FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (47,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: CBS Sports Network. Home Record: LaTech 2-2, Rice 3-0. Away Record: LaTech 2-2, Rice 3-2. Neutral Record: LaTech 0-1, Rice 0-1. Conference Record: LaTech 3-2, Rice 4-1. Series Record: Series is tied, 3-3.
GAME NOTES: After winning just one of their first five games to start the 2013 campaign, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are nearing the .500 mark as they head to the Lone Star State for a Conference USA showdown with the Rice Owls.
The Bulldogs picked up their second consecutive win and third victory in four games last week as they completed a 36-13 rout of Southern Miss in Ruston. Coach Skip Holtz's team improved to 4-5 overall and 3-2 in league action with the win. A Louisiana Tech win in Houston would leave it one decision shy of bowl eligibility with two games left to play.
Success in Texas will not come easy for the Bulldogs as they go against an Owls team that has not lost a November home game since 2007. Coach David Bailiff's squad become bowl eligible by producing a five-game winning streak that consisted of decisions over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa, Texas-San Antonio, New Mexico State and UTEP.
Rice could not continue its momentum into its instate battle with North Texas on Halloween and suffered a 28-16 setback to the Mean Green before last week's bye. The loss allowed NT to tie the Owls for first place in the West Division standings, which means Bailiff's team will need some help to advance to the C- USA Championship.
These schools were once league rivals in the Western Athletic Conference. They squared off in non-conference action in 2012 at Joe Aillet Stadium. The Bulldogs earned a 56-37 decision to tie the all-time series at three wins apiece.
The Bulldogs have been gaining momentum on the offensive side of the ball down the stretch with at least 400 yards of total offense in three of their past four outings. Sophomore tailback Kenneth Dixon led the way versus USM as he compiled 207 rushing yards, which is the most amassed by any C-USA player this season. His strong effort put him over the 2,000-yard mark in just 19 career games.
Although Louisiana Tech has shown progression by scoring 23 points or more in its three most recent victories, it has averaged only 13.6 ppg in its five losses to FBS teams. The Bulldogs' high-scoring outputs came against Texas-El Paso, FIU and Southern Miss, which rank 13th, 11th and 14th in scoring defense in the C-USA, respectively.
With starting signal caller Ryan Higgins sidelined with an injury last week, junior Scotty Young completed 22-of-37 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Higgins (1,311 yards, four TDs, eight INTs) is listed as questionable to return on Saturday, which could give the Texas Tech transfer another chance under center. Although Young has not been picked off in five games, he has hit on only 54 percent of his pass attempts for 610 yards and four scores.
The Bulldogs were also without Andrew Guillot in their victory over the Golden Eagles. Guillot, who listed as questionable for the trip to Texas as well, is the main option in the aerial attack with 320 yards and two scores on 26 catches. He is averaging 40 receiving yards per game while D.J. Banks is second on the squad at just 24.0 ypg.
Holtz's team has put itself in position for a late run to the postseason with above-average play on the defensive side of the ball. Louisiana Tech is fourth in the conference in points allowed (23.2 ppg) despite being four slots lower in total defense (393.1 ypg). It was unflinching versus USM, which amassed only 59 rushing yards, finished with four interceptions and failed to reach the end zone until the final minute of the game. Daniel Cobb is the anchor to the defense with 69 tackles, 10 TFL, an interception and a forced fumble.
The Owls will look to regain their composure after the open week. They went into their matchup with the Mean Green after tallying 90 total points in their two previous outings, but three turnovers in addition to a pair of turnovers on downs and a 2-of-13 success rate on third downs prevented them from cashing their 355 total yards into enough points to come out on top.
Although senior running back Charles Ross lost a fumble in the contest, he also racked up 101 yards on 18 carries. Injuries forced Ross to miss two games, but he is averaging a league-best 114.0 yards per game (15th nationally) in seven outings to go with six touchdowns. Quarterback Taylor McHargue (358 yards, five TDs), Darik Dillard (241, two TDs), and Turner Petersen (239 yards, TD) have also been contributors to Rice's rushing attack that is yielding a C-USA leading average of 223 ypg.
McHargue would be one of the least productive signal callers in the league if it weren't for his dual-threat ability. He has been disappointing as a passer, completing only 52 percent of his throws for 1,579 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight picks.
Rice's defensive unit did its part in the loss in Denton. The Mean Green were limited to only 253 total yards, 13 first downs and two offensive TDs that came on missed assignments. NT managed to add a pair of additional scores with a fumble return for a touchdown and a punt return that went 65 yards for six points. The Owls have held six of their nine foes to 21 points or less through four quarters. They have a pair of playmakers in the secondary in Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan. They have three interceptions apiece to account for just over half of the team's total picks.
The Owls have had plenty of time off since their disappointing loss to NT. They will be anxious to get back on track against the one-dimensional Bulldogs, who have yet to pull off a surprising victory. Louisiana Tech will need better play at the quarterback position to stand a chance, which is not likely to occur against Rice, which specializes in coverage.