Rice football is on to Week 7. The loss to UTSA was tough to swallow, but the Owls defense has plenty to be happy about moving forward.
Lost in the midst of a negative result for the Owls against UTSA was a defensive awakening. It’s true the Roadrunners don’t pack the same punch on that side of the ball as some of the others teams the Owls have faced so far. Still, the results speak for themselves.
The UTSA offense tallied 178 total yards, was 5-for-16 on third down, averaged 3.6 yards per carry and 2.0 yards per pass attempt. With the exception of a few short-field points, the Rice defense was nearly perfect, allowing one sustained scoring drive in 60 minutes, which ended in a field goal.
The UTSA offense ranks near the cellar of most metrics. The Rice defense needed to prove they could silence a mediocre unit, and they did.
Assessing the results
Defensive coordinator Brian Smith was pleased with how his unit played, but knows they have a lot of work left to do on both sides of the ball. Even with the step forward against UTSA, the defense was back to what Smith dubbed the fundamentals on Monday – tackling, running to the football, getting off of blocks and footwork.
According to Smith, there was no switch flipped before the game or any secret sauce. His defense just came out and played sound fundamental football. “Guys have been in position to make plays, but we haven’t made them. That was the biggest difference between this week and previous weeks. The guys in position to make the plays actually made the plays.”
One of those guys that made the biggest plays was redshirt junior cornerback Justin Bickham. He led the team with three pass breakups and was critical in the secondary’s first shutout of the season. Rice allowed 43 yards through the air and zero passing touchdowns. Bickham had a hand in that, swatting away and endzone target and locking down his side of the field.
“We put our corners in tough positions,” said Smith, “[The corners] are a key to the success of this defense. If they hold up outside if gives us the freedom to do a lot of different things up front to make us more successful.”
That success was evident, and it’s a building block for this unit moving forward. “At the end of the day, it’s all about winning and losing,” Smith concluded. “If we don’t win none of the other stats matter.” In one important sense, he’s right. This team and coaching staff will be judged on wins and losses. As for incremental progress, this unit took a significant step forward on Saturday.