Rice football has their eyes set on their first conference victory. Here’s how they could find it at home against the UAB Blazers in Week 7.
The offense worked in spurts against the Owls’ first three opponents. The defense was effective all game against UTSA and the special teams have been the rock of this team all season. So far, though, Rice hasn’t been able to get all three phases of the game working in unison.
They’ll need to get each phase fully functional to beat a strong UAB squad in Week 7. Here’s how they get it done:
1. Control the running game
New England Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick is famous for his approach to defensive gameplanning. His objective every week is to take the team’s biggest strength away from them. For Rice’s opponent in Week 7, that’s the running game.
The UAB offensive line consists of four three-year starters. They’re big, strong and committed to opening up lanes to run the football. It’s no mistake then, that the Blazers lead CUSA in rushing offense, averaging 237.6 yards per game on the ground and at an impressive clip of 5.2 yards per carry.
UAB is going to grind it out up front, which presents the crux of the Owls’ first objective. Stop the run, because UAB isn’t going to do anything else. They’ll push the ball through the air too, but getting sophomore running back Spencer Brown and his fellow backfield mates going will be their primary objective.
2. Create five explosive plays
What Rice might lack in terms of consistency on offense they hope to make up for with their home run ability. Austin Walter, Emmanuel Esukpa and Aaron Cephus are all dynamic athletes that bring a certain set of strengths to the game. Each one of them has made big plays for Rice this season and has the potential to put the team on their backs and make more big plays against UAB.
Rice had 11 plays of 20 or more yards against Prairie View, their high water mark for the season. In their next two games against Houston and Hawaii they registered seven and six such plays, respectively. They totaled eight plays of 20 or more yards over their most recent three games, combined.
The athletes are there to create the spark. If one of those guys can get going against UAB they’ll raise the collective potential of this offense as a whole.
3. Start fast
The message to the team following the Wake Forest game was all about starting the first quarter at full speed. The Owls slowly warmed up on both sides of the ball against the Demon Deacons, falling behind by five touchdowns before either side of the ball was able to kick it into gear.
To some degree, the same issues reared their heads against UTSA. Not only did the offense not start fast, the engine never turned over at all. This has been a week of heavy maintenance – expect Bloomgren and his staff to come out with a well-orchestrated plan on that side of the ball.
This team wants to get the bad taste out of their mouth. They know what they’re capable of and that’s much better than what they put on the field against UTSA. If Rice starts fast they’ll have the opportunity to dictate how the game will be played, something that will be incredibly important to the final score.