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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (72,208) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: Rice 2-2, Tulane 2-3. Away Record: Rice 1-3, Tulane 0-3. Neutral Record: Rice 0-1, Tulane 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 1-4, Tulane 2-2. Series Record: Rice leads, 18-15-1
GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls target their first road victory of the season when they visit The Big Easy for a Conference USA battle with the Tulane Green Wave at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Rice has elevated its play in recent weeks. After a 1-5 overall start, the Owls handled Texas-San Antonio, 34-14 at home. They followed their win with a heartbreaking, 28-24, loss to Tulsa on the road after allowing the Golden Hurricane to retake the lead in the final two minutes. However, coach Dave Bailiff motivated his team to a 44-17 rout of Southern Miss at home, which made his squad 3-6 overall and 1-4 in C-USA games. A loss this week will prevent Rice from reaching bowl eligibility.
After last week's 55-45 win over UAB, Tulane can now string together consecutive wins for the first time in 2012. The victory over the Blazers improved the Green Wave's record in C-USA games to 2-2. They had not been at .500 four games into the conference season since 2002. Like the visitors, Tulane has also won two of its last three games. The first victory was a 27-26 thriller over SMU that snapped a 15-game losing skid.
This will be the 35th meeting between these programs. While Rice holds a narrow 18-15-1 lead in the all-time series, the home team has come out on top in the last three games.
Rice is in the middle of the pack in Conference USA with averages of 410.6 yards and 29.2 points per contest. The offensive line has not helped out much, allowing 2.6 sacks per game. The Owls are coming off of their second highest scoring output (44) of the season, but they only gained 370 yards of total offense while lighting up the scoreboard against USM.
Taylor McHargue is the clear cut leader of the Owls. The quarterback has passed for 1,415 yards with nine touchdowns to four interceptions. He is also fairly accurate, completing 56.7 percent of his passes. McHargue also paces the team's rushing attack with 513 yards and eight TDs on 104 attempts. McHargue left last week's contest in the third quarter with an injury, but he is expected to return on Saturday. Driphus Jackson has become a capable backup after gaining experience while McHargue battled injuries earlier in the season.
Rice also has a pair of tailbacks it will lean on more to keep McHargue healthy. Charles Ross (492 yards) and Turner Petersen (483 yards) are both productive. Peterson racked up 136 yards and a score on 19 carries and also made a touchdown grab in last week's win over USM.
The Owls are near the bottom of the conference in passing offense (207 ypg), but they have a pair of playmakers lining up on the outside. Sophomore Jordan Taylor has amassed a team-high 492 yards on 38 receptions, but has yet to catch a TD pass after reeling in two receptions for TDs as a freshman. Former Michigan tailback Sam McGuffie (38 receptions, 418 yards, five TDs) has done a great job making plays as a slot receiver. He was quiet in last week's win with just one grab for 19 yards.
The Rice defense had an atrocious start to the season as UCLA (646), Louisiana Tech (609), Marshall (593), and Houston (608) gained yardage at will against the unit. The Owls have been much better since and have held three of their last four opponents under 400 yards of total offense. They also have held all four of those opponents under 30 points, with Memphis, UTSA, and Southern Miss being held under 20.
That improvement is a direct result of the strong play of Paul Porras, who has recorded up a team-high 73 total stops. The junior safety returned an interception 75 yards last week for his first career touchdown. Cameron Nwosu (61) and Julius White (60) have both made frequent encounters will ball carriers as well.
The Green Wave's offense was unstoppable last week as they crushed their previous season-high of 440 yards of total offense by tallying 619 yards on UAB. Tulane has scored 20 or more points in each of its previous three games after not producing more than 13 in any of the five prior contests. The team's season numbers are still unflattering as they rank second to last in the C-USA in scoring offense (18.4 ppg) and total offense (297 ypg).
The root of the recent offensive improvement is quarterback Ryan Griffin, who suffered an injury 15 plays into the second game of the season. The senior passer returned just in time to lead Tulane to a win over SMU by passing for 302 yards and three TDs. Griffin then went 28-of-44 for 362 yards and two scores with no interceptions at Texas-El Paso before setting a new school record with 466 yards and a new career-high with five TDs on 34-of-42 passing.
Ryan Grant is the best offensive weapon with totals of 658 yards, 37 catches, and five TDs. The junior wideout is on a hot streak with 12 catches for 299 yards and three TDs in his past two games. Xavier Rush showed defenses he will torch them if they key on Grant too much by tallying 126 yards and two TDs on eight catches last week.
Rob Kelley (240 yards) and Orleans Darkwa (170 yards) both see action in the ground game. Darkwa rushed the ball 20 times for 74 yards and two TDs last week, which was the best single game rushing performance by a Green Wave player this season.
Tulane showed its defense still has a long way to go last week as it gave up 622 yards and 45 points to UAB. On the season, the Green Wave's opponents are averaging 493.7 yards and 38.4 points per game.
Freshman defensive back Darion Monroe is the team's leading tackler with 57 stops. Senior Austen Jacks is the best big play defender with 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
The Owls were able to blow out the struggling Golden Eagles last week while Tulane survived a shootout with UAB. Both teams are riding a lot of offensive momentum into this one. The duel between McHargue and Griffin should be fun to watch as these teams battle for pride.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulane 38, Rice 35
10/31 10:46:10 ET