The Rice Owls, defending 2013 Conference USA champions, are next on the FIU football schedule with kickoff at 12 noon this Saturday from FIU Stadium. It will be the first-ever meeting between FIU (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) and Rice (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) in football. The Owls are the third of four first-time opponents for FIU this season. Thus far against first-time opponents, the Panthers are 1-1 defeating Wagner and losing to UTSA. FIU travels to Old Dominion on Nov. 8 to face its fourth first-time foe this season.
Rice is on a roll heading into FIU. The Owls have won four straight games with a powerful offense and an improving defense. After starting the year allowing 43.6 points-per-game, the Owls defense has yielded 19.7 ppg. Yes, Rice's competition in the last four games is not on par with the first two games that resulted in losses to Notre Dame and Texas A&M and a 45-42 loss to Old Dominion but the Owls defense has clearly improved.
During its four-game win streak Rice has defeated Southern Miss, Hawaii, Army and North Texas scoring 41 points in three of those four games and 28 points in the other contest. The FIU defense is sure to be tested Saturday.
Rice has a pair of running backs, Jowan Davis (4.2 yds pg) and Darik Dillard (5.6 yds pg), each averaging more than 4 yards-per-carry and have combined for 11 touchdowns. Davis and Dillard, each at 200 pounds, are not the huge backs that FIU saw earlier this season in Pitt's James Conner and Marshall's Devon Johnson, who were each 245 pounds, but the Owls backs can move.
Still, the Owls are a running team averaging 199.3 yards per game while they throw for 225.3 yards per game. With its run game Rice has owned the time of possession advantage throughout the season. The Owls have had the ball for nearly 35 minutes (34:50) per game. That's almost two-thirds of a quarter more than opponents have had the ball (25:10) and this could be a factor with a 12 noon game on Saturday at FIU. Remember when Pittsburgh kept the FIU defense on the field earlier this season. Conner exploded in the second half against a tired FIU D.
The Owls have a mobile quarterback in Driphus Jackson. Mobile quarterbacks have been a challenge for FIU defenses. But Jackson can throw as well. He is completing 59 percent of his passes and has 12 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Jackson likes to spread out the passing game with six pass catchers, including Davis and Dillard, with double digits in receptions.
Here is an alarming number if you are FIU. Rice is converting almost half of its third downs. The Owls are 52 of 110 (47%) on third down this season. No bueno for opposing defenses.
Defensive end Brian Nordstrom leads the Owls defense with 10 tackles for loss. Defensive end Graysen Schantz has seven tackles for loss. Rice has 20 sacks with three players, including Nordstrom, with at least three sacks each. Defensive back Jaylon Finner is the Owls' leading tackler with 35 stops.
Rice is tied with Marshall for the second best rushing defense in the conference allowing 144 yards per game. FIU is sixth allowing 155 rushing yards per game. The Owls are in the middle of the pack defensively giving up 245 yards through the air per game, which ranks seventh in C-USA.
I'll have more on Rice later with "5 Questions" and "The Other Game" plus at the end of the week the game preview.