The Rice Owls (4-4, 2-2) will stay within the state of Texas as they head on the road as they face the UTEP Miners (3-5, 1-3) in a Conference USA West Division matchup Friday night. Rice has won four straight and eight of nine in the series, including a 31-13 home win as a 7.5 point favorite in the most recent matchup on November 21, 2014.
Rice is coming off a 42-17 trouncing by Louisiana Tech at home that snapped their two game win streak. UTEP was rolled 34-13 by Southern Miss on the road for their third loss in four games. This one is slated to kick off at 8:00 pm ET from the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas and will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. Rice is currently favored by 7 points in this contest.
Rice was manhandled most of the game against the Bulldogs as they fell apart after the opening minutes of the contest. The Owls allowed 28 straight points to turn a 7-7 game into a 35-7 deficit and that was all she wrote. Rice was outgained 455-281 and gave up 21 first downs while recording only 15 of their own. On the bright side, the Owls didn’t commit a turnover in the game but they didn’t force one either; the relative inability to stop Louisiana Tech from driving the length of the field was a major issue in the contest as sustained drives were the norm.
The Owls put up an average of 233.6 yards per game through the air (58th in the nation) and 183.3 yards per contest (51st in the nation in rushing offense) on the ground. Rice averages 27.6 points per game, which is tied for 69th in the nation, but after their trouncings by teams like Louisiana Tech, Baylor and Western Kentucky earlier this season, they’re allowing 37.5 points per contest, which leaves them 114th in the nation. Driphus Jackson has completed 126 of 206 passes for 1,568 yards with 13 touchdowns and four picks while rushing for 136 yards and two scores. Tyler Stehling is 19 of 31 passing for 282 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Owls are led by Darik Dillard’s 89 carries for 443 yards and four scores; Samuel Stewart is second on the team on the ground as he has 72 carries for 321 yards and four scores. Austin Walter (40 carries, 259 yards, TD) and Jowan Davis (58 carries, 228 yards) are capable backs as well. Dennis Parks is the top receiving threat for Rice with 27 receptions for 403 yards and three scores; Temi Alaka (24 grabs, 277 yards, TD), Zach Wright (26 receptions, 351 yards, 3 TD), Nate German (10 catches, 179 yards, TD) and Connor Cella (10 grabs, 180 yards, TD) are the only other players with double digit catches for the Owls. Jack Fox and Hayden Tobola have combined to hit all 30 extra points and five of nine field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards.
UTEP was kept out of the end zone until the fourth quarter; by that point in time, the Miners were out of the contest for all intents and purposes. The Miners were outgained 523-298, gave up 24 first downs while picking up 16 and allowed Nick Mullens to throw four scoring passes in the contest. UTEP forced the game’s lone turnover in the game and won the time of possession battle 31:29 to 28:31 but when you settle for two field goals in the contest while allowing the opposition to put touchdowns on the board, you’re in trouble.
The Miners are a below average offensive team as they average 210.9 yards per game through the air (80th in the nation) and 134 yards per game (107th in the nation) on the ground on the year. UTEP is putting up 19.8 points per game, which leaves them tied for 111th in the nation in scoring offense, but they are currently just 119th in the nation by allowing 38.6 points a contest. Ryan Metz has completed 66 of 109 passes for 753 yards with six touchdowns and six picks; Mack Leftwich (66 of 118, 804 yards, 4 TD, INT) and Kavika Johnson (18 of 30, 130 yards, TD) have seen action at quarterback as well. Aaron Jones is second on the Miners with 32 carries for 209 yards and a score while Darren Laufasa chips in 18 carries for 128 yards plus a touchdown. LaQuintus Dowell (58 carries, team high 257 yards, 2 TD) and Jeremiah Laufasa (61 carries, 200 yards) have seen action as well with limited success. Jaquan White leads the team with 28 receptions for 296 yards and three scores; Hayden Plinke contributes 24 grabs for 293 yards while Autrey Golden has grabbed 17 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Batson has 18 receptions for a team leading 352 yards and two touchdowns. Jay Mattox has hit all 17 extra points and 11 of 14 field goals on the season with a long of 50 yards.
Rice is 6-1 ATS in their last seven after an ATS loss, 6-1 ATS in their last seven after allowing at least 40 points, 5-1 ATS in their last six after a straight up loss and 5-1 ATS in their last six on the road against teams with a losing home record. UTEP is 5-12 ATS in their last 17 after scoring less than 20 points, 1-4 ATS in their last five after allowing at least 450 yards and 0-4 ATS in their last four on Friday.
The Owls are the better team in this one even though the record shows just a one game difference between the programs. UTEP has been inconsistent and juggling quarterbacks this season while Rice has established talent. The Owls haven’t been great on the road this season but they should be able to pick up the win and cover the line in this contest.