FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (70,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: FCS. Home Record: FAU 0-1, Rice 1-1. Away Record: FAU 1-2, Rice 0-1. Neutral Record: FAU 0-0, WKU 1-0. Conference Record: FAU 0-2, Rice 0-0. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: In their first game of their league schedule the Rice Owls will host the Florida Atlantic Owls in a Conference USA showdown at Rice Stadium.
FAU's first season as a member of Conference USA has not gotten off to the greatest of starts. At 1-3 overall and 0-2 in league play the Owls have found wins hard to come by. The Owls' two conference losses came against East Carolina (31-13) and Middle Tennessee in overtime (42-35) last week. FAU's lone win came against 0-3 South Florida.
Rice has been a member of Conference USA since 2005 but that doesn't mean it has fared any better than FAU this season. Rice is sitting at 1-2 as it gets set to begin its league schedule. The team was first handed a 52-31 loss to Texas A&M, followed by a 23-14 win over Kansas and finally a difficult, 31-26 setback against cross-town rival Houston.
These teams share a nickname and now a conference, but have never been matched up before.
A 1-3 start has been doomed by ineffective offense for FAU. The Owls rank third to last in the conference in total yards (315.8 ypg) and 10th in scoring (20.5 ppg). The Owls have been especially slow to start games, as they have been outscored 65-30 in the first half. The Owls also struggle in pass protection, having given up 16 sacks.
Jaquez Johnson has been the primary quarterback for the Owls, though Greg Hankerson has gotten his shot as well. Johnson completed 31-of-50 pass attempts against MT last week and totaled 321 yards and three touchdowns. However, he was again a victim of poor protection, as he was sacked four times. Johnson also added to his interception total with a pair of picks. He now has four on the season. Johnson is a threat on the ground as well, with 158 rushing yards and three scores.
Jonathan Wallace is the primary rushing option in the traditional sense. Wallace has carried the ball 53 times for 228 yards and a touchdown. However, he is picking up just 57 yards per game on the ground.
In terms of pass catchers the best options for Johnson have been Daniel McKinney (20 receptions, 162 yards, TD), William Dukes (13 receptions, 139 yards, two TDs) and Jenson Stoshak (eight receptions, 119 yards).
Though certainly not a spectacular unit, the Owls' defense has been solid in comparison to the rest of C-USA. FAU is allowing teams to score just under 30 points per game, while allowing 389.5 yards on average every week. Those numbers do not rank high in the league but have the Owls right in the middle of the pack.
Adarius Glanton is the leader with team-highs in tackles (35) and tackles for loss (1.5). D'Joun Smith has been a strong player in the secondary with two interceptions and eight passes defended.
For all of Johnson's struggles at quarterback for FAU, Taylor McHargue has been even less consistent for Rice. McHargue has completed just 55.2 percent of his pass attempts for 580 yards and two touchdowns to go with five interceptions. McHargue hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games.
Without much of a passing game the Owls have struggled to be a consistent team in terms of scoring points, averaging just 26.7 per game, while opponents average 32.3. As far as yardage goes, the Owls are totaling 447.3 per game, which actually ranks second in the conference.
Running back Charles Ross is largely responsible for the large yardage totals. Ross has rushed for 319 yards and four touchdowns on 55 carries this season and has had more than 100 yards in two games. However, Ross is listed as questionable (leg) for Saturday's game. Darik Dillard (110 yards) is a decent second option should Ross be unable to play.
Jordan Taylor is certainly McHargue's favorite target. Taylor has hauled in at least five passes in every game this season and has totaled 198 yards and 18 receptions overall. Taylor also has one of the team's three receiving touchdowns. Dennis Parks (six receptions, 113 yards) and Turner Petersen (five receptions, 102 yards) have each missed time this season but have been valuable when they are on the field.
Like FAU, Rice has not been a terrible defensive team but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The Owls are surrendering 416.7 yards per game, which is less than they are gaining, yet somehow they are still being outscored by opponents. Rice is tied for sixth in the league with six sacks in just three games but has also forced only four turnovers.
Michael Kutzler has contributed in just about every way this season with a team-high 23 tackles, 2.0 sacks and an interception. Christian Covington has 13 total stops, including a team-high 4.5 for loss and a pair of sacks.
Even though Rice has had its issues, it will still be a tough task for FAU to earn its first league win on the road. If Ross can play and continue to carry the offense, Rice will get off to a quick start in league play.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 27, Florida Atlantic 17
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