Southern Miss (0-7) at Rice (2-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 27, 1:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (47,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: CSS. Home Record: Southern Miss 0-4, Rice 1-2. Away Record: Southern Miss 0-3, Rice 1-3. Neutral Record: Southern Miss 0-0, Rice 0-1. Conference Record: Southern Miss 0-3, Rice 0-4. Series Record: Rice leads 2-1. .
GAME NOTES: The defending Conference USA champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles will continue their quest to find their first win of the season with a road trip to take on the Rice Owls at Rice Stadium this weekend.
It has been a perplexing drop off for Southern Miss from its conference title run a year ago. The Golden Eagles have yet to get a win in seven tries this season and have lost five of those games by at least 10 points and four by more than 20 points, including a 59-24 drubbing from Marshall last weekend. Southern Miss' overall record is its worst to start a season since 1976. The 0-7 start also guarantees Southern Miss a losing season, its first since 1993.
Rice can only boast a moderately more successful run in 2012 with a 2-6 overall mark entering play. The Owls are also without a conference victory with an 0-4 ledger. The Owls had a chance to get their first conference win of the season against Tulsa last weekend but fellow short in a 28-24 decision. The Owls led with less than two minutes remaining before surrendering a game- winning touchdown run.
This will only be the fourth all-time meeting between these squads as Rice did not join C-USA until 2005. The Owls have won two of those previous matchups although Southern Miss doubled the Owls up in a 48-24 rout last season.
The Golden Eagles don't have to look far to see why the team is struggling. Southern Miss is just ninth in scoring offense (19.6 ppg) and 10th in total offense (315.9 ypg) after finishing second in the conference in both categories last season. Southern Miss has been especially weak through the air, averaging a conference worst 136.7 yards per game passing.
Desmond Johnson has been the team's featured back, rushing for 449 yards on 74 carries to lead the conference's third best rushing offense. In recent weeks though, Johnson has been slowed, finishing with just 74 yards combined over the last two outings. The running game has also gotten a boost from its quarterbacks, with normal starter Anthony Alford rushing for 246 yards and five scores thus far.
The quarterback situation has been a shifting one for Southern Miss this season with the lack of production through the air. Alford has been the primary starter in the last three weeks but has completed only 43.8 percent of his passes for 438 yards and three interceptions and no touchdowns. Ricky Lloyd (50.0 percent, 277 yards), Chris Campbell (51.4 percent, 229 yards) and Arseno Favor (4-for-5, 13 yards) have all seen time under center as well.
With inconsistency at quarterback, Southern Miss' receivers have been unable to create any chemistry. Dominique Sullivan (13 receptions, 179 yards) is the team's most productive receiver, despite his modest numbers.
The Golden Eagles' struggles can't be blamed entirely on the offense as the defense has also been ineffective especially in terms of stopping teams from scoring. Southern Miss is giving up 39.0 points per game, which is the second worst mark in the conference. Much of the defense's problems have come from an inability to get stops with the team ranked second to last in the league on third down (48.4 percent) and in the red zone (87.1).
Jamie Collins has been one of the lone bright spots on the team as he has amassed 52 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and five sacks. Collins is fourth in the conference in tackles for loss. Outside of Collins the team has just 34 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Rice is average on offense, ranking fourth in total yards (415.6 ypg) and seventh in scoring (27.4 ppg). Rice's offensive numbers come despite the players in the backfield constantly dealing with pressure. The Owls have given up 21 sacks and 51 tackles for loss this season, which are both the second most in the conference.
Taylor McHargue is almost a one-man show for the offense. The quarterback has thrown for 1,335 yards and eight touchdown, while completing 56.6 percent of his pass attempts. McHargue has also led the team in rushing with a team-highs in carries (96), yards (490) and touchdowns (eight). McHargue has rushed for at least 50 yards in all but two games this season, but has thrown for at least 200 yards only three times.
Rice likes to run the ball often even when McHargue isn't the one doing it. Charles Ross (487 yards) and Turner Petersen (347 yards) have each piled up yards on the ground this season.
The passing game has taken a backseat to the run for Rice which has made the play calling somewhat limited and led to only a few receivers producing at a high level. Sam McGuffie (38 receptions, 399 yards, 5 TDs) and Jordan Taylor (35 receptions, 454 yards) are a solid tandem. However, no other receiver has more than 19 receptions this season.
The Rice defense has been lit up for the most yards in the conference this season, allowing 464.4 yards per game. That type of defensive play has led to a hefty 34.3 points per game average for Rice's opponents.
That hasn't stopped Paul Porras from racking up the sixth most tackles in league this season with 62. Cody Bauer (seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and Hosam Shahin (4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) have been productive in making play upfield.
In a season that seems to be lost for both teams this is an opportunity to earn what looks to be a rare victory. Southern Miss has been outclassed for much of the season and playing on the road won't help matters. However this might be the most winnable game on the schedule so far.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 21, Rice 20
10/24 10:36:23 ET