Rice football is three games into the 2018 season. Here’s how the Owls’ offense grades out entering the Owls’ bye in Week 3.
Defensive line: B-
Led by Zach Abercrumbia, Elijah Garcia and Roe Wilkins, the defensive line profiled to be the deepest position group on the team entering the 2018 season. The talent hasn’t gone anywhere; this trio still shows flashes of game-breaking ability. But the production hasn’t quite lived up to expectations.
Rice has fives sacks this season, with one of those being credited to Wilkins on the line. Wilkins also has the only forced fumble from this unit and two tackles for a loss. Garcia has one tackle for a loss and Abercrumbia ranks third on the team with 13 tackles. All good results, and if this were another unit on the defense that level or production would be fine. But this group is capable of playing at the higher standard.
Rice has surrendered 13 plays (four rushing, nine passing) of 30 yards or more, the most of any team in the nation. Big plays of that magnitude result in breakdowns from more than one level of the defense, but it all starts up front.
The secondary can trace some of their issues to the play of front seven. If the Owls can get more push from their playmakers up from the back end of their defense will receiver some much-needed relief. Simply put, if the most talented unit of the defense doesn’t produce at an elite level the rest of the defense will be susceptible to big plays. That’s what has happened so far in the Owls’ first three contests.
If the defensive line was the unit with the greatest level of expectation entering the season the linebacker group has been the most compelling. Dylan Silcox leads the team with 21 tackles. He also has a sack and a fumble recovery.
Silcox has a veteran core surrounding him, each of whom has had their moments. Graysen Schantz, Martin Nwakamma and Anthony Ekpe have been the steady presence this unit needs. The only real knock on their performance thus far has been their collectively tackling.
Three of the top seven tacklers on this team are members of the secondary. That’s something that this group needs to fix going forward. Runners can’t continue to get past them, and they’ll have help.
The linebacker corps features the most promising collection of young talent on this defense. Antonio Montero and Treshawn Chamberlain were two of the biggest risers in fall camp. They’ve continued to live up to the hype during this young season and will start to push the veterans for playing time soon. Each has one tackle so far, but Chamerblain made his count, sacking Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald.
The combination of youth and experience this unit brings is exciting. The potential to take another step forward and finish as the best unit on the defense by the end of the year is absolutely within the realm of possibility.
Let’s cut to the chase. The stats for this unit aren’t pretty. It’s no secret the secondary has struggled out of the gate, but yardage totals alone don’t tell the full story. Both Douglas-Doctson and TyRae Thornton have dealt with early season injuries and the lack of continuity on the back end hasn’t done the unit any favors.
Then there are the opponents. To act like Houston and Hawaii are your run-of-the-mill balanced college football offenses is simply naive. These are two high-tempo, fast-paced units that are going to put up a lot of yards and a lot of points against several strong defenses this season.
There’s no denying they did their fair share of damage against Owls. Houston threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Hawaii racked up 319 yards and four scores through the air. Both performances were damaging, but Rice faired better than several other FBS opponents.
Hawaii’s Cole McDonald threw for 436 yards and six touchdowns against Navy. Houston’s D’Eriq King carved up Arizona for 254 yards and four aerial scores.
The secondary needs to get better — Rice still doesn’t have an interception on the season. But let’s not jump overboard until we see how this unit performances against some offenses that aren’t putting up video game numbers on everyone they play.