Old Dominion (2-1) at Rice (0-2) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (70,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: FSN. Home Record: Old Dominion 2-0, Rice 0-0. Away Record: Old Dominion 0-1, Rice 0-2. Neutral Record: Old Dominion 0-0, Rice 0-0. Conference Record: Old Dominion 0-0, Rice 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Old Dominion Monarchs are fresh off their first FBS win since moving up to the top Division I level this season, and will now seek their first Conference USA victory as they travel to Texas to take on the Rice Owls in a conference clash at Rice Stadium.
Old Dominion isn't used to low-scoring affairs, owning one of the more powerful offenses at the FCS level the past few seasons. But the Monarchs were happy to escape their first home FBS matchup ever with a 17-3 edging of Mid- American Conference foe Eastern Michigan this past weekend.
Rice, coming off an open week following a Week 1 loss to Notre Dame, had to travel to College Station to square off with the high-powered Texas A&M offense and "Kenny Trill." The Owls crashed in a 38-10 dousing, but will play for the first time this season in the friendly confines of Rice Stadium against ODU.
Since Old Dominion is a new FBS program, and has only played a handful of games in the past few seasons against FBS opponents, this will be the first matchup between the sides in history. It's the first-ever Conference USA matchup for the Monarchs as well.
Led by former Walter Payton Award (given to the most outstanding player at the FCS level) winner Taylor Heinicke, who starts at quarterback for the Monarchs, Old Dominion has typically been an offensive force in recent seasons. Obviously the friction will be greater at the FBS level, causing the offensive train to slow a bit for ODU, but through games it hasn't showed all that much. The Monarchs are 2-1 this season, led by an offense that is averaging 30.7 ppg and 446.7 total ypg. Heinicke has had his fair share of bumps, which is expected, but has still completed 81-of-119 passes for 742 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions. Against EMU, he was quieted for 187 yards and an interception.
The Monarchs this season are without some talent in the backfield that helped the offense along in 2013. But the addition of freshman Ray Lawry has proved to be solid. Lawry has rushed for 144 yards and four touchdowns (including a score against Eastern Michigan) this season. Gerard Johnson leads the team in rushing yards with 282 through three games played.
Although one of Heinicke's best receivers (Larry Pinkard) is gone, the senior quarterback still retains Antonio Vaughan (15 catches, 204 yards, 2 TD) and Zach Pascal (19 receptions, 218 yards, 2 TD). Johnson and Vincent Lowe have each recorded double-digit receptions already with 10 apiece in an offense that is still developing.
The defensive effort for Old Dominion has typically never been as strong as its offense, but that could be changing with the effort against EMU. Eastern Michigan was only allowed 215 offensive yards in the game, while the Eagles fumbled the ball five times (with two lost). This season, Old Dominion is surrendering 25.7 ppg to opponents, along with 375.3 average ypg.
Linebackers D.J. Simon and T.J. Ricks each topped the double-digit tackle mark against EMU, with a team-leading effort from Simon (11 stops and a half-tackle for loss). Ricks added 10 stops, and Chris Smith was credited with six tackles and a sack. Simon and safety Fellonte Misher lead the team entering the contest against Rice with 24 tackles each, while Simon adds three tackles for loss, a sack and a quarterback hurry.
Rice, which is coming off a Conference USA title and a bowl game, has been helpless trying to keep pace with offenses that are considered some of the best in the nation. Although Texas A&M recorded fewer first downs (23) and offensive yards (477) than Rice (28 and 481) on Saturday, it was the Aggies who came away with the lopsided win. Driphus Jackson completed 21-of-32 pass attempts for 212 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a career-high 84 yards in the loss. He's had an average year so far, helping his team pass for a combined 233.5 passing ypg.
As a unit, the Owls rushed for 240 yards against the Aggies Saturday, but were shut out in their attempts to score from the ground. Jowan Davis just barely outrushed his quarterback in the loss, gaining 86 yards on 23 carries (a 3.7 ypc average). Rice has been strong in terms of rushing in two games, averaging 190.5 ypg, but has yet to score a rushing touchdown.
Mario Hull caught Jackson's lone touchdown toss against Texas A&M - a 35-yard strike that cut the Aggies' 14-0 lead in half. His 57 yards was a team high Saturday, but Davis and Dennis Parks each hauled in a team-best four receptions.
For Rice defensively, two games in general is a pretty small sample size. But then you have to take into account the quality of the two opponents, and realize that 43 ppg surrendered in those two contests is probably about average. There's no doubt the number will drop when the Owls get into conference play, but it'll take some time to bring that number and the 526.5 ypg allowed back down.
In order to contain Heinicke, Johnson, Lawry and the rest of the Old Dominion backfield, the Owls will need a serious effort from tackle Christian Covington. The 6-foot-3 defensive lineman only has two tackles this season, but sometimes it's about what doesn't show up on the stat sheet that makes a difference. Safety Gabe Baker and defensive back Jaylon Finner each lead the team with 12 tackles in two games. Baker has a team-best two pass breakups as well.
It's early in the season, but not too early to note that Rice has certainly lost key players on its Conference USA title-winning squad from last year. Still, playmakers like Jackson, Davis and Covington provide a spark to a team that will still be trying for a postseason berth. Meanwhile, Old Dominion has the offensive tools to complete a winning season in its first FBS year, but consistency has to be emphasized in Bobby Wilder's locker room. Heinicke may return to form this weekend, but the home advantage gives Rice the edge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 31, Old Dominion 24Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 20, 12 p.m. (ET)