Rice (7-3) at UAB (2-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, November 21, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Legion Field (71,594) -- Birmingham, Alabama. Television: FOX. Home Record: Rice 4-1, UAB 1-2. Away Record: Rice 3-2, UAB 1-6. Neutral Record: Rice 0-0, UAB 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 5-1, UAB 1-5. Series Record: Series is tied, 2-2.
GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls will attempt to keep pace at the top of the league standings when they visit the UAB Blazers in a Conference USA matchup at Legion Field.
The Owls got back in the win column last weekend, blasting Louisiana Tech, 52-14. The win allowed the Owls to get some distance from their first league loss of the season to North Texas (28-16), the same team they are tied with at the top of the C-USA West standings. Rice is 5-1 in league action and 7-3 overall. In the win over Louisiana Tech, the Owls rushed for an astounding 415 yards, holding the Bulldogs to just 327 total yards of offense.
The 2013 campaign has not gone so smoothly for UAB. The Blazers have just two wins in 10 tries overall and a single win in six chances against the rest of the conference. The Blazers enter Thursday's contest, a rare home matchup for them this year, riding a four-game losing streak. The last two setbacks have come by a combined 119-28 score, including a 63-14 bashing at East Carolina this past weekend. UAB only has two games left on the schedule, including this one, with both games at home after playing seven of its first 10 games on the road.
This is just the fifth all-time meeting between these squads and the first since the 2009 season. In that matchup the Blazers had the upper hand, earning a 44-24 victory that evened the all-time series at two wins apiece.
Charles Ross carried the Rice offense in the win over Louisiana Tech. Ross tied a conference record with five rushing touchdowns in the contest, while compiling a career-high 215 yards on 27 carries. Ross was one of four ball carriers to have at least 60 yards in the contest for the Owls, but was clearly the most productive of the four. Ross also hit a milestone for the season, as he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Ross now has 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns and has reached 100 yards in four straight games. Ross is just the seventh player in Rice history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
With Ross and the rest of the Rice running backs tearing up the defense, Taylor McHargue did not need to make as many plays through the air. The Owls quarterback threw for a meager 167 yards and one score on 13-of-23 passing. The production was par for the course for McHargue, who has posted 1,746 yards and 13 scores on 52.4 percent passing this season, while having been intercepted eight times. However, he has only had two passes picked off over the last five games.
Jordan Taylor (43 receptions, 665 yards, six TDs) has been McHargue's favorite target on the year, though he had only three receptions for 40 yards against Louisiana Tech. Taylor is the only player in the team to have recorded five games of 50 or more yards receiving. Dennis Parks (19 receptions, 347 yards, three TDs) and Turner Petersen (24 receptions, 318 yards, three TDs) also tend to be involved heavily in the passing game.
In all Rice is scoring 31.3 points and gaining 427.5 yards of offense per game with the bulk of that production coming out of the backfield, as the Owls lead the conference in rushing offense (242.2 ypg).
Although they are not a dominant defensive team, the Owls have been doing just fine in that area, allowing only 22.7 points and 373.7 yards of total offense per game. They have struggled to get pressure, with only 12 sacks this season, but Phillip Gaines (four INTs) and Bryce Callahan (three INTs) have been extremely opportunistic in the secondary. Rice has forced the third most turnovers (23) in the league.
The Blazers are sixth in the 14-team conference in total offense (395.1 ypg) and seventh in scoring (25.4 ppg). In the last two weeks those numbers have taken quite a dive as the Blazers have struggled to find any success offensively.
Jonathan Perry eventually took the starting quarterback job from Austin Brown. Perry has started the last three games for the Blazers, though he hasn't been much better as a replacement. Perry completed just 16-of-34 pass attempts against ECU and was intercepted twice, though he did throw for a season-high 210 yards. In all, Perry is completing a meager 52.1 percent of his passes for 898 yards and seven scores, while being intercepted five times.
Perry, and Brown before him, did have the luxury of two skilled running backs to hand the ball off to in Darrin Reaves and Jordan Howard. Reaves (827 yards, nine TDs) is the more prominently featured back leading the team in carries (176) as well as yards and touchdowns. However, Howard (826 yards, two TDs) gets plenty of work as well. The pair combined for 104 yards and a score on 26 carries against ECU after back-to-back weeks in which they combined for more than 200 yards on better than 40 carries.
On the edge Jamarcus Nelson (32 receptions, 602 yards, six TDs) has show a ton of big play ability this year and is the only receiver on the team to have multiple 100-yard games under his belt. Nelson caught four passes for 52 yards against ECU. In the game it was Jamari Staples (30 receptions, 443 yards, four TDs), normally the second option, that led the way as he secured five receptions for 78 yards.
The last two weeks haven't really been all that new for UAB defensively speaking. The Blazers are allowing 42.6 points and 503.5 yards per game as a unit. They rank last in the league in total defense and are only ahead of Southern Miss when it comes to scoring defense. Jakes Ganus (87 tackles, 7.0 TFL) leads the team in tackles by nearly 50 stops.
The only advantage the Blazers have in this game is that they will be playing at home. However, Ross and company should still lead Rice to victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 38, UAB 17
11/20 10:51:28 ET