It's crazy to think that after all of UTEP's injuries, ugly losses, and a 3-5 record that Miners are still in a good position mathematically to make a bowl game.
If the impossible happens over the next couple of weeks, UTEP HAS to beat Rice on Friday night.
Rice comes in at 4-4 overall with their own struggles, but David Bailiff has owned Sean Kugler since Kugs took over as the Miners' head man.
"Yes because I think they're well-coached. I think they're disciplined. I think coach Bailiff does an unbelievable job." Sean Kugler replied when asked if Rice is a model program for UTEP. "They're always in the hunt. They compete, they play smart football, I just admire their program and their kids. They're classy. They don't do the crazy stuff that has nothing to do with football. They just play football and they try to win football games, and that's what I want this football program to be and that's what we aspire to be."
Here are some early takes on the Rice Owls.
Rice doesn't quit, and they play hard.
The Owls have came back for wins in the fourth quarter twice this season against FAU, and Army. Both games they took the lead in the final three minutes to win, with the win against Army coming in the final seconds. Driphus Jackson is an elite play maker who spearheaded both comebacks on the offensive side with a pair of late scores in each game. UTEP is going to face a physical team, who plays hard until the whistle is over. No lead is safe with Owls on the opposite sideline.
There is another Dillard to worry about.
When Darik Dillard ran for a 34-yard touchdown against Army, it tied him and brother Jarett Dillard for the most combined touchdowns by brothers in NCAA history. The current Dillard leads Rice with 443 yards rushing, and has 13 carries that have gone for more than 10-yards on the season. The former Owl Jarett was a UTEP killer, and Darik is just a junior. The Dillard pipeline has been real good to Rice.
The Owls allow sacks, a lot of them too.
For the past three seasons, we've known the resurgent 2010's decade Owls as having an overall solid offensive line. This year that narrative is much different as the Owls have allowed 26 sacks on the season. Even with his versatile style of quarterback play, Driphus Jackson is sacked on 10% of his drop backs, and the Owls own a 12.4% sack rate on passing downs which ranks 120th in the country.
On the flip side, the offensive line is creating yards for Rice's running backs.
According to advanced stats, the Rice offensive line is creating 104.8 yards per game, with a power success rate of 80.8%. So what does this mean? The Rice offensive line gets after it on run plays. The Owls have a 17.4% percent stuff rate when they do run, and have a 48.5% rushing success rate which is 17th in the country, both being very impressive marks. Two of their main backs Darik Dillard and Samuel Steward both average over 4.4 yards per carry, so its pretty obvious where the offensive strength lies with the Owls.
When Rice creates turnovers, they cash in.
Rice ranks 109th in the nation in forcing turnovers, but have scored 52 points off just eight forced turnovers this season. North Texas was the main victim as the Owls piled on 17 points off Mean Green turnovers. The Owls created 55 points of 20 turnovers is 2013. Safe to say David Bailiff's club understands that cashing in on turnovers can help mask other weaknesses, and put W's in the win column.
Rice has gone through a youth movement.
A total of 31 freshman have seen the field this year for the Owls which is the most in the nation. Rice had a total of 15 first year players on their two-deep against Army two weeks ago.
Rice rules time of possession with tempo?
Rice is second in the nation in time of possession, but has set school records this season for plays ran from scrimmage. Rice ran 94-plays against Texas, 90-plays against North Texas, and 85-plays at FAU. Their explosive ratings on offense rank in the 100's nationally, but they do rank 26th in the nation in total first downs. Efficient tempo rather than explosive tempo can quickly describe the Rice offense.
The defense is susceptible to big plays
Rice has gave up 117 plays of 10-yards or more, and their defense ranks 123rd in the nation in allowing explosive plays according to advanced stats. Opponents opportunities in getting big plays against the Owls sits at 43.2%, while the Owls are allowing 5.88 points once opponents get inside their own 40. Rice's passing downs IsoPPP on defense which measures explosive plays ranks 124th in the nation. If the Miners can use effective play action, the big play chance should be there more often than not.
How can UTEP finally take down Rice?
Force turnovers, and cash in.
Let your wide receivers make plays down field off play action.
Challenge the offensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage for the sake of a productive run game.
Tackle, tackle, and tackle some more.