Rice football has their eyes on an upset win over Wake Forest on the road. Here’s how the Owls can knock off the Demon Deacons.
1. Win the turnover battle
It’s no secret that Rice is a heavy underdog against Wake Forest in Week 5. Power 5 teams playing against Conference USA opponents at home are generally given the benefit of the doubt. But that doesn’t mean wins are impossible, just ask Virginia Tech.
The easiest way for any underdog to start an upset bid is to win the turnover battle. ODU edged Virginia Tech 1-0 last weekend, scoring off their lone interception to tie the game at 14-14 entering halftime. That momentum sparked what became a program-defining victory.
A win over Wake Forest would be an incredible statement for head coach Mike Bloomgren and his staff in Year 1 at South Main. Taking control of the ball on offense and generating a few takeaways of their own on defense will add more scoring opportunities. The more opportunities they get, the more often the Owls can cash in on them and make this game interesting,
2. Play fundamentally sound on defense
The philosophy of playing top-down defense was stressed by Bloomgren during the week. When all the pieces are working together as they ought to the linebackers close the gap between them and the line of scrimmage and the secondary falls in on top of them.
Rice did a better job of preventing the deep ball against Southern Miss, but they still allowed too much space in the second level, a problem exacerbated by way too many missed tackles.
Southern Miss was 1-of-6 on third down against the Owls. The rate (16.7 percent) is good, the total number of third downs (six) is not. Wake Forest ranks 29th in the country in third down conversions, converting at a clip of 46.15 percent. Making the play on first and second down will set up advantageous situations on third down. Winning those battles more often than not will get the defense off the field.
The Owls don’t need to reinvent the wheel or do anything spectacular. They just need to make their tackles and get off the field on third down. If they can do that, they’ll give the offense a chance.
3. Establish the running game
Rice averaged a respectable 4.7 yards per carry against Southern Miss which measures up favorably with the 4.4 yards per carry allowed by the Wake Forest defense so far this year.
It’s worth noting, though, that number is inflated by an impressive 62-yard touchdown run by Austin Walter. Outside of that scamper, Rice averaged 2.7 yards per carry. Emmanuel Esukpa, the Owls’ bellcow running back, averaged an underwhelming 2.1 yards per carry. He ran hard, there just weren’t many holes for him to hit. That must change if the Owls want to pull off the upset against Wake Forest.
Esukpa and the offensive line working in concert need to be able to find a way to move the ball on the ground. If that works, the rest of the offense flourishes. An effective running game takes the pressure off of quarterback Shawn Stankavage and gives the defense a break.
As Bloomgren often says, the best kind of defense is the defense standing on the sideline. That only happens when the offense can effectively control possession. For Rice, that starts on the ground.