Rice football is still searching for their first win in conference play. The Owls will be underdogs against FIU, but a win is still within reach.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Owls. After falling to UAB, the leader in the CUSA West, in Week 7 they’ll travel to Miami to play FIU, the leader in CUSA East, in Week 8. The Owls are beat up, but still retain plenty of confidence.
Here’s how they get it done against FIU:
1. Find the right mix up front
The offensive line has been a continual question mark for this team. After the Hawaii game the secret to stopping the Owls’ rushing attack seemed to get out. Opposing defenses stacked the box. Rice didn’t quit on the run, but their effectiveness since has been limited.
The struggles of guys like Jack Greene and Uzoma Osuji have opened the door for several new faces. Jake Skyptak got the start at left tackle against UAB. Freshman Clay Servin and Cole Garcia saw an increase in snaps, a trend which should continue against FIU.
Sooner or later, the Owls have to find the right mix. If the guys up front can’t block the right rushers or open up lanes for the running backs it doesn’t matter who’s lining up behind them. No running back or quarterback is going to find success if they’re being met in the backfield. This unit must take a step forward, especially with redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Marshman making his first start behind them.
2. Don’t give up any deep shots
The secondary had their moments this season when things looked to be turning around. They limited deep shots well against Southern Miss and held UTSA to less than 50 yards through the air and no passing touchdowns. They did not fare well against UAB. Justin Bickham, the star of the UTSA game, was the victim of a 95-yard touchdown pass. Brandon Douglas-Dotson gave up a 38-yard strike on the first drive of the game.
Rice has allowed 18 passing plays of 30 yards or longer this season. That’s two more than any other team in CUSA. They’re the only team in the conference to allow multiple 70+ yard completions against them. UAB was successful through the air against Rice, and it could have been worse. Quarterback A.J. Erdely missed a few receivers that had a step on Rice defenders.
If the Owls want to keep this close they can’t spot their opponents any free touchdowns. Successful deep shots and quick scoring drives must be avoided.
3. Win the turnover battle
Rice is second to last in CUSA with a -5 turnover margin. The defense has registered eight takeaways in seven games while the offense has turned it over 13 times. Only one team has turned the ball over more times than the Owls. Giving away extra possessions is the opposite of what this team needs right now.
The defense was the recipient of multiple short fields against UTSA. It set up easier scoring opportunities for the Roadrunners and ultimately leds to the Owls’ undoing in what could have been their first conference win.
Playing on the road isn’t easy, but the Owls can make the challenge more doable with a few big plays from their defense and better protection of the ball on offense. If they don’t win the turnover battle they’ll be in for another rough Saturday.