Rice football hosts SMU this week in their lone crossover season as AAC foes. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
SMU enters this game riding high, winners of four-straight in AAC play, one of only two undefeated teams in league play with Tulane being the other. Rice football knows that all too well, falling by two points to the Green Wave last Saturday before this upcoming class of Texan squads. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s matchup between Rice and SMU.
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs SMU 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.
Sizing up the contenders
If the season ended today, SMU would be playing in the AAC Championship Game. It doesn’t. SMU still has some work to be done before they can have a chance to win a conference championship before departing for the ACC. That task is still manageable if they lose to Rice, but they’d have a much thinner margin for error.
On the other side, Rice football’s championship aspirations took a sizable dent last weekend against Tulane, putting bowl eligibility front and center. If Rice wants to reach six wins and clinch a bowl berth, they need two win two of their final four games and they’d rather not let things go down to the wire like they did a year ago.
All Time | SMU leads, 48-41-1
Last Five | SMU leads, 3-2
Last Meeting | Home 2012, Rice won 36-14
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | Daniels – 173/272 (63.6 percent), 2362 yards, 19 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | Connors – 58 carries, 337 yards (5.8 yards per carry), 4 TD / Otoviano – 56 carries, 209 yards (3.7 yards per carry), 4 TD
Receiving | McCaffrey – 41 receptions, 692 yards (16.9 yds/rec), 8 TDs / MacNeill – 22 receptions, 290 yards (13.2 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Wyatt – 57/ Conti – 53 / Morrison – 47
Pass Breakups | Wyatt, Fresch, Taylor, Devones – 5 / Morrison -4, Jean – 3
Interceptions | Taylor -2 / Devones, Conti – 1
SMU Stat Notables
Passing | Stone – 151/254 (59.5 percent), 2138 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT
Rushing | Knighton – 83 carries, 456 yards (5.5 yards per carry), 4 TD / Johnson Jr. – 43 carries, 248 yards (5.8 ypc), 1 TD
Receiving | Kerley – 18 receptions, 319 yards (17.7 yards per reception), 2 TD / Maryland – 23 receptions, 315 yards (13.7 yds/rec), 5 TD / Bailey – 27 receptions, 311 yards (11.5 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Wilson – 44 / Nwokobia – 41 / Walker – 36
Pass Breakups | McGill, Sanders, Woods – 5 / Walker – 4
Interceptions | Six tied with one
SMU X-Factor | Protect the football
In the non-triple option category, SMU leads the AAC in turnovers lost through the first nine weeks of the regular season. Entering Saturday, they were in the Top 25 nationally in fewest turnovers, committing just seven giveaways in their first seven games. They did not turn the ball over at all against Tulsa. Their offense did the rest.
And while clean games have been the norm for the Mustangs so far this season, they haven’t been a guarantee. SMU has committed multiple turnovers twice this season, on the road against Oklahoma and on the road against TCU. SMU lost both of those games. They’ve had a plus turnover margin in every other game against FBS opponents this season.
For SMU, keeping this explosive offense on schedule has to be priority number one. Everything else will balance itself out. And Rice has shown on several occasions so far they can be dangerous if left to linger late in games. SMU best not play with fire and put the ball in the box instead of in the arms of Rice defenders.
Rice X-Factor | Get off the field
The Rice offense has had its lulls, but more often than not, it’s able to get points in bunches. If the Rice defense can generate a turnover or two and find a way to force a few punts, the Owls possess the necessary talent to win a shootout against one of the conference’s most prolific offenses.
Against Tulane, Rice forced exactly one punt and allowed Tulane to go 2-for-2 on fourth down before Pratt chucked the ball a mile high to milk clock in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Had Rice managed even one more stop, they might be talking about one of the bigger wins in program history right now, but they’re not.
SMU hasn’t beaten themselves very often this year, and it’s probably a fool’s errand to hope for the Mustangs’ offense to stay out of sync for long. No, if Rice wants to win this one, the defense is going to have to combine its opportunistic abilities with clutch plays on third and fourth down. That might very well be the difference.
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One Final Thing
Rice football has a choice during this week of practice. They can choose to allow the Tulane defeat to be disappointing and move forward or allow it to be defining and impact how they move forward with four games to go. The latter obviously has the potential to be much more detrimental to their upcoming matchup with SMU than the former.
And for whatever reason, this team has shown itself to be rather resilient. It’s hard to believe they’ll let this game beat them again, but it also feels like a bit of wishful thinking to dream they’ll have all their issues ironed out before going toe-to-toe with another of the AAC’s best teams.
Beat SMU and people won’t dwell on the Tulane game or start to assume the worst as the season enters its final quartet of games. Having the added bragging rights element of a win over the Mustangs on their way out of the conference would be something for the Rice fanbase to hold on to for who knows how long until these two teams play again down the road.
So, as cliche as it sounds, Rice football has to figure out a way to go 1-0 this week. Do that, and a bowl berth starts to look much more plausible. Do that this week, and it’s hard to come up with a reason Rice can’t hang with anyone left on their schedule
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