The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (6-3, 4-1) will travel to the Lone Star State as they take on the Rice Owls (4-5, 2-3) in a Conference USA West Division matchup Saturday afternoon. Rice has won four of the five previous meetings, including a 41-23 road win as an 8.5 point favorite on September 27, 2014 in the most recent matchup.
Southern Miss has won three straight after they dumped UTEP 34-13 at home two weeks ago; they’re coming off a bye last week. Rice has dropped two in a row after they were dumped by the same UTEP team 24-21 on the road last Friday. Kickoff from Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas is scheduled for 3:30 pm ET; the game will not be nationally televised. Southern Miss is currently a 7 point favorite in this contest with the over/under set at 61 points.
Southern Miss has won three straight as they continue to showcase their improvement over a season ago. The Golden Eagles led 13-3 at the half and expanded their lead in the second half by outscoring the Miners 21-10 the rest of the way. Southern Miss outgained UTEP 523-298 and finished with 24 first downs to the Miners’ 17; the Golden Eagles lost the time of possession battle by a narrow 31:29 to 28:31 margin and overcame committing the lone turnover in the contest.
The Golden Eagles currently are 15th in the nation in passing with an average of 321.4 yards per game; they are 47th in the nation in rushing with an average of 186.2 yards per game. Southern Miss averages 35.7 points per game, which is tied for 31st in the nation; they are allowing 22.7 points per contest, which has them tied for 40th in the nation in scoring defense. Nick Mullens has hit 64.1 percent of his passes (223 of 341) for 2,890 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven picks while averaging 8.31 yards per pass attempt. The Golden Eagles have a solid 1-2 punch on the ground with Jalen Richard (140 carries, 808 yards, 7 TD) and Ito Smith (85 carries, 632 yards, 3 TD) help move the sticks on the ground. Justice Hayes is a capable third back when he gets his chances; he has 43 carries for 192 yards and two scores. Casey Martin is the team’s leading receiver with 54 grabs for 531 yards and six scores; Michael Thomas (40 receptions, 737 yards, 7 TD) is a solid #2 receiver and Smith has been a solid receiver out of the backfield with 30 grabs for 337 yards and a score. DJ Thompson has hauled in 39 balls for 560 yards and five touchdowns and Richard has 21 catches from the backfield, giving Mullens two good safety valves out of the backfield. Southern Miss has had two kickers this season; they’ve combined for 39 of 41 on extra points and 10 of 15 on field goals with no kick longer than 39 yards.
In a back and forth game where the teams traded scores and neither team had more than a seven point advantage, it was Jay Mattox’s 24 yard field goal by UTEP with 48 seconds to play to give the Miners the win. Rice was outgained 392-320, gave up 19 first downs while picking up 16 and lost the time of possession battle 33:24 to 26:36 in the contest. Those numbers wiped out any momentum the Owls would have gained from forcing the lone turnover in the game.
The Owls put up an average of 233.2 yards per game through the air (57th in the nation) and 172.9 yards per contest (63rd in the nation in rushing offense) on the ground. Rice averages 28 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 36 points per contest, which leaves them 112th in the nation. Driphus Jackson has completed 140 of 232 passes for 1,798 yards with 15 touchdowns and four picks while rushing for 146 yards and two scores. Tyler Stehling is 19 of 32 passing for 282 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Owls are led by Darik Dillard’s 102 carries for 496 yards and four scores; Samuel Stewart is second on the team on the ground as he has 74 carries for 327 yards and four scores. Austin Walter (45 carries, 273 yards, TD) and Jowan Davis (61 carries, 232 yards) are capable backs as well. Dennis Parks is the second leading receiver for Rice with 29 receptions for 449 yards and three scores; Temi Alaka (25 grabs, 286 yards, TD), Zach Wright (team high 32 receptions, team high 467 yards, 4 TD), Nate German (10 catches, 179 yards, TD) and Connor Cella (11 grabs, 198 yards, TD) are the only other players with double digit catches for the Owls. Jack Fox and Hayden Tobola have combined to hit all 33 extra points and five of 10 field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards.
Southern Miss is 5-1 ATS in their last six against teams with a losing record, 4-1 ATS in their last five on the road, 4-1 ATS in their last five on fieldturf and 7-2 ATS in their last nine overall. Rice is 1-4-1 ATS in their last six overall and 0-4 ATS in their last four against teams with a winning record.
The Golden Eagles are bowl eligible and are still right in the thick of the race in the Conference USA West Division race. Rice has fizzled out after expectations of a better performance than what they’ve delivered on the year. The loss to UTEP one week after the Golden Eagles trounced them by three touchdowns shows the difference in the teams; give the points and take Southern Miss in this contest.