Rice football takes on UTEP at home in Week 10 with both schools looking for their first conference win. Here’s how the Owls get it done.
1. Strike fast
The Rice offense has set the tone on their first drive of the game for the past several weeks. The Owls were turned away quickly against UTSA and UAB. They got into the endzone on their first drives against FIU and North Texas. The rest of the game followed suit.
Rice scored a combined three points in their last two games in which they didn’t score on their first possession and 34 points in the last two games in which they did score a touchdown on their opening drive.
Building confidence is important to this team. They needed to relearn how to move the ball after injuries suffered to key pieces of the offense, Shawn Stankavage and Emmanuel Esukpa. The faces have changed, but the need to start quickly has remained consistent. Getting points early against a struggling offense in UTEP will be even more crucial.
2. Win third down
Controlling the clock is an important aspect of what head coach Mike Bloomgren wants this offense to do. It’s hard to rack up time of possession if you can’t retain possession for meaningful segments of time. That’s something the Owls have struggled with mightily this year. Rice is 44 of 140 (31.4 percent) on third down this season.
Rice hasn’t converted more than three third downs since garbage time against Wake Forest, a game that took place a little over a month ago. Even when the offense got going against FIU and North Texas, staying on the field on third down was an issue.
UTEP is going to come into Rice Stadium and try to play smash mouth, physical football. That can takes a toll on even the most ardent defense if they’re forced to take that beating for 40+ minutes. More third down conversions lead to more scoring and less time to be scored on. The math is simple; the offense needs to find a way to move the chains.
3. Win big when you don’t convert
A four-time Ray’s eight honoree, Rice punter Jack Fox has been nothing short of outstanding this season. He was named the national punter of the week for his incredible effort against North Texas which included a career-best 76-yard punt. Whenever the Owls can’t end a drive in points, pinning UTEP deep should be a difference maker in this game.
The UTEP offense ranks in the bottom two of most statistical categories in CUSA. They’ve scored 15 touchdowns and average 4.7 yards per play while converting on 36 percent of their third downs. UTEP doesn’t have an offense that can take the ball 90 yards down the field and score.
Fox has downed 10 punts inside the 10-yard line already this year. If he can do that against UTEP the result will be short fields for the offense and more points on the board for Rice.
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