Rice football kicks off the 2018 season with a home game against the Prairie View A&M Panthers. Can the Panthers challenge the Owls on their home turf?
Since moving on from the Southwestern Conference in 1996 Rice football has gone through some difficult stretches. Some years were tough, but none were as draining as the 80-game losing streak the Prairie View A&M Panthers accrued from 1991 to 1998. PVAMU has come a long way since then, showing enough improvement to warrant the construction of a new stadium, completed in 2016.
Head coach Willie Simmons shockingly resigned following the 2017 season to take over at his Alma Mater, Florida A&M. In his place, Prairie View A&M hired former Grambling State offensive coordinator Eric Dooley as the school’s 33rd head coach. He inherits a program that finished 6-5 last year, their third consecutive winning season.
The 2018 game between PVAMU and Rice marks the second meeting in the series. Rice won the first contest in 2016 by the final score of 65-44.
Any missteps the Panthers have suffered over the last several years have not fallen upon the offense. PVAMU has been a consistent offensive power in the SWAC for several years, most recently on the arm and legs of quarterback Neiko Hollins. Following a marvelous freshman season, Hollins was set to lead the Panthers in 2018 before announcing his decision to transfer late this summer.
Hollins earned the starting job midway through last season. Even with the late start he finished second in the conference in passing touchdowns and third in passing touchdowns. PVAMU, which had begun the season 2-3, finished 4-2 under his leadership. He’ll be a tough man to replace.
In his place, PVAMU will turn to redshirt junior Jalen Morton. Morton appeared in six games last season, completing 8-of-17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be asked to spread the ball around to playmakers on the outside and could surpass those season-long statistics early on against Rice.
Joining Morton on offense will be junior running back Dawonya Tucker who rushed for 531 yards and five touchdowns as a complimentary piece to All-SWAC running back Sta’Fon McCray. McCray has since moved on leaving Tucker and Kansas State transfer Bernard Goodwater as the primary ballcarriers moving forward.
There will be plenty of new faces in the receiving corps too. Markus Hardy, the Panthers’ leading returning receiver, registered 14 catches, 280 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. The focus should shift to Trinity Valley College transfer Tristen Wallace, a former four-star recruit who was dismissed from Oregon before making his way through the JUCO ranks to PVAMU.
At a bare minimum, the Prairie View A&M defense will need to hold the line in 2018. The Panthers were hot and cold on defense last season before ending the year on a bit of a hot streak. They held three of their last five opponents to 17 points or fewer.
Defensive coordinator Henry Miller is the new man in charge and he inherits a cupboard, that while not overflowing with riches, has some key pieces that could be difference makers for the Panthers next season. Junior defensive back Ju’Anthony Parker picked off four passes in 2017, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Joining him in the defensive backfield is junior Reggie Stubblefield who tallied eight pass breakups a year ago.
In the front seven, linebacker Anthony Stubbs is the name to know. He picked up 69 tackles (eight for a loss) in 2017 and promises to have an equally productive 2018 season.
|9/2/2018||North Carolina Central|
|9/22/2018||Arkansas – Pine Bluff|