FRESNO STATE VS RICE – Wednesday, Dec 24th, 3:00pm HT (ESPN)
Both the Bulldogs and Owls enter their Hawai’i Bowl matchup thankful they’re even bowl eligible this season, after both started their 2014 campaigns at 0-3. Fresno State road a roller coaster year to the West Division Title and a spot in the Mountain West Championship game that ended closer than many would have predicted. Rice dropped three straight and then ripped off wins in their next 6 games on the way to a 7-5 finish in Conference USA.
Despite the Bulldogs rocky start, they still came away with two of the top skill players in the Mountain West. First Team All-Conference WR Josh Harper pulled in 86 catches for 1072 yards and 7 TD’s. The Bulldogs also road the back of Marteze Waller to the tune of 1292 rushing yards and 11 scores. The two were instrumental in the mid & late season runs that put Fresno State at the top of the West Division, with big wins over San Diego State, Nevada, and Hawai’i.
There were a number of defensive standouts as well. SR safety Derron Smith made his 3rd consecutive 1st TEAM All-Conference appearance, and JR DL Tyeler Davison doubled up off of last year’s selection. Smith is considered one of the top safety prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Owls have their own high flying offense that put up 7 games of 30+ points. Rice JR QB Driphus Jackson had 8 games of 200+ yards passing, balanced alongside the running of sophomores Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard who combined for 1561 yards and 16 TD’s. SR WR Jordan Taylor led all receivers with 49 for 781 yards & 6 scores.
Defensively Rice can bring it. Their 35 sacks tied Marshall for tops in Conference USA and they recorded 76 tackles for loss on the season. SR DB Jaylon Finner and Sophomore LB Alex Lyons both finished with 63 total tackles to lead the Owls. The Rice secondary is both active and talented across the board with SR Safety Julius White and SR Corner Bryce Callahan big play contributors.
The Key To The Game
This Bowl Game may come down to who can shake off the turnover cobwebs. Both ended their regular seasons -3 in that category, with the Bulldogs getting picked 3 times by Boise State, and the Owls coughing up 4 balls to Louisiana Tech. Fresno State has struggled all season and Rice’s last performance was less indicative of their overall protection of the football.