Rice (1-4) at Memphis (0-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 6, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (61,008) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: Fox College Sports. Home Record: Rice 0-2, Memphis 0-2. Away Record: Rice 1-1, Memphis 0-2. Neutral Record: Rice 0-1, Memphis 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Series Record: Rice leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Memphis Tigers hope the first win of the Justin Fuente era comes this week as they begin their final Conference USA season by welcoming the Rice Owls to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Rice was lacking its field general against its cross town rival as it fell, 35-14, to Houston at Reliant Stadium last time out. The setback dropped the Owls to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in C-USA action. Coach David Bailiff's squad, as expected, lost to UCLA (49-24) in its season opener before upsetting Kansas (25-24) on the road. Rice then lost two in a row to the tough offensive powers Louisiana Tech (56-37) and Marshall (54-51).
Memphis was off last week to prepare for its final C-USA opener. Fuente saw his team and personal head coaching record drop to 0-4 the last time the Tigers took the field, as they were unable to keep up with the Blue Devils in their 38-14 loss to Duke. Memphis also lost to Tennessee-Martin (20-17) of the FCS, Arkansas State (33-28), and Middle Tennessee (48-30) in 2012. A win would snap an eight-game losing streak which dates back to last season.
A Tigers' win would also snap a two-game losing streak against Rice. The Owls own a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series after they picked up a 28-6 victory in last season's encounter. Rice also won the last meeting in Memphis, 42-35, in the 2008 campaign.
Rice's offensive attack was at its best with Taylor McHargue leading the attack. The junior quarterback was named the league's offensive player of the week after he tallied a career-best 467 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in the overtime loss to Marshall. However, McHargue was injured near the end of regulation which kept him sidelined for overtime and last week's bout with Houston.
Driphus Jackson filled in last week, but his 17-of-35 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns was not enough to keep the Owls in the game. McHargue is expected to return this week and send the freshman back into a reserve role.
The Owls may need to rely on running back Charles Ross (296 yards, 50 carries) to take pressure off of the recovering McHargue, who leads the team with359 rushing yards. Slot receiver Sam McGuffie is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. McGuffie, a former starting Michigan running back, has scored two touchdowns and eclipsed the century mark in receiving yards in each of the team's past two games. Taylor Jordan was shut out last week but still enters Saturday tied with McGuffie for the team lead with 22 catches for 284 yards.
Rice's defense has been torched by opponents this season. It ranks second to last in the FBS in average total defense (559.0) and last in average scoring defense (43.6) through five games. There are clear holes in both the rush defense and the secondary for the Owls.
The Tigers have had trouble posting points this season and rank 103 in the FBS with an average of 22.5 points per contest. Its last time out, Memphis finished with a season-low 152 yards of total offense against Duke.
In the loss to the Blue Devils, Jacob Karam was contained and completed 13 of his 22 passing attempts for just 81 yards. Karam threw for a career-high 325 yards versus Middle Tennessee in his prior outing.
Marcus Rucker (248 yards, three TDs, 18 catches) and Keiwone Malone (246 yards, 23 catches, one TD) are the only two Tigers with double-digit catches and more than 100 yards for Memphis
Tailback Jerrell Rhodes has amassed a team-high 224 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries in the struggling Tigers' offense. However, Jai Steib (51 yards, 20 carries) is listed as the team's starting running back and Jaquise Cook (48 yards, 12 carries) is number two.
The Memphis defense has big-play potential. The unit blocked a punt and recovered a fumble for a touchdown versus Arkansas State, but it has allowed 1,950 yards in only four games.
Charles Harris leads the unit in tackles with 44, while Lonnie Ballentine has also been around the ball a lot as well (35 tackles and two interceptions). The Tigers have recorded only one sack this season.
McHargue's expected return does not mean he will return to the spectacular level of play he displayed against Marshall immediately. The Owls' defensive unit has to pressure Karam, as he has shown the ability to get it going when given time. Memphis could deliver Fuente his first career victory, especially if one of its running backs steps up to take pressure off of Karam.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 35, Memphis 31
10/03 10:51:08 ET