Hawaii Bowl Preview

Can Rice take down Fresno State on Christmas Eve?

 By E.J. Holland

Fresno State (6-7) vs. Rice (7-5), 7 p.m. at Aloha Stadium (TV: ESPN)

If Rice can win this one, it will make history.

Why? Rice has never beaten Fresno State. That’s right, the Owls are 0-6 against Fresno State. The last time these two teams met was in 2004 when the Bulldogs breezed past Rice, 52-21.

But the Hawaii Bowl is a strange game. Not only is it played on Christmas Eve, but the islands just give off a weird vibe. And of course the beach and luaus can often become distractions. So it really comes down to which team is best prepared and mentally stable.

When it comes to Rice, you have wonder where the Owls’ heads are. Louisiana Tech blew out the Owls in the season finale, 76-31. The Owls defense has been inconsistent all year long and is coming off its worst performance of the year. Can Fresno State take advantage?

Brian Burnell has done a decent job of taking over at quarterback for Derek Carr, now a starter with the Oakland Raiders. Fresno State, however, doesn’t lean on him to win games. Instead, the Bulldogs give him plenty of help on the ground with powerful running back Marteze Waller.

The bottom line is Fresno State is going to score points with its balanced attack, and it will be up to Rice to keep up. Rice’s offense has been anything but dynamic this year. That doesn’t mean it’s been bad. It just means the Owls find a way to score about 28 points per game. Driphus Jackson is efficient at quarterback, and Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard provide a 1-2 punch in the backfield.

Where Rice can really take advantage of Fresno State is in the red zone. Rice has converted on 39 of 43 red zone visits while Fresno State gives up an 86 percent scoring rate when opponents visit the red zone.

But a key difference and one of the big reasons Fresno State has the advantage is its ability to turn the ball over. Led by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and linebacker Kyrie Wilson, the Fresno State defense is plus-18 in turnover margin.

EJ’s pick: Fresno State 38, Rice 27 

EJ Holland is the associate editor of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.

He can be reached via e-mail or on the DCTF Facebook page.



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