An 0-3 start has been tough for Rice Football and their fans, but the numbers show the Owls are already improved in 2019.
The first three games of the Mike Bloomgren era of Rice football were played against Prairie View A&M, Houston and Hawaii. Houston finished with the No. 5 scoring offense in the nation. Hawaii was 49th. Both teams finished with scoring defense in the bottom 30 of college football. Praire View A&M is in the FCS.
The degree of difficulty for the 2019 schedule has gone up exponentially. Army, Wake Forest and Texas rank 24th, 67th and 62nd in scoring defense, respectively. Texas owns the 21st best scoring offense. Wake Forest checks in just below them at 47th.
With that backdrop, here’s how Rice has faired through the first three games of each year. Even if the Owls were to break even in some of these stats, it should be considered an improvement given the rigorous schedule which includes a Top 12 team (Texas) and another two receiving votes in the AP Poll.
OFFENSE 2019 2018
Rushing Yards 335 604
Rushing Attempts 98 132
Yards/Carry 3.42 4.58
Passing Yards 495 678
Passing Attempts 72 98
Completions 41 56
Comp Perc 57% 57%
Yards/Attempt 6.9 6.9
Yards/Completion 12.1 12.1
The offense is operating at a level equal to their start last season.
The ground game is averaging about a yard less per carry. The loss of projected starting running back Juma Otoviano has something to do with that as does the difference between the defensive fronts of Prairie View A&M and Texas.
The passing game is a push. The split across two different starting quarterbacks in 2019 has been a challenge, making the upside to those numbers in play as Wiley Green returns to health and the offense continues to gel.
DEFENSE 2019 2018
Rushing Yards 643 559
Rushing Attempts 127 93
Yards/Carry 5.06 6.01
Passing Yards 703 883
Passing Attempts 69 87
Completions 52 56
Comp Perc 75% 64%
Yards/Attempt 10.19 10.15
Yards/Completion 13.52 15.77
The raw talent of the running backs who have toted the rock against the Owls this year compared to last year is night and day. That added challenge aside, Rice has actually allowed one year per carry less to their 2019 opponents — and that includes a triple option team that just ran for 340 yards against UTSA in Week 3.
The passing numbers look roughly similar with a few distinctions. Completion percentage is up while yards per completion is down. On the whole, Rice has allowed less players to get behind their defense, forcing opposing quarterbacks to look closer to the line of scrimmage.
On the passing front, Jamie Newman and Sam Ehlinger have carved up each of their other opponents thus far. Ehlinger torched a highly regarded LSU secondary. He and Newman are both Top 12 in the nation in passing yard per game and have combined to throw 18 touchdowns and one interception.
Other notable numbers
Rice played clean games to start the 2018 season and has continued to do so this year. Through three games, the Owls have cut their penalties from 18 to six and their total penalty yardage from 165 to 37. They have yet to throw an interception this year and are even in turnover margin equal to an even margin at this point last season.
As for the scoreboard, Rice has scored 41 points this year compared to 87 points last year. Again, no FCS teams and no sub-100 defenses on the schedule this go around. On defense, Rice has allowed 103 points compared to 116 last season.
There are no moral victories in this business. 1-2 is better than 0-3, but there are still games left to be played. The numbers suggest Rice is at least as good as they were last season, if not improved in multiple facets of their game.
Rice was one score away from knocking off Army on the road to start the year. Army took Top 10 Michigan to overtime the weekend after escaping with the win over the Owls.
The offense, while not looking overly impressive yet, has reason to hope with players like Green, Zane Knipe and eventually Otoviano will be added back into the fold. Things are going to get better at South Main. The numbers seem to suggest improvement is already in the works.
**All stats from CFBStats ***
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