Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Rice Owls
Wednesday – December 24 – 7:00 pm
Aloha Stadium – Honolulu
A look back at their seasons:
Fresno State Bulldogs (6-7, 5-3 in Mountain West — West Division)
The Bulldogs struggled for consistency in the wake of quarterback Derek Carr’s graduation, as they lost three straight, then won three straight, then lost three straight and then won three straight to, surprisingly, earn a second straight berth in the Mountain West title game before losing to Boise State. This will be Fresno State’s third straight bowl appearance, but the Bulldogs are 0-5 in bowl games dating back to 2008.
Rice Owls (7-5, 5-3 in Conference USA — West Division)
At one point in 2014 the Owls won six straight and appeared on course for the C-USA championship game. But losses in two of their final three games — to Marshall and Louisiana Tech, the two teams that actually played in the C-USA title game — derailed those hopes. This is Rice’s third straight trip to a bowl game under head coach David Bailiff and is something the Owls have never done.
Players and things to watch:
Fresno State Bulldogs:
Missing Bulldogs: The Fresno Bee reported that junior defensive end Maurice Poyadue, along with freshman inside linebackers Xavier Ulutu and Michael Lazarus, are suspended for the bowl game for violations of athletic department policy. Poyadue had come on late in the season in the Bulldogs’ interior and the two freshmen were valuable depth. That will hurt.
Josh Harper: The senior receiver has scored 29 touchdowns in 40 career college games and is FSU’s most dangerous passing weapon. He’s wrapping up a second straight 1,000-yard campaign. Rice’s pass defense is No. 85 in FBS. He’ll test the Owls’ secondary.
A strong defensive pair: The Bulldogs had two experienced defensive hands named All-Mountain West. Safety Derron Smith became just the 11th player in FSU history to earn first-team all-conference honors three times. He is second on the team in tackles. Nose guard Tyeler Davison also earned first-team honors for the second straight year and led the Bulldogs in sacks (8).
Balance: The Owls want to keep you guessing on offense. That’s why two different backs (Jowan Davis, and Darik Dillard) each have at least 650 yards rushing. The Owls have a solid dual threat in quarterback Driphus Jackson (2,524 yards passing, 360 yards rushing). Plus, two receivers — Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull — have at least a half-dozen touchdown receptions.
In Nordstrom they trust: Defensive lineman Brian Nordstrom was the Owls’ only first-team all-conference performer and FSU must contain him. With seven and a half sacks and 18 1/2 tackles for loss, he’s Rice’s best shot at getting backfield pressure when defending the pass.
Turnovers: Rice is in the top quarter in FBS in terms of turnover ratio this season (plus-6). But they don’t create that many (18). The key is that the Owls average just one offensive turnover a game. They protect the ball well.
Prediction: Fresno State 27, Rice 17
Fresno State has won three of its last four games and its defense has really come on late this season. The Bulldogs should be able to slow the Owls down and feature Josh Harper in the passing game to give head coach Tim DeRuyter his first bowl win at this year’s Hawai’i Bowl.