Rice football has produced two very different offensive attacks in their first two games of the Mike Bloomgren era. What will the offense look like against Hawaii?
The first two games of the 2018 season have featured two similar, yet at times quite unique, offensive gameplans. After beginning the year with a run heavy scheme the Owls took to the air in a passing duel with Houston. Which of those two styles does the team employ against Hawaii? Could it be a little of both?
Game 1 – Run the ball
The ethos of the Mike Bloomgren era was communicated loud and clear during the Owls’ season-opening victory over Prairie View A&M. Rice ran the ball 50 times, averaging 6.2 yards per carry while attempting just 24 passes at a rate of 3.6 yards per attempt.
Emmanuel Esupka had a career day, rolling to 173 yards on 32 carries – both career highs. Austin Walter (11 carries, 83 yards and two touchdowns) and Aston Walter (who had a huge 26-yard third down conversion) played important roles in the ground game as well.
There was a lot of tight ends, fullbacks and power runs with a handful of obvious passing formations sprinkled in for good measure. By and large, this seemed to be a clear indication of what the Rice offense was going to look like going forward. Then the Houston game happened.
Game 2 – Air it out
The Houston game brought what looked like an entirely different offense to Rice Stadium. The time of possession battle still heavily favored the Owls, but that was more of a byproduct of the quickness of the Houston offense than how rapidly the Owls moved the ball.
Methodically and intentionally, Rice marched up and down the field, this time by way of the arms of Shawn Stankavage and Jackson Tyner. After failing to break 100 yards together against Prairie View, the Rice quarterbacks tallied 292 yards through the air and three touchdown passes against Houston. All three touchdowns marked the first career touchdown reception for a Rice pass-catcher: Jordan Myers, Jaeger Bull and Brendan Harmon.
Game 3 – ???
After running the ball 50 times against Prairie View and throwing the ball 41 times against Houston the outlook for the Hawaii game is somewhat uncertain. That favors the Owls to some extent; Hawaii will have two very different offenses to prepare for.
Coach Bloomgren’s desire to “pound the rock” is still melding with the passing game experience of offensive coordinator Jerry Mack. Whether or not the Owls will turn that into a homogenous offense this season remains to be seen, the same is true of Saturday’s tilt with Hawaii. Rice still carried the ball 43 times against Houston, so the real question is how often will the Rice quarterbacks be asked to throw it around the yard?
The Rainbow Warriors have been equally porous against the run and the pass this season, ranking 109th and 108th in the nation in each respective category. The deciding factor might favor a gameplan to aid the Owls’ own defensive struggles against the pass.
Houston quarterback D’Eriq King hit several long bombs against Rice and Hawaii quarterback Chase McDonald currently leads the nation through the air. Keeping him off the field with a strong running game and efficient clock management should be a focus on Saturday. But then again, Bloomgren’s kept everyone guessing so far.