Rice vs. Southern Miss Preview

Nothing matters more than "the next game" for the Rice Owls right now. No question winning weighs heavily on the Owls ability to score points in bunches. Southern Miss historically has had one of the best Defenses in C-USA each year. How do they stack up this year? Read more inside as we preview Saturday's game…

Rice stunned a lot of people when they went into Hattiesburg on a Thursday night last year and beat Southern Miss 31-29 on national television. That loss combined with a growing sentiment of disappointment in the program's direction led to long time Head Coach Jeff Bower's dismissal from the program. The Golden Eagles hired Oklahoma State Offensive Coordinator Larry Fedora to take the program in a different direction, and he brings his USM squad to Houston this weekend to face the high powered Rice Offense.

Fedora has been well received in Hattiesburg so far. He recruited well with his first class, and will no doubt have the Golden Eagle Offense soaring in the near future. But Defense was the Achilles heel for USM last year. And some close to the program say it will take a couple years before USM can even hope to be in a position to dominate teams the way they once did with their fast, aggressive, and talented defenses.

Southern Miss still has a handful of stars on Defense, but doesn't quite have the talent and depth its used to having in certain areas – particularly the Defensive Line. They are somewhat young there, particularly at Defensive End.

Here's a more in depth look at the USM unit.

POS ## DEFENSE

DE 90 Terrance Pope, 6-3 275

NT 92 Eric Phillips, 6-7 290

DT 93 Logan Hickman, 6-3 245

ROCK 45 Roshaad Byrd, 6-3 247

WLB 41 Tokumbo Abanikanda, 6-0 224

MLB 24 Gerald McRath, 6-3 220

SLB 32 Martez Smith, 6-0 211

BC 23 Eddie Willingham, 5-10 174

BS 30 Chico Hunter, 6-0 195

FS 18 Eddie Hicks, 6-2 183

FC 20 C.J. Bailey, 5-10 189

Star of the Show - Linebacker Gerald McGrath. He is the leader of the defense and one of the best defenders in C-USA.

Leading Tackler - No surprise, it's McGrath. He's already got 63 tackles at the midway point of the season.

Strength of Unit - Southern Miss' strength is their Linebackers behind McGrath. Martez Smith and Tokumbo Abanikanda are a bit undersized but fast and active. Abanikanda is 3rd on the team in tackles with 44, but leads the team in tackles for loss with 6.5.

Players to Watch - USM is strong in the middle of the field. Besides McGrath and Abanikanda, Safety Chico Hunter is always around the ball. He is second on the team in tackles, but also defends the pass well with a team leading 5 pass break-ups. The other USM Safety, Eddie Hicks is 4th on the team in tackles.

Rising Star? - Sophomore Noseguard Anthony Gray leads the team in sacks with 4.5. He's one of the strongest players on the team with a bench press of over 500 pounds. At 6-0 311 though he has problems playing 4 quarters and is rotating in as a result.

Inside the Numbers - Southern Miss has given up an average of 398 yards of Offense per game. They've given up 181 yards rushing per game and 217 yards passing. USM is a heavily penalized team – an average of almost 82 yards a game. They've consistently been flagged for late hits and pass interference.

USM Defensive Keys to the Game - Its no secret that Chase Clement makes the Rice Offense tick. If Southern Miss can disrupt his rhythm, the Offense will have to alter its strategy.

Rice Offense

Rice has had 2 weeks to prepare for Southern Miss, valuable time for the return of Running Back Justin Hill. USM will remember Hill – he had a 54 yard touchdown against them last year. If Rice can run against the young Southern Miss Defensive Line they can obviously stress the Golden Eagle Secondary into compromised coverages against the potent Owl Receiving tandem of Jarett Dillard and James Casey.

Rice Offense Keys to the Game

Rice has the weapons to beat Southern Miss, they must play within their game plan though. Chase Clement has to have time to throw, and when he does he need to stay poised. Clement has been outstanding at Rice, but the Johnny Unitas Award Semi-Finalist tends to get amped up at times and doesn't throw as accurately when he does. Sounds like stating the obvious but the Owls just need to score points in big quantities – the USM Offense has a freshman Quarterback, putting him into a catchup scenario will obviously help the Owl Defense, which we'll talk about tomorrow…


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