Rice football fielded few punts last season, partly because of their inability to hold on third down. Will that change in 2018?
The Owls forced a grand total of 40 punts in 2017. If that number seems a bit low, it is. There was only one FBS team that forced fewer punts than Rice last season, Oregon State, who not-so-coincidentally also went 1-11.
This goes all the way back to the basic fundamentals of football. Run the ball and play defense. Last season Rice wasn’t fundamentally sound, and it showed. The Owls finished 90th in the nation in total defense and a miserable 125th in third-down defense. Opponents converted a staggering 48.6 percent of their attempts. The national average on third down was 38.6 percent, putting the Owls in the red by a sizable margin.
If you can’t get off the field, you can’t get your offense onto it. The defensive woes bled through to an offense that ranked 125th in the nation in scoring. And the problem compounded on itself. It’s a vicious cycle. The only way to fix it? Find a way to get stops on defense.
The best teams in the nation, as far as forcing punts go, average just north of seven punt attempts against per game. Combine that with a couple of turnovers, maybe the end of a half and you’re approaching 10 possession in which your opponent doesn’t score and you get the ball. The math adds up rather quickly, and sooner or later those numbers translate into wins.
Rice football has a laundry list of items that need to be changed as the program continues to progress under head coach Mike Bloomgren. A switch isn’t going to flip overnight; it’s going to be a process. One of those stepping stones, which could make a huge difference for the psyche of this team early on, is getting off the field on third down.
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