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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl (51,500) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: FCS. Home Record: Rice 3-2, UTEP 2-3. Away Record: Rice 2-3, UTEP 1-5. Neutral Record: Rice 0-1, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 0-0, UTEP 2-5. Series Record: Rice leads, 9-6.
GAME NOTES: A 31-year old career will come to an end on Saturday as Mike Price coaches the Texas-El Paso Miners for the last time when they welcome the desperate Rice Owls to the Sun Bowl for Conference USA regular season closer.
Price announced on Monday that this Saturday's game will be his last. The Miners' coach is currently the sixth-winningest active leader in career wins after compiling 177 victories while leading Weber State, Washington State, and UTEP. During his career, Price was named the 1997 Coach of the Year, directed eight different teams to bowl games, and lifted a UTEP program that averaged 2.6 wins per season before his arrival to a BCS ranking.
Price will have a tough opponent in his final outing, as the Owls come in one win shy of bowl eligibility. Rice began a late-season rally towards the bowl season on Oct. 27 with a 44-17 win over Southern Miss, which it followed with a road triumph over Tulane (49-47), and last week's impressive 22-point rout of SMU. Coach David Bailiff is attempting to lead his squad to a bowl game for the first time since his inaugural season at the helm. The Owls have reached the postseason just twice since the 1961 season.
The Miners may be able to send off Price on top as they have been playing better as of late. UTEP held its own against the UCF Knights on Nov. 10 before being handed a seven-point setback by the East Division's leaders. Then it held of Southern Miss for a one-point victory which snapped a two-game losing slide. After a three-game span from Sept. 29 - Oct. 11 in which UTEP scored 29 total points, the offense has been rejuvenated and averaged 29.3 ppg in its last four outings.
This will be just the 16th time these Lone Star State rivals square off. Rice holds a 9-6 edge in the all-time series.
Rice managed to push past SMU last weekend due to the tremendous play of junior quarterback Taylor McHargue. The field general had his second biggest offensive output of the season with 335 total yards of offense and produced three total touchdowns. McHargue went 24-of-36 for 297 yards without an interception to do most of the damage through the air. He now has 2,582 total yards of offense and 22 total touchdowns to his credit this season.
The Bulk of McHargue's pass attempts this season have gone the way of Jordan Taylor and Sam McGuffie. Taylor leads the team in yards (616) on 40 receptions but has still not visited the end zone. McGuffie has primarily played slot receiver this year after playing tailback his first three collegiate seasons. The speedy senior leads the squad with 47 receptions which he has turned into516 yards and a team-best five touchdowns. Vance McDonald and Donte Moore are both threats to have big-time performances in any given contest.
With the offense turning in a solid season, the Owls' defensive unit has been inconsistent. Rice's defense played surprisingly well last week as it held SMU to 317 yards of total offense, tied its season-high with four sacks, and generated two turnovers.
The stifling performance came courtesy of the aggressive outings of Cody Bauer and Jared Williams. Bauer recorded three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble and Jared Williams made two sacks as well.
As for UTEP, Price temporarily handed the reins of his offense over to freshman QB Blaire Sullivan recently. The scrambler has performed well and racked up 565 yards of total offense and four total TDs. Sullivan often makes plays on the ground, but he has been picked off only once in three games of action.
Sullivan's presence at the top of the depth chart created more work for tailback Nathan Jeffery. The sophomore has done been very productive with Sullivan under center with 129.3 yards per contest over his last three outings. Jeffery has also scored multiple touchdowns in each game during that span.
Nick Lamaison is going to be the starter under center for his final collegiate game. The senior quarterback is a much more effective passer than his backup.
Jordan Leslie is doubtful to play on Saturday due to disciplinary reasons, which makes Mike Edwards the only notable target in the passing attack. Edwards goes into his senior game with 699 yards and seven TDs on 46 receptions.
UTEP surrenders 439 yards per game to opponents, but its scoring defense is much better due to its big play ability. The Miners are great at dislodging the ball from opposing ball carriers and already have forced 20 fumbles. However, they have recorded only one interception since Oct. 6, a span of five games.
On the defensive side of the ball, 22 different players have recorded at least 10 tackles on the year for UTEP. Josh Fely (96) has the ninth-most tackles in the C-USA. Horace Miller is an aggressive pass rusher up front with a team- best six sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
What was once a meaningless game for the Miners has been juiced up with value due to their coach's announcement. McHargue and the Owls have indicated they are more than capable of spoiling Price's 360th and final appearance on the sidelines. UTEP will need to deliver a huge effort to keep Rice from gaining bowl eligibility.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 34, Texas-El Paso 30
11/21 10:51:09 ET