Rice football needs to bulk up their defensive front, especially in the redzone. Few units have as much room for improvement in 2018 as the Owls.
There are few events more emotionally draining than watching your opponent march down the field, enter the redzone, and punch the ball into the endzone from close range. Forcing a field goal, although not the best outcome available to the defense, is at least a small victory. Rice needs to force a few more field goals in 2018 if they want to find a way to stay competitive for four full quarters.
Rice football allowed 37 redzone touchdowns in 2017. In 49 opportunities they held their opponents to a field goal nine times and came away with a paltry three stops. Their opponent’s scored on 93.9 percent of their red zone opportunities. Only 12 defenses in college football allowed their opponents points on 90 percent of their red zone chances.
Even the best defenses can’t keep their opponents from reaching the redzone entirely. Teams like Wisconsin, Alabama and Miami earned their stripes by clamping down in the final 20 yards, forcing field goals and creating turnovers. The Owls’ 75.5 percent opponent touchdown rate needs to creep back towards 60 percent, roughly the average mark for an FBS defense last season.
To make those improvements the Owls are going to have to get more physical. Head strength and conditioning coach Hans Straub will be instrumental in making inroads in that area. He joins the Owls from Stanford where he worked as the Director of Olympic Sports Performance. Straub has been in the strength and condition world for more than a decade, and the opportunity to see that experience pay off is at hand.
Better conditioning and smarter football should be enough to get the Owls back to the middle of the pack. They’re not going to turn into a lockdown defense overnight, but they’ll be headed in the right direction in 2018 with significant headway expected down the line.
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