are running out of time to promote that elusive perfect game from paper to playing field.
Rice football has bowl game expectations this season. They need to win two of their next four to get there and UTEP is — undeniably — the weakest opponent remaining on the schedule. A complete three-phase showing might not materialize for this team on Thursday, but they’d better get enough from whatever is working that evening to carry them through. Sitting at 4-5 in need of two wins against the trio of UTSA, WKU and North Texas is not a place this team wants to be.
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