FACTS & STATS: Site: Aggie Memorial Stadium (30,343) -- Las Cruces, New Mexico. Television: ESPN3.com, Local. Home Record: Rice 2-0, NMSU 0-3. Away Record: Rice 2-1, NMSU 0-3. Neutral Record: Rice 0-1, NMSU 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 3-0, NMSU 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The first-ever meeting between the Rice Owls and the New Mexico State Aggies is set to take place this Saturday night in Las Cruces.
First-year head coach Doug Martin has struggled along with the Aggies this season, coming up empty in six tries. The team had off last week after losing to New Mexico, 66-17, in a battle for state bragging rights back on Oct. 5 in Albuquerque.
The Aggies remain tied with Southern Miss for the longest losing streak in the nation, holding steady at 17 in a row. The last victory for the Aggies was a 49-19 decision against Sacramento State in the 2012 season opener, and the last time the team defeated another school from the FBS was Nov. 11, 2011 in a narrow 48-45 final versus Fresno State at home.
As for the Owls, they have gotten off to a 3-0 start for the first time since joining Conference USA. The last time Rice opened with three wins in as many chances in league play was in 2001 when the squad was a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
Rice, which enters the week tied with Tulane atop the West Division standings, is under the direction of head coach David Bailiff who took over the program in 2007. The Owls last took the field at the Alamodome versus Texas-San Antonio last weekend, and managed to come away with a 27-21 victory, despite establishing a 20-point lead and having to hold on down the stretch,
Taylor McHargue threw for 183 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-21 passing, as the Owls defeated UTSA by six points in a Conference USA tilt on the road.
McHargue added 41 yards and another score on 10 carries for the Owls, while Charles Ross added 59 yards on 11 carries. Jordan Taylor had four receptions for 61 yards and Dennis Parks caught three passes for 60 yards and a score.
UTSA outgained Rice on offense, finishing with 434 total yards to 340 for the Owls. However, the Roadrunners converted just 4-of-16 third-down attempts.
The offense for the Owls this season has been below average for the most part, averaging just 383.2 ypg to rank 83rd in the country. The team hasn't had much of a passing attack to speak of really, producing a mere 183.2 ypg which is 107th nationally. McHargue is converting slightly better than 50 percent of his passes, but because he has more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (five), the team's passing efficiency is a mere 103.42 (113th in the FBS).
But as lackluster as the passing game has been for Rice, the fact remains that it is just one of two FBS teams (Iowa State) that has scored on every opportunity (17) inside the red zone.
On a defense that has logged just eight sacks in six games, perhaps the only standout performer is Michael Kutzler, what with his team-best 49 tackles, two sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception.
Trying to find positives for the Aggies these days is difficult to say the least. Perhaps the only bright spots for a team which shares the longest losing streak in the country is the fact that NMSU is one of the least penalized squads in the FBS, averaging just 3.3 infractions per outing for a loss of 32.0 ypg.
When it comes to offense, NMSU has a lackluster ground attack that is averaging only 121.7 ypg to rank 100th nationally. The passing attack is only slightly better with 239.5 ypg, thanks to the efforts of Andrew McDonald who has completed close to two-thirds of his attempts for six touchdowns. The only receiver with multiple touchdowns is Joshua Bowen who, with two scores, is also first in terms of total catches with 26, while Jerrel Brown leads the way in yardage (295) on only 18 grabs.
Davis Cazares continues to be one of the top tacklers in the country with 68 stops in six games, adding a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble to his stat line. Of the group's 26 TFL, eight have been logged by Trashaun Nixon who is currently third in tackles overall with 42.
The Owls aren't exactly blowing the doors off the competition these days, but considering how far New Mexico State has sank it wouldn't be unthinkable to see Rice come away with a three-touchdown win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 38, New Mexico State 17
Saturday, October 19, 8 p.m. (et).