Rice football is one win away from bowl eligibility as they travel to play Western Kentucky. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
Both Rice football and Western Kentucky enter their upcoming matchup fresh off a win. The Owls rallied late to beat UTEP while WKU routed Charlotte. Both programs would like nothing more than to keep up their winning ways with another victory this weekend. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s game.
Kickoff time | 1:00 PM CT
Venue | LT Smith Stadium – Bowling Green, KY
TV | ESPN+ (Viewing Guide)
Radio | Sports Map 94.1 (FM) / Stretch Internet (Online)
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs WKU 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
Western Kentucky is officially bowl eligible after a beatdown of Charlotte last weekend. The Hilltoppers are playing for an outside shot at a conference championship game appearance, although they’ll need some help to get there.
On the other sideline, Rice football is one win away from a trip to the postseason. The Owls (3-2) are also a win away from being third place in the conference standings, leapfrogging WKU with a win. As the calendar turns to November, there’s plenty at stake for both programs.
All Time | WKU leads, 3-0
Last Five | WKU leads, 3-0
Last Meeting | Home 2021, WKU won 42-21
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | McMahon – 152/255 (59.6 percent), 2037 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT
Rushing | Montgomery – 59 carries, 391 yards (6.6 yards per carry), 0 TD / Broussard – 91 carries, 251 yards (2.8 yards per carry), 9 TD
Receiving | Rozner – 33 receptions, 721 yards (21.9 yds/rec), 8 TDs / McCaffrey – 51 receptions, 656 yards (12.9 yds/rec), 6 TD / Esdale – 26 receptions, 313 yards (12.1 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Conti – 53 / Morrison – 49 / Taylor – 44
Pass Breakups | Dunbar – 7 / Fresch – 5 / Taylor – 4
Interceptions | Taylor – 2 / Morrison, Nyakwol, Chamberlain, Fresch – 1
WKU Stat Notables
Passing | Reed – 276/407 (67.8 percent), 3171 yards, 28 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | Robichaux- 65 carries, 458 yards (6.7 yards per carry), 3 TD / Ervin-Poindexter – 82 carries, 357 yards (4.4 ypc), 3 TD
Receiving | Corley – 64 receptions, 863 yards (13.5 yards per reception), 7 TD / Davis – 56 receptions, 755 yards (13.5 yds/rec), 6 TD
Tackles | Knight – 84 / Hylton – 66 / Wallerstedt – 58
Pass Breakups | Hailassie – 8 / Williams – 5 / Evans, Simpkins – 3
Interceptions | Stout – 3 / Hailassie, Oliver – 2 / Six tied with one each
WKU X-Factor | Stay on schedule
It comes as no surprise that Western Kentucky has kept its point-scoring machine rolling, even with a new quarterback at the controls. The Hilltoppers lead conference USA with 37.2 points per game. One subtle secret to their success has been their ability to avoid negative plays.
Western Kentucky ranks first in Conference USA in tackles for a loss allowed. They rank third in sacks allowed (just 1.2o per game) and lead the league in turnover margin. All offenses are naturally more effective when they don’t have to overcome mistakes and negative plays. That doesn’t mean the Hilltoppers can’t, but they haven’t had to do so very often.
Getting Western Kentucky off schedule and forcing them to make plays in pressure situations is a must if Rice is going to pick up this road win. Letting Austin Reed sit back and pick the defense apart won’t work.
Rice X-Factor | Win third down
Third down has been a problem for Rice football, on both sides of the field. The offense converted third down at one of their most proficient rates of the season against UTEP (61.5 percent) and the Owls won, moving to 3-0 in games in which they’ve converted at least 50 percent of their third down opportunities on offense.
The defensive side has been problematic, though. Excluding the Charlotte game, Rice has been fairly effective on first and second down. It’s been third down that has given this defense trouble, particularly on third and long.
Since the bye week, a span of four games, Rice is holdings its opponents to a 31 percent conversion rate on third and short (four yards or less). On third and medium and third and long (5+ yards to go), Rice opponents are converting on 40 percent of their tries. That’s backward. The further to go, the less often it should be occurring. The Rice defense needs to find ways to get off the field.
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One Final Thing
The topsy-turvy 2022 season has maintained a steady cadence of unpredictability thus far and there’s no reason to believe that is going to stop anytime soon. Rice football isn’t the best version of themselves right now, but they’ve found ways to scratch out wins in two of their last three games, the first of which came on the road. This weekend’s road test will be an important one.
Western Kentucky isn’t quite in the same class as Marshall was in 2020 or UAB was in 2021, but the Hilltoppers have been one of the better teams in Conference USA since Tyson Helton arrived in Bowling Green. When it comes to sorting out whether Rice belongs in the top or the bottom half of the conference, the Owls have teetered back and forth from week to week.
A win on Saturday would not only clinch a bowl berth, but it would put Rice squarely in the top but it would also secure at least a .500 record in conference play. That’s a far cry from where the Owls have been in recent seasons. Rice has a few more weeks to get that elusive sixth win, but the sooner they do find it, the more notable it will be.
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