Tulane (7-4) at Rice (8-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 30, 3 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (70,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: FOX College Sports. Home Record: Tulane 5-1, Rice 4-1. Away Record: Tulane 2-3, Rice 4-2. Neutral Record: Tulane 0-0, Rice 0-0. Conference Record: Tulane 5-2, Rice 6-1. Series Record: Rice leads, 18-15-1.
GAME NOTES: With their sights set on their first eight-win season in more than a decade, the Tulane Green Wave will travel to Rice Stadium to take on the Rice Owls in a Conference-USA regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon.
The last time the Green Wave had eight wins was in 2002, which was also the last year the team earned a bowl invitation. The Green Wave are getting set to get back to the postseason this year as they have earned a 7-4 record on the year, including a 45-3 victory last weekend against UTEP in their final home game at the Merceds-Benz Superdome.
The Owls are also enjoying a renaissance of sorts this season as their eight wins are the most since 2008 and gives them a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1997 and 1998 campaigns. Last weekend Rice was able to escape with a 37-34 road victory over UAB with a one-yard touchdown run from Luke Turner in overtime. The win was the second- straight and seventh in the last eight games for the Owls, who are 6-1 in league play and can clinch the West Division with a victory on Saturday.
Last year's matchup between these teams saw no shortage of offense as the Owls were able to escape the Superdome with a 49-47 victory. The win pushed the Owls' slim lead in the all-time series to 18-15-1.
The Green Wave have managed their resurgence this season despite lacking a very powerful offensive attack. Tulane is better than only Southern Miss and FIU, who are a combined 1-21 this season, in terms of total offense (320.6 ypg) among C-USA members.
Nick Montana guides the unit from under center. Montana has not been an overly productive or efficient passer this season. He has completed only 54 1 percent of his pass attempts for 1,557 yards and 13 scores to nine interceptions. Last week against UTEP, Montana managed to tie a season-high with three touchdown passes but he failed to reached over 200 yards for the fifth straight game as well.
Montana has relied heavily on the services of Ryan Grant when letting the ball fly. Grant has more than double the amount of receiving yards of the next most productive receiver on the team as he has totaled 881 yards as well as nine touchdowns on 68 receptions. Grant was in fine form last weekend as he brought in eight passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns, his second 100-yard effort of the season. Justyn Shackleford (34 receptions, 356 yards, five TDs) is the only other target with more than 200 yards on the season.
The bulk of the rushing load falls to Orleans Darkwa. The senior running back has had no issues in being a workhorse for the offense, as he has piled up 754 yards and nine touchdowns on 158 carries. Darkwa had 137 yards and a score on 17 rushes last weekend for his second straight 100-yard performance and third of the campaign .Rob Kelley (424 yards, three TDs) has provided a reprieve for Darkwa as a reliable backup.
Tulane's efforts on the defensive side of the ball have allowed the offense to be less productive. The Green Wave rank fourth in the league in yards allowed (357.5 ypg) and third in scoring defense (21.5 ppg). The key has been the Green Wave's ability to create turnovers as they have a conference best 31 forced takeaways this season and are tied for the best turnover margin (+11) in the league. Lorenzo Doss has brought in seven interceptions, tied for second most in the country.
Rice has been a more effective offensive squad than Tulane as well as one of the better ones in the league as a whole. Relying on a rush-heavy attack, the Owls are third in the league in total offense (431.1 ypg) and scoring (31.8 ppg).
Charles Ross serves as the leading rusher for the Owls, which is an important position considering they have nearly 1,000 more yards on the ground than through the air this season. Ross surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in rushing two weeks ago when he racked up 215 yards and five scores against Louisiana Tech. Ross had a more pedestrian 50 yards on 10 carries last weekend to up his totals to 1,063 yards as well as 12 scores on 168 carries
It helps the Owls approach that they have a quarterback that can create with his legs. Taylor McHargue has rushed for 451 yards and five touchdowns this season and is coming off of a 92-yard effort against UAB, which marks a season-high. When he drops back to pass McHargue is not as dangerous. On the year he has completed only 52.5 percent of his passes attempts for 1,885 yards and 15 touchdowns while being intercepted eight times. McHargue tallied 139 yards against UAB for his eighth game of less than 200 passing yards.
McHargue's top target is Jordan Taylor, who has totaled 692 yards and seven touchdowns on 26 receptions this season. Taylor has had only 67 yards on six catches over the last two games but is also the only player on the team to have a 100-yard effort under his belt. Dennis Parks (20 receptions, 358 yards, three TDS) and Turner Petersen (25 receptions, 329 yards, three TDs) are the next best options.
Rice is at a bit of a disadvantage on the defensive side in comparison to the Green Wave. The Owls are in no way a terrible defensive unit but by allowing 370 yards of total offense per game, they rank near the middle of the conference. Like Tulane, the Owls have been a strong team in capitalizing on foes' mistakes as they have the fourth most takeaways (23) in the league. Phillip Gaines and his four interceptions lead the team, while Michale Kutzler (75 tackles, 5.5 TFL, INT) is an all-around defender.
The swan song for Tulane in the Superdome was a nice one. However, on the road, against a Rice team that is gunning for a division title, the Green Wave will not be able to put a positive stamp on the end of the regular season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 30, Tulane 23
11/27 11:16:18 ET