SMU (5-5) at Rice (4-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 17, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (47,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: CSS. Home Record: SMU 4-2, Rice 2-3. Away Record: SMU 1-3, Rice 2-3. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, Rice 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 4-2, Rice 2-4. Series Record: SMU leads 48-40-1.
GAME NOTES: With just two games left in the regular season, SMU is still in the hunt to reach the Conference USA title game, providing the team wins this weekend in a clash with the Rice Owls at Rice Stadium.
The Mustangs are 4-2 in league play after a 34-6 rout of last season's conference champion Southern Miss this past weekend. That leaves the team two games back of Tulsa in the CUSA West Division standings, meaning SMU will need a Tulsa loss this weekend. If all goes in the Mustangs' favor it would set up a decisive season finale against the Golden Hurricane that would determine the West Division's representative in the conference title game. One more win would also guarantee the Mustangs bowl eligibility, earning a sixth win for the fourth straight season.
Rice is still playing for its postseason lives and staved off elimination last week with a narrow 49-47 victory in New Orleans over Tulane. Rice is now 4-6 overall this season and in need of wins in each of the last two games to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008 and first record of .500 or above since that same season. Rice can only play the spoiler in terms of the conference title with the Owls just 2-4 in conference play.
These two Lone Star state squads have met 89 times previously. SMU has won the majority of those meetings with a 48-40-1 edge in the all-time series.
On the season, SMU has nearly twice as many passing yards (2,520) as rushing yards (1,252). In fact the Mustangs have one of the worst rushing offenses in Conference USA, averaging only 125.2 yards per game on the ground.
Still the most reliable force in the Mustangs' offense has been running back Zach Line. The senior running back has been an absolute workhorse this season with 216 carries for 1,032 yards and seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, no other running back has more than 12 carries or 60 yards. Line is as close as you can come to a lock for at least 20 carries and 90 yards on any given weekend. After his 22-carry, 92-yard effort last week against Southern Miss, he has had at least 20 carries in six straight games and seven overall.
Even with Line's efforts the offense still runs through the passing game, led by Garrett Gilbert. The junior quarterback has thrown for 2,393 yards and 13 touchdowns this season but has not been efficient in doing so. He has completed only 54.0 percent of his passes this season and has just as many interceptions (13) as touchdown passes. Gilbert has improved in the turnover category in recent weeks as he has not thrown a pick in each of the last three games.
Jeremy Johnson and Darius Johnson have shared more than just a last name. The two are the leading receivers for the Mustangs. Jeremy is the leader in receptions (63) and yards (643), while Darius has also turned in some solid efforts (52 receptions, 559 yards), while leading the Mustangs with four touchdown receptions.
The SMU defense has been strong this season. In fact the Mustangs have been one of the better defensive units in the conference, ranking third in both scoring (26.1 ppg) and total defense (378.9 ypg). Those defensive numbers have been given a boost by SMU's ability to make plays on the ball, as the Mustangs lead Conference USA and are tied for second nationally in interceptions with 18, six of which have been returned for touchdowns.
Randall Joyner and Kenneth Acker are the leaders in the turnover department with each bringing in three interceptions. Joyner is also second on the team in tackles (64) trailing Taylor Reed, who also leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5), 5.5 of which have been sacks. Margus Hunt has also done a good job getting pressure with a team-leading six sacks.
Rice has a much more balanced offensive attack with the Owls picking up 2,134 yards through the air and 2,043 on the ground.
Dual-threat quarterback Taylor McHargue has been the primary playmaker for Rice. McHargue has throw for 1,674 yards and nine touchdowns, while completing 57 percent of his passes. While his passing numbers are not overly impressive McHargue has also been able to make a great deal of noise with his ability to pick up yards on the ground. He has rushed for 573 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns this season. Against Tulane, McHargue had one of his best games through the air, throwing for a season-best 259 yards, while completing 12- of-20 passes. It was the first time since week two against Kansas he completed at least 60 percent of his pass attempts in a game. McHargue also rushed for 60 yards and a pair of scores against the Green Wave.
All the running from McHargue has limited opportunities for running back Charles Ross. The redshirt junior leads the team with 587 yards, but he has scored just twice and has just four games of more than 50 yards rushing.
The Bulk of McHargue's pass attempts this season have gone the way of Jordan Taylor and Sam McGuffie. Taylor leads the team in yards (550) on 40 receptions but has not gotten into the end zone. McGuffie, who is listed as a running back, leads the squad with 41 receptions and five touchdown receptions to go along with 463 yards overall.
With the offense turning in a solid season, the Owl defense has not been able to reciprocate. Rice is the third worst team in the conference in terms of yards allowed (456.3 ypg), while also being lit up for 33.8 points a contest. Such a high rate of scoring has come from Rice's inability to make plays in crucial spots. Rice has given up touchdowns on 71.8 percent of its attempts in the red zone, which is the worst mark in the conference.
Paul Porras is the leading tackler for the unit with 77, but only 1.5 of those takedowns have gone for a loss. Hosam Shahin (7.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks) and Cody Bauer (9.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) have been the most productive players in the front seven.
Although both teams will be desperate for wins in this game, SMU has the better chance of keeping its hopes alive. McHargue has been susceptible to turning the ball over often this season which is bad news for the Owls against the ballhawks on the Mustang defensive unit.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 33, Rice 28
11/14 10:39:48 ET