Rice football takes on Southern Miss in the Lending Tree Bowl this week. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
Southern Miss secured bowl eligibility on the final week of the regular season, defeating Louisiana Monroe on the road for their sixth win. Rice football wasn’t assured of a bowl trip until all of that weekend’s games had concluded and a shortage of six-win teams remained. The Owls are bowling because they were the program with the highest remaining APR score.
How they got here doesn’t matter now, though. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s game.
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs Southern Miss 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
This is a bowl game that means a lot to both programs, despite the appearance of modest stakes. The Owls and Mike Bloomgren are looking to secure win number six, something that many around South Main viewed as an understood prerequisite to even be in this game. Southern Miss, on the other side, could clinch a win season for the first time under coach Will Hall with a victory.
All Time | Tied, 6-6
Last Five | Southern Miss leads, 3-2
Last Meeting | Home 2021, Rice won 24-19
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | Padgett – 20/40 (50.0 percent), 339 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing | Montgomery – 86 carries, 498 yards (5.8 yards per carry), 0 TD / Otoviano – 65 carries, 391 yards (6.0 yards per carry), 1 TD
Receiving | Rozner – 41 receptions, 834 yards (20.3 yds/rec), 9 TDs / McCaffrey – 51 receptions, 656 yards (12.9 yds/rec), 6 TD / Esdale – 39 receptions, 461 yards (11.8 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Conti – 69 / Morrison – 66 / Taylor – 55
Pass Breakups | Dunbar – 8 / Taylor – 6 / Fresch – 5
Interceptions | Taylor, Morrison – 2 / Nyakwol, Chamberlain, Fresch, Narcisse – 1
Southern Miss Stat Notables
Passing | Lowe – 55/103 (53.4 percent), 795 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Rushing | Gore Jr. – 207 carries, 1053 yards (5.1 yards per carry), 7 TD / Dean – 58 carries, 179 yards (3.1 ypc), 3 TD
Receiving | Brownlee – 52 receptions, 819 yards (15.8 yards per reception), 7 TD / Mims – 23 receptions, 361 yards (15.7 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Shorts – 91 / Latham – 81 / Gill – 76
Pass Breakups | Stanley – 6 / Latham – 4 / Shorts – 3
Interceptions | Stanley – 4 / Shorts – 3 / Scott, Brooks, Harrell – 2
Southern Miss X-Factor | Limit the big play
Southern Miss is going to try and make this a defensive struggle. The Golden Eagles lauded “Nasty Bunch” defense has made a significant jump this year, climbing to No. 80 in the nation in scoring defense to No. 43. The Golden Eagles allow 23.5 points per game. Keeping opponents out of the endzone is something they’ve largely excelled at compared to their peers.
The path to those points, has been suspect, though. Southern Miss ranks 12th of 14 teams in the Sun Belt in plays allowed of 20 or more yards with 63, an average of 5.3 such occurrences per game. Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina — the two defenses in their conference that allow more explosive plays — each rank worst than 100th in the nation in scoring defense.
To some extent, the way this defense has been winning is unsustainable, but something is undeniably working. This is a defense that bends but doesn’t break. If something miss stiffens on the back end and allows less wiggle room, they’ll have Rice right where they want them.
Rice X-Factor | No turnovers
No team has turned the ball over this season more often than Rice football. None. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Rice football ranks dead last in the nation with 30 turnovers in 12 games, an average of 2.5 giveaways per contest.
When they don’t implode, this offense has proven itself adequate, perhaps even dangerous with its explosiveness and diversity. The Owls have put up more than 440 yards of total offense in four of their five wins and have largely moved the ball well with a variety of different quarterbacks under center. The bugaboo — and it’s been a big one — has been protecting the football.
Coaches are oft to say things like “we beat ourselves,” and in this case, that largely seems to be true. If Rice can avoid shooting themselves in the foot and give themselves a chance to complete their drives, they will be able to hang with a low-scoring offense on the other side of the ball. If they spot that other offense points, things could get dicey, quickly.
Injury Report (Subscribers only)
When Rice football last took the field, they were without quarterback TJ McMahon, wide receiver Luke McCaffrey and several other key players on each side of the ball. Subscribers, stay tuned later this week for a deeper dive on those key injuries with the latest on who is (and isn’t) likely to go in this upcoming contest. Not a subscriber (yet)?
One Final Thing
Getting to a bowl game is an accomplishment in itself, but things could hardly have set up better for Rice football in this season-ending showdown with a familiar foe. Instead of having to travel a great distance, the Owls will be playing as close to home as they could have been beyond a return to Frisco. They’re not being shipped to Detroit or South Carolina.
Better still, this is a winnable game against a team with a commensurate level of talent. They’re not playing an underachieving SEC school that simply has better players who played tougher competition. No, Southern Miss is on Rice’s level and in fact, the Owls have beaten them as recently as last season.
This game matters to Rice football. It matters to the staff, the players and to the fans. To those who care, it’s not a random bowl sponsored by who’s-it-called or what’s-it-named. With that in mind, the effort should be equal to the task. Rice needs to play this game with the effort they put forth against North Texas in the season finale. If they can clean up the mistakes, they’re got all they need to walk away as winners.
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