Looking to reach post-season play again, the Owls will be focused on stopping the Southern Miss Offense when the Golden Eagles come to town Saturday. Coming off a bye week the Owls could be as healthy as they've been all season. They'll also get the added boost of a talented Defensive player making his first appearance of the season. First year coach aside, Rice is keenly aware of the Offensive weaponry USM will bring.
Here's a closer look at the Southern Miss Offense, and some of the talented players from that unit…
POS ## OFFENSE
WR 5 DeAndre Brown, 6-6 230
LT 72 Calvin Wilson, 6-6 353
LG 69 Micah Brown, 6-2 287
C 59 Cameron Zipp, 6-1 297
RG 71 Ryan Hebert, 6-5 310
RT 66 Ryan McKee, 6-6 291
TE 1 Shawn Nelson, 6-5 240
FL 86 Gerald Baptiste, 6-0 185
WR 80 Torris Magee, 6-2 214
QB 12 Austin Davis, 6-2 207
RB 25 Damion Fletcher, 5-10 180
Star of the Show - Running Back Damion Fletcher. Though he's not a big guy at all (175 lbs.) he runs with a purpose and is hard to tackle. The Biloxi, MS junior earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors this season after rushing for 260 yards against UTEP. He's averaging 5.9 yards a carry for the year and has a season long run from scrimmage of 56 yards, also against UTEP. Fletcher also has 20 catches out of the backfield - Rice will have to account for him on every play.
Leading Receiver - Tight End Shawn Nelson is young Quarterback Austin Davis' favorite target. He leads the team in catches with 34. At 6-5 240, Nelson is a former Wide Receiver that still runs like one. He's got deep threat capability.
Strength of Unit - USM is a balanced Offense that can strike with Fletcher, or also with their talented group of Receivers. They also have a big Offensive line led by 353 pound Left Tackle Calvin Wilson.
Rising Star - This one is easy. DeAndre Brown was rated the #3 Wide Receiver prospect in the country last year by Scout.com. He's the leading Receiver on the USM team in terms of yardage and has big play potential on every snap. At 6-6 230 pounds he has 4.4 speed in the 40, plus a 40" vertical. He caught a 68 yard touchdown pass in the 1st quarter in a 34-27 loss to Marshall and has a 16 yards per catch average.
Players to Watch - With a Damion Fletcher in the backfield, and Nelson and Brown roaming the Secondary, the Golden Eagles can force teams to defend a lot of different players and areas of the field. Red-shirt Freshman Quarterback Austin Davis is in charge of getting the ball into the hands of those guys. While he's had his share of growing pains, he's capable of getting a hot hand throwing the ball – evident in his 21-for-37 effort for 264 yards against UTEP.
Inside the Numbers - Southern Miss is averaging 423 yards of Offense per game – 238 yards passing and 185 yards rushing. Austin Davis is completing 58% of his passes, and has a Quarterback Efficiency Rating of 119.5%. They've scored 11 touchdowns rushing and 9 passing in 2008.
USM Offensive Keys to the Game - If RB Damion Fletcher can have a big game running the ball Saturday, Golden Eagle Receivers will likely have opportunities for a big play. Young QB Austin Davis, must take care of the ball, he's thrown 6 interceptions this season; and the Owls have dione well in games with positive takeaway margins this year.
Rice Defense - The Owls got a much needed bye week coming off of consecutive road games with Texas and Tulsa. With their injury status much improved they will be able to throw a much more aggressive attack at RS-Fr QB Austin Davis. Also the additional practice time has really benefited some of the younger players that have been forced into action in 2008. Rice also gets a big boost from the expected debut of Cornerback Joseph Leary. When healthy he is as athletic as any player the Owls have at the position. His presence could prove to be key in defending USM's taller Receivers. A converted Safety, Leary is also a hard hitting tackler.
Rice Defense Keys to the Game - Rice must contain Damion Fletcher and force the Golden Eagles to rely on their young QB to beat the Owls through the air. If the Owls can contain Fletcher, and hold on long enough for the Offense to pile up some points – they can come out of Saturday's contest with a critical victory. Creating turnovers has been key to Owl victories this year as well.
Rice – USM kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 pm at Rice Stadium Saturday and will carried on local radio station 97.5 ESPN "The Ticket".