Rice football couldn’t get things going on either side of the ball as the Owls fell in a one-sided game to the Texas Longhorns at NRG Stadium.
It was a tough night in Houston for the Rice Owls. Texas controlled the game against the hometown team from start to finish, thwarting the Owls every bright spot with a painful counterpunch of their own. After two “moral victories” this defeat stung a little bit more than the previous two. There will be plenty more to dissect in the coming days, for now, a few immediate reactions:
1. Offense comes out flat
Whether it was the absence of starting quarterback Wiley Green or the overt athleticism of the Texas front, Rice got nothing going on the offensive side of the ball. Rice went into halftime with 56 total yards of offense. The Owls ground game, their staple which kept them in a one-score contest against Army, was limited to 35 yards on 13 carries (2.7 yards per attempt).
The first down efforts bring into question something for which the Owls have yet to identify an answer: what do you do when you can’t run the ball? Against Wake Forest the Owls tested the waters threw the air and found moderate success. They didn’t try to attack the Longhorn secondary like they’d opened things up against Wake Forest, both times with backup Tom Stewart at the offensive controls.
The bright spot was a 45-yard bomb from Stewart to Trammell midway through the third quarter. The play was Trammell’s longest reception of his career. Rice wasn’t able to capitalize with points on the drive, a missed opportunity.
The offensive metrics weren’t good.
- 266 total yards
- 12 complete passess
- 2.8 yards per carry
- 5-of-13 on third down
This was a night where the Owls’ offense would gladly take a mulligan.
2. Pass rush woes
Good quarterbacks with time to throw are a bad combination for a defense. Rice found themselves in that uncomfortable situation throughout their Saturday tilt with Texas. The Owls tried a fair amount of things — different looks, stunts, extra rushers — the Texas offensive line held.
Ehlinger’s second touchdown pass of the day highlighted this struggle. You can count six different Owls around the pocket. Then Ehlinger unloads his big arm and sails a bomb over the head of Prudy Calderon, into the waiting arm of Jake Smith for a 53-yard touchdown.
53-yard TOUCHDOWN throw for the @texasfootball
🤘 leads 14-0 pic.twitter.com/7vhZ0KaQjs
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 15, 2019
Rice didn’t register any sacks against Army, understandable given the extremely few passing opportunities. The Owls were shutout in the sack department again in their second game against Wake Forest. It took 12 quarters, but Blaze Alldredge broke through with the Owls first sack of the season, taking down Texas backup Casey Thompson in the fourth quarter.
By and large, the front seven has been exceptional against the run. They just need to find a way to get to the quarterback more than once every three games.
3. Making them work for it on the ground
For as much as the struggled to generate a pass rush, the Rice front seven played the run well against an extremely talented Texas offensive line. Keaontay Ingram’s 26-yard fourth down touchdown run in the second quarter was well blocked and could have been mitigated had their not been a missed tackle in the secondary by Andrew Bird.
The talent discrepancy between the Owls and the Longhorns was clear when Texas through the ball. It wasn’t as apparent when they tried to run. Ingram’s touchdown was the longest Longhorn run of the night.
The grind of the game resulted in a smattering of 10-12 yard carries in the second half, inflating what started off a sub-three yards per carry allowed metric to 4.8 yards per carry by the end of the game.
When Texas tried to run up the middle, they didn’t get very far. The edge held well, too. Texas isn’t known for their power running, but the level to which the Owls were able to win on the line of scrimmage and clog rush lanes was impressive. That bodes extremely well for conference play.
4. Not there yet
In a season full of optimistic losses, this game didn’t feel nearly as rosy. Rice was competitive against Army and Wake Forest. They weren’t against Texas. The Longhorns were better on all phases and the results on the field showed that. Rice has a long way to go before they’re ready to go toe to toe with Texas, but that’s okay.
Rice knew how challenging the nonconference schedule was before the season started. An 0-3 start matches where most projections had the Owls at this point. If anything, one could argue the team is punching over their belt given how close they’ve come to winning any of these first three games.
There’s no rest for the weary. Rice will return to action next week against a Baylor squad that outscored SFA and UTSA by a combined score of 119-31. The Owls’ coaching staff will be back to the drawing board, tasked with correcting the offensive struggles and defensive breakdowns over the next week.
Beating Texas isn’t the measuring stick for this team, not yet. Let’s not throw out the positives from the first few weeks of the season because Rice lost to a team ranked inside the Top 15. Last year’s Conference USA Champs, UAB, trailed Texas A&M 34-7 after three quarters, and their season ended up being a tremendous success. The year is young. And hey, the Owls are winning in the classroom.
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) September 15, 2019