The 6-5 Mustangs have a chance to get to 7-5 on Senior Day, which would put them in the driver's seat to finish the season 8-5 with a bowl game win.
"This is definitely important. I mean, winning seven games in the regular season and possibly having an eighth? We know how important that is," linebacker Taylor Reed said. "We know [Rice] is going to come out hard and this is a rivalry. We're playing for the Mayor's Cup. This is a big game."
Quarterback J.J. McDermott has struggled in the Run and Shoot and has two touchdowns to nine interceptions in the Mustangs' last four losses. He's had a hard time finding open receivers to make big, explosive plays. His longest pass last weekend against Houston was for 27 yards.
But coach June Jones still trusts his starter.
"Like all quarterbacks, when you don't play the way you want and you don't win, you have to bite the bullet and move on to the next week," Jones said. "He hangs on pretty good. He works at it and I think he's a tough guy and hopefully we'll make plays."
Rice comes into this game with a 4-7 record, 3-4 in Conference USA and has the 116th ranked pass defense and 113th ranked total defense among all teams in the FBS. Maybe this game will give McDermott some of his confidence back.
Fanuzzi, who predominantly passes, and Peterson, who predominantly runs, get the majority of reps as of late, ever since McHargue was pulled as the Owls' starter after too many turnovers.
"They definitely have talent," Reed said. "Their running back, Tyler Smith, [defensive coordinator Tom Mason] says he reminds him of Darren Sproles. He's shifty, about 5-foot-8. He can hide behind the lineman.
"And their quarterback, they have a few back there. They have an Alabama transfer (Fanuzzi) and he does all their passing plays. They have another one (Peterson) who our coach says reminds him of Tim Tebow, so we have some work to do."
SMU is 10-1 in its last 11 C-USA home games and on Senior Day with a guaranteed bowl game on the horizon, this team should come out strong against a beatable opponent.
Asked if he's done anything different this week in terms of motivating his players to get up for this regular season finale, Jones said: "There's motivating by we just gotta win," he said. "We've lost four of our last five. That should be enough."
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