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UTEP at Rice Game Preview

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UTEP Miners (3-7, 1-5) at Rice Owls (2-8, 1-6)

Series Record: Rice leads 12-7

Kickoff: 10:00 a.m. Mountain Time

Streaming: ESPN3

Vegas says: Rice -1.5, 57 O/U

With both teams playing for pride and finishing off their 2016 schedule with high hopes for the future, Rice and UTEP try to salvage some positive from what has been a disaster season for both programs.

Rice has struggled on both sides of the ball, but the most glaring stat is their -6 mark in the turnover margin department.

UTEP is right behind Rice with a -5 turnover margin which is one of the biggest telling stat lines that describe the struggle for both squads.

The Owls have switched up their offensive scheme to a more fast paced, spread based system. They rank 47th in adjusted offensive pace, but still will look to control the clock as they run 58.2 percent of the time on standard downs.

Tyler Stehling has had an up-and-down season at quarterback in his first year as a starter. The senior is completing 61.1 percent of his passes, but has been sacked 27 times this year, and Rice's passing success rate ranks 98th nationally.

Stehling is also an effective scrambler running for 441 yards despite those 27 sacks. His rushing yards puts him second on the team in rushing yards.

Darik Dillard returns for the Owls, but the seasoned senior is only averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has only ran for 380 yards and three touchdowns.

Austin Walter, and Samuel Stewart are two more running backs UTEP could see in the mix as well.

Zach Wright, Temi Alaka, and Kylen Granson are the Owls most targeted wideouts. Wright has the highest catch rate on the team among players with 20-or more targets on the season.

Defensively, linebackers Emmanuel Ellerbee, and Alex Lyons are their most productive defensive players. Rice will switch up their defensive fronts from odd, to four man looks, which the UTEP offensive line will have to identify.

Fellow linebacker Tabar McGaskey can also be placed in that productive group label as he leads the squad with 11 tackles for loss.

Aaron Jones continues his record breaking pace for UTEP, and is starting to receive the national respect the El Paso native deserves.

The junior stud is now UTEP's all-time leading rusher, and is now chasing UTEP's single season rushing record. Jones is averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and breaking big runs on 45.6 percent of his carries.

The lack of a consistent pass rush from the Miners odd-front 3-4 look has been one of the biggest struggles all season on the defensive side.

UTEP's defensive line's havoc rate is the 122th worst rate in the country, and opposing offensive lines are creating 4.1 yards per carry on the season.

After going to a place they’ve never won (Eastern Time Zone) and fell short last week, UTEP travels to Houston where they haven’t won since 2005, and are 2-8 all-time against the Owls in H-Town.

Does this UTEP team have the motivation to go out and compete despite no postseason hopes to play for?

Things we want to see UTEP execute

Let Metz ball

Enough with the conservative offensive approach. With virtually nothing left to play for but pride, UTEP should allow Metz to chuck it around a bit. The Miners need to find something in their passing game heading into the off-season, so why not try and chuck it close to 40 times to see how Metz and some young wideouts respond?

Get some constant pressure on Stehling

If UTEP can't fluster this Rice offensive line, the Miners will have a glaring issue in need of being addressed heading into the off-season. This creates mistakes, and turnovers, something Rice has been keen to all season.

Have fun

It's been a rough year to say the least. I really want to see this UTEP team play loose, physical, fast, and most importantly have fun. A loss like the one suffered last week was tough on everyone, but in a Sean Kugler type culture, you hope the fun is still there for this team.

A Special Teams score

All year long I've been waiting for Terry Juniel or Walter Dawn to score a special team's touchdown via a return. Over the past couple of weeks, UTEP has been close to popping one, but will need a special teams score to win on the road in a place that hasn’t been historically kind to the Miners.

Prediction

After the NMSU game, I've predicted a UTEP loss almost every week since.

This week, I feel different.

Aaron Jones should get his, and Rice is a bad football team just like UTEP.

Except, for 60-minutes on Saturday, UTEP won't be the worst team in C-USA.

The Miner offense has improved over the latter half of the season, but can the defense hold off a late Rice drive?

Yes, it could/should happen, or else….

UTEP 31 Rice 23