We are lucky today to have Joseph Duarte from the Houston Chronicle on the blog to talk a little about tonight’s game between UNT and Rice. Joseph is the go-to guy for Rice information. You can read his work in the paper in the Rice section of the Chronicle’s website and find his Rice blog in the same spot.
1. UNT is billing this game as its biggest since the 2004 New Orleans Bowl. What are Rice’s coaches and players saying?
Rice players and coaches are saying its simply the next game on the schedule, but its much more. This is arguably the biggest game in the coach David Bailiff era. With the Owls reaching six wins last week to become bowl eligible the focus has shifted to competing for the Conference USA West division title, which they are currently tied with Tulane for first place. To reach that goal, the Owls said they cant overlook a dangerous UNT squad that is riding momentum and is one of the toughest remaining games on the schedule.
2. Rice really seems to have taken off in the last couple of weeks. What has been the difference?
Part of it has to do with the schedule. There have been no challenges to date with the Owls owning no wins against teams currently with a winning record. But the difference from past seasons is the Owls have not shot themselves in the foot and have played well on the road, winning three in a row against Tulsa, UTSA and New Mexico State. The mental mistakes have been cut down, the running game received a spark with the return of leading rusher Charles Ross and the defense is much improved from past seasons. Not only are the Owls winning, but theyve showed in the past two games they can actually win convincingly.
3. Rice is running the ball really well this year. What has made the Owls so successful?
Its been a combination of a veteran offensive line and a deep backfield. The Owls have the luxury of using three or four running backs. They are No. 1 in Conference USA and is 15th in Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing, averaging 234.2 yards per game. In six games, Charles Ross has 697 yards an average 116.2 per game that leads C-USA and six touchdowns. That includes 378 yards in the last three games since returning from a sprained MCL. Another plus is senior quarterback Taylor McHargue, who is always a threat to run.
4. Dan McCarney talked a little about Jordan Taylor and said that he is a big threat at wide receiver. Tell us a little about him?
Taylor always seems to make the tough catch. He had his breakout game against Air Force in last Decembers Armed Forces Bowl, when he had nine receptions for 153 yards and three touchdowns to earn Most Valuable Player. Taylor has an interesting story: just before reporting for preseason camp in 2011, he suffered a serious injury when the all-terrain vehicle in which he was a passenger flipped and landed on his leg. He suffered a severely broken leg and missed most of the season. Since last season, Taylor has emerged as the Owls top playmaker with his combo of size (6-5) and speed. He is coming off his best game of the season, finishing with 185 yards, the third-most in school history, and three touchdowns against UTEP.
5. How do you see this game going?
I expect this game to be tight the entire game and decided by a touchdown or less. The last trip to Denton, the Owls used four field goals by Chris Boswell for a one-point win, 33-32, in 2010. Coach David Bailiff said he expects another close game. I agree. Rice 31, North Texas 27.