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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Sep 17 2010 @ 3:14 pm In Northwestern | 1 Comment

Saturday should be a fun game for the Northwestern Wildcats.

For starters, they will be playing their second night game in three weeks when they take on the Rice Owls in Houston on Saturday evening. Also, after using last week’s Illinois State game to work out some kinks, Rice should be a good test to see how the ‘Cats respond to stiffer competition.

While Rice may not be a top-tier program, they are not a pushover either.

A member of Conference USA, Rice enters the weekend at 1-1. They opened with a 34-17 loss to the perennial powerhouse Texas Longhorns, but bounced back for a thrilling 32-31 win over North Texas on the road in Week 2.

The first thing to look at when analyzing the Owls is a strong rushing attack led by the two-headed monster of Tyler Smith and Sam McGuffie.

Smith, considered the starter, leads the team with 138 rushing yards through the first two games. McGuffie, who was a starter at Michigan in 2008 before transferring to be closer to home, has received 28 carries to Smith’s 23. That may be a bit misleading, though, since Week 1 against Texas likely resulted in extra playing time for second-teamers during the second half.

In looking at their game against North Texas, Smith (12) and McGuffie (14) split carries nearly evenly. Smith outperformed McGuffie on the ground, ripping off a 48-yard run and rushing for a total of 92 yards (7.7) while his teammate mustered just 23 yards (1.3 ypc). McGuffie stood out in the passing game, however, catching four balls for 91 yards – including a 51-yard touchdown that opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game.

While the two running backs offer different skill sets and different strengths, they are both big play threats that Northwestern will need to key on.

Through the air, Rice is far less dangerous.

Starting quarterback Taylor McHargue, a redshirt freshman, was knocked out of the North Texas game with a separated shoulder. He was replaced by Nick Fanuzzi, who started for the Owls in 2009 and is expected to be under center on Saturday night. The Alabama transfer threw for nearly 1,600 yards last season, but surpassed 200 yards in a game just four times in 10 starts. McHargue and Fanuzzi have combined for just 358 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions through the first two games of the season. Their primary target has been redshirt sophomore Luke Wilson, who made four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown against North Texas.

The Owls’ second leading receiver is McGuffie, showing just how much their offense depends on their talented tailback duo.

This weekend should offer Northwestern the opportunity to continue focusing on the improvement of their running game. Arby Fields was much better last weekend, running for 96 yards on 22 carries, while Rice gave up 321 yards on the ground to North Texas. Rice also lacks the kind of athletes that can keep up with the versatile Dan Persa, though Chicago natives should note that the Owls’ secondary features Corey Frazier, the son of former Chicago Bears’ Superbowl champion and current Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Corey has the only interception of the year for the Rice defense and is tied for third on the team with 12 tackles.

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