These teams have a lot in common on the field and off. Both are private universities who once enjoyed "Glory Days" while in the SWC. Each has struggled to find success in the last decade, enjoying only brief glimpses of it. Rice has changed coaches twice in the last 3 years - SMU will be doing so this year - each looking for long term answers. Both were members of the WAC before joining C-USA. Both are private institutions. The two are located in Texas' 2 biggest cities, yet each has a serene campus with small enrollments. On the field two players bear strikingly similar skills sets, SMU quarterback Justin Willis and Rice's Chase Clement are both as dangerous with their arms and their feet. Statistically the two players are within 100 yards of each other for total offense on the season. Chase Clement has totalled 2452 total yards on the season thus far compared to Willis' 2368 yards. Each is arguably the MVP of their respective team. Even both head coaches were former defensive coordinators. On that side of the ball, SMU is very similar too - also very young and has struggled with injuries to key players all year.
So as usual, this game should be a hard fought battle of two very similar programs from like institutions. This game is almost like two siblings going at it - knock down, drag out, then at the end of the day get up and shake hands as brothers woven of the same fiber. Make no mistake though, the battle will be fierce.
Players of Note:
SMU's Thomas Morstead, a Pearland native, leads C-USA in punting with a 44.1 yard average.
Defensive End Corey Muse leads the Mustangs in sacks with 5.
Sophomore cornerback Bryan McCann leads the Ponies with 2 interceptions. The Oklahoma City native was a member of the C-USA All Freshman Team last year.
Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders is another SMU player from the Greater Houston area. The Bellville native leads SMU in receiving with 52 catches for 652 yards.
Justin Willis leads the team in rushing, but another sophomore James Mapps, also a member of the C-USA All Freshman Team last year, is second with 384 yards on 82 carries.
Keys to a Rice Win:
Ball security - without 7 turnovers last week against UTEP the Owls would not have needed the Superhuman efforts of Chase Clement and others. Rice is a team with a small margin for error right now - and believe it or not Chase is human.
Stop 3rd and 4th down conversions - the Owls held UTEP to 7 of 19 on 3rd down conversions and stopped all the Miner's 4th down attempts.
Take the lead early - Both Owl victories this year came when they were leading at the end of the 1st quarter. The Owls need points when they get the ball - preferably touchdowns.
Create turnovers - Willis has had problems turning the football over this year. Getting 2-3 takeaways early could take him out of his rhythm.
Stop the run - the Owls did a great job of shutting down UTEP's Marcus Thomas, who was eighth in the country in rushing headed into last week's game. If the Owls can stop James Mapps, and contain Justin Willis they stand a better chance of keeping the Ponies out of the end zone. SMU has decent receivers but Fred Rouse and Lorne Sam they're not.
Start the game on a high and finish it that way - the Owls have had a few slow starts this year. They need to leave the shovels in the shed in this game - no digging of the proverbial "deep holes" that have plagued them in their last two starts. They can't afford to get behind in this game, especially on the road and playing in the other team's Homecoming Game.