Rice football returns home in Week 6 to play UTSA in their second game in conference play. Here’s how the Owls emerge with the win.
1. Step up on defense
Rice football opened the season against some of the most explosive offenses they’ll face all season. Houston, Hawaii and Wake Forest all have plenty of weapons and they each game this defense fits. UTSA is nowhere close to sustaining that level of production, something that should work in the Owls’ favor.
Houston, Hawaii and Wake Forest rank No. 1, No. 17 and No. 23 in the nation, respectively in total offense. UTSA, in stark contrast, owns the No. 128 offense. They don’t have the weapons those other offenses have and lack the explosiveness to beat opposing secondaries deep. The Roadrunners are one of three teams in the nation without any pass plays of 40 yards or more this season. There won’t be a more favorable matchup for the secondary this year, they must take advantage of it.
2. Get Emmanuel Esukpa going
The offense has fallen behind schedule during each of the Owls’ last two games in large part because of their inability to move the ball between the tackles. During the Owls first three games, Esukpa averaged 119.3 yards per game on the ground. That rate fell to 28.5 yards per game in the most recent two contests. It’s no coincidence that Rice had a chance to win their first three games and never really came close to beating Southern Miss or Wake Forest.
Esukpa is the engine that opens up the rest of this offense. The play-action pass works better when he’s running well, as does the lightning quickness of the nation’s leader in All-Purpose Yards, Austin Walter. Whether it’s creative blocking schemes, advantageous formations or sheer stubborn play calling, Esukpa needs to get back on track.
3. Play four quarters
Rice is a modest home favorite in this game for a reason. If the Owls play their game — pound the rock, control the clock and play great defense — they should be able to win this game. The talent gap that existed last weekend against Wake Forest doesn’t exist against UTSA. Rice is just as talented as these guys, if not more so. The biggest key to determining success will be which Rice teams shows up, and for how many quarters.
Slow starts and mid-game lulls and bitten the Owls more than once this year. They’re five games into the season and still looking for their first complete performance. If they can play to the level their capable of playing, they should be able to pick up their second home win of the season. A slow start will make that much harder to achieve and force the Owls to play catch up for the fifth game in a row.