North Texas will look to break through for its first road win of the season at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow when the Mean Green will take on Rice in Houston.
UNT (4-6) needs to win its last two games to become bowl eligible. Rice (1-9) has long been out of the bowl chase but is looking to send its seniors out on a high note in their final home game.
We are fortunate to welcome in Glynn Hill of the Houston Chronicle to discuss the matchup. Glynn covers Rice for the Chronicle. One can find his work on the Rice section of the Chronicle's website and can also catch up with him on Twitter at @RiceChron.
Here's what Glynn had to say about tomorrow's game that will air on NFL Network:
1. Rice has only won one game this season but appears to have dramatically improved. Do you believe that is the case and what are the reasons behind that improvement?
Absolutely. It's a frequent topic of conversation amongst the reporters and bloggers who cover the team after every loss.
The most obvious signs of that growth are hard to see because they don't yield immediate results; like simply being skilled enough to come back when they're down (regardless of the final result), to fluster top-tier quarterbacks (even if their offense is absent), or complete more than 50-percent of their passes (which they failed to do in 2017).
Their improvement has changed the rhythm of games. The thinking was always that eventually, the dice are going to roll their way, as they did last Saturday.
2. Tom Stewart has made a significant impact late in the year. What has made him effective?
When he's healthy, Stewart has been a steady hand guiding this offense. I don't think his numbers will blow anyone away, but Rice has been lacking a quarterback who can just string completions together in recent years and he's been able to do that while protecting the ball.
3. Rice has put up some impressive performances defensively. What are the reasons behind the Owls’ success on that side of the ball?
Prior to this year, Rice had three defensive coordinators in three seasons. This is the first time anybody on this team has been able to spend two years learning one system (under current coordinator Brian Smith), and I think that plays a big role.
Although there's just one senior on this defense, most of the sophomores and juniors gained a lot of experience playing last year. Early performances against Army and Baylor helped solidify their confidence early, too.
4. How much fight does Rice have left in it in a lost season?
For as long as I've been on this beat (since David Bailiff's final year in 2017), Rice has been pretty scrappy until the end. This year appears to be no different.
Rice wanted to improve on a one-win 2017 season last year, and they knocked off Old Dominion in the season finale to do it.
The Owls have two games left to improve on last year's two-win season and they see North Texas as an obstacle to that goal.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
If you asked me this question in August, I'd say it comes down to how well the Owls defense can defend Fine and UNT's attack.
At this point, I'd flip that and say that it comes down to how well Stewart and the Owls passing offense performs against the Mean Green defense.
I imagine you'll see a similar plan of attack to the one Rice employed against Middle Tennessee. I think their attitude is 'Let's see if they can stop the ground game, see if they can stop receiver Brad Rozner, then make adjustments from there.