The Charlotte 49ers (2-9, 0-7) will play in the Lone Star State looking for their first conference win as they face the Rice Owls (4-7, 2-5) in Conference USA action Saturday afternoon. This marks the first matchup between the two schools in their respective histories, mainly due to Charlotte’s recent transition to the FBS level of competition.
Charlotte has lost nine straight since starting 2-0 after falling 58-10 at Kentucky in non-conference action last week. Rice lost their fourth straight with a 34-24 defeat at UTSA last Saturday. Kickoff from Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas is scheduled for 3:30 pm ET and the game will not be nationally televised. Rice is currently favored by 11 points with the over/under set at 57.5 points in this contest.
Charlotte was down 10-0 after one quarter and 20-3 at the half before things really got out of hand after intermission. The 49ers were outgained 544-233 in total yards, gave up 22 first downs while picking up 14 and allowed Kentucky to hold the ball for 32:12 compared to their 27:48 in the contest. In addition, Charlotte committed three turnovers, one of which was returned for a score in a 21 point fourth quarter outburst in a span of 3:58. The 49ers forced just one turnover and didn’t reach the end zone until there was just 4:54 to play.
The 49ers are going through growing pains offensively as they are 110th in passing (175.5 yards) and 72nd in rushing (166.4 yards) offense per contest. Charlotte is averaging 18.5 points per game and they are just 114th in scoring defense by allowing 37.1 points per contest. Three quarterbacks have seen action for the 49ers; they have combined to complete 52.1 percent of their passes for 1,931 yards while averaging 5.53 yards per pass attempt with 11 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Lee McNeill has seen the most reps at quarterback but he’s struggled to complete 91 of 178 passes for 825 yards with one touchdown and 10 picks. The combination of Matt Johnson (45 of 81, 699 yards, 6 TD, 8 INT, 260 rushing yards, TD) and Brooks Barden (46 of 90, 407 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT) isn’t setting the world on fire either. Kalif Phillips is the team’s leading rusher with 190 carries for 961 yards and five scores. Andrew Buie is the second back in the system; he contributes 129 carries for 474 yards plus a touchdown. Austin Duke is the team’s top receiver with 50 receptions for 526 yards and five scores; Trent Bostick (27 catches, 361 yards, 2 TD), T.L. Ford (21 receptions, 208 yards) and Workpeh Kola (17 grabs, 177 yards) are other targets with more than 15 receptions on the year. Blake Brewer has booted all 23 extra points and 14 of 24 field goal attempts on the year with a long of 45 yards; he’s missed one between 20 and 29 yards while misfiring twice between 30 and 39 yards.
Rice has had a disappointing campaign and the loss to UTSA was merely salt in the wound. The Owls led 10-0 in the first quarter and 17-14 in the second quarter but couldn’t hold the lead; a 21 point outburst in the second quarter gave UTSA an advantage they would not relinquish. Rice outgained the Roadrunners 520-431, won the first down battle 28-18 and the time of possession battle 34:41 to 25:19 but still lost. Part of the reason was turnovers: the Owls committed three giveaways and didn’t force a takeaway in the game.
The Owls put up an average of 233.2 yards per game through the air (56th in the nation) and 165.8 yards per contest (73rd in the nation in rushing offense) on the ground. Rice averages 26 points per game, which is tied for 70th in the nation, but after their trouncings by teams like Louisiana Tech, Baylor and Western Kentucky earlier this season, they’re allowing 38.5 points per contest, which leaves them tied for 119th in the nation in scoring defense. Driphus Jackson has completed 171 of 291 passes for 2,226 yards with 18 touchdowns and six picks while rushing for 138 yards and two scores. Tyler Stehling is 24 of 48 passing for 420 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Owls are led by Darik Dillard’s 124 carries for 627 yards and five scores; Samuel Stewart is second on the team on the ground as he has 89 carries for 366 yards and four scores. Austin Walter (63 carries, 359 yards, TD) and Jowan Davis (63 carries, 236 yards) are capable backs as well. Dennis Parks is the second leading receiver for Rice with 33 receptions for 498 yards and three scores; Temi Alaka (27 grabs, 303 yards, TD), Zach Wright (team high 37 receptions, team high 537 yards, 5 TD), Nate German (16 catches, 339 yards, 3 TD) and Connor Cella (13 grabs, 209 yards, TD) are the only other players with more than 118 receiving yards for the Owls. Jack Fox and Hayden Tobola have combined to hit all 37 extra points and seven of 12 field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards.
Rice is 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven home games against teams with a losing road record and 16-5-1 ATS in their last 22 against teams with a losing record. Charlotte is 0-3-2 ATS in their last five after a straight up loss, 0-2-2 ATS in their last four conference games, 0-3-2 ATS in their last five after a straight up loss by at least 20 points and 0-3-2 ATS in their last five overall.
The Owls have been a disappointment this season while Charlotte has gone through the expected growing pains that come with being a young FBS team in transition. Rice has some talent but it hasn’t translated to victories. They have better weapons than the 49ers and that should carry them to a win in this one to close the season on a positive note.