GAME CAPSULE: FAU @ Rice - November 25th, 2023
Matchup: FAU (4-7, 3-4 AAC) vs Rice (5-6, 3-4 AAC)
When: Saturday, November 25th, 1:00 PM
Where: Rice Stadium
Radio: FoxSports 640
Opening Line: FAU +4.5
Weather Forecast: Current conditions in Houston, TX
The Series: This will be the Owls' fifth matchup in program history against Rice, winning 17-14 in their previous encounter last year. FAU is 6-10 all-time against AAC opponents.
Rice Team Site: Here
One game. That is all that stands between FAU and the end of their season.
With bowl eligibility officially off the table following the 24-8 defeat to Tulane, the Owls only have their dignity to fight for as they try to finish 5-7 for the third consecutive season and avoid their worst campaign since 2016.
The Owls needed someone to step up on defense following the season-ending injury to Marlon Bradley earlier this year, which is where outside linebacker Courtney McBride (pictured below via Eston Parker III) came into the equation. He made three tackles including a sack that resulted in him forcing a fumble that the Owls recovered early in the first quarter against Tulane. He has 24 tackles (10 solo) including three sacks, as well as a pass deflection and a fumble recovery so far.
"Getting that stop really meant something because we always preach attacking the ball and getting takeaways and plus winning the takeaway battle. That really kickstarted it," McBride said.
FAU has started to find some consistency in their receiving corps outside of Lajohntay Wester. Tony Johnson has had back-to-back games with four or more catches, recently getting five of them for 56 yards against Tulane. He is second behind Wester in both receiving yards (362), receptions (35), and touchdowns (3). He could be quite involved with Rice probably having many eyes on Wester to limit throughout the matchup.
On the defensive side of the ball, it would be safe to guess that safety Jarron Morris and linebacker Jackson Ambush would be key to FAU possibly getting the victory. Morris has been a defensive star for FAU with 75 tackles (39 solo), five pass breakups, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles to his name this season. For Ambush, he has made 73 tackles (34 solo) including six for a loss of yardage and an interception as well. It wouldn't be a surprise to see these two be key to the defense playing at a high level to possibly emerge victorious.
After this matchup, FAU's 2023 campaign will come to an end.
Star Watch: WR Lajohntay Wester Despite the loss to Tulane, the Owls got to see Wester make more history for himself. Not only did he set the program's single-season reception yards record in this game, but he also became the first Owl to record 100 catches in a season. It shows in the stats as well, where he has 1,128 receiving yards (ninth in the country) and eight touchdowns (tied-24th) on a nation-leading 104 catches in 11 games this year.
The way this season has gone for the team hasn't been what he wanted, but he can help them end it on a good note with a big performance on Saturday.
Final Word Underperforming the last two games, expect the offense be more motivated to score more than 10 points this time around. On defense, they could look to find holes in Rice's offensive line that has given up 24 sacks this season. With nothing to lose heading into this season finale, FAU could be going all out to end their campaign with a win.
Key Stats Comparison
Rice has a lot to play for heading into their home finale, especially with the opportunity to be bowl eligible within reach.
Beating Charlotte 28-7 on the road last week, Rice needs one more win to be guaranteed to play in December, which is where this matchup against FAU comes into play.
With JT Daniels' status up in the air as he missed the last two games due to a concussion, Rice has had backup quarterback AJ Padgett hold down the fort. Padgett threw for 140 yards and a touchdown on 13 completions in the win over Charlotte. He also added two rushing touchdowns to his stat-line, meaning that FAU shouldn't overlook his ability.
Should Daniels return, what Rice is capable of with their passing offense that ranks in the top 40 (tied-37th) of the country averaging 265.1 yards per game would be on full display. They also have a notable run game with running back Dean Connors leading the way. He has 632 yards and five touchdowns on 92 carries.
Significant playmakers in their defense include the likes of safeties Plae Wyatt and Gabriel Taylor and linebacker Myron Morrison. Wyatt leads the team in tackles with 70 (39 solo) and six pass breakups, Taylor made 53 tackles (35 solo) as well as six pass breakups and two interceptions, and Morrison has 66 tackles (30 solo) and four quarterback hurries.
If Rice wins this contest, they will have secured bowl eligibility to play one more game on a day to be determined. If they lose, their season will come to a close.
Star Watch: WR Luke McCaffrey McCaffrey is undeniably Rice's best offensive weapon and a player that FAU has to have eyes on at all times. He has 822 yards (tied-36th nationally) and 11 touchdowns (tied-7th) on 56 receptions. This includes an ongoing streak of him catching a touchdown in six straight games. His 17 career touchdowns tie James Casey (2007-08) for the fourth-most in school history and his 11 this year pass Bradley Rozner (2022) for the fifth-most in a season.
Final Word Rice is similar to FAU in the sense that they like to pass the ball a bit more than running it. The main difference is that this team is close to perfection when it comes to scoring in the red zone, an area FAU has to be careful against. Rice will be giving everything they have on Saturday to become bowl eligible, so expect Saturday's matchup to be a back-and-forth affair.