After four grueling battles, Rice Football has finished nonconference play. The Owls hope for better fortunes as Conference USA play begins.
The positive side for Rice Football is clear. Mike Bloomgren sees his team as battle-tested. As he said following four games against teams who hold a combined 13-2 record, “who the heck are we going to be scared of?”
The Owls might not be scared, but they do need to find their offense.
Rice football averaged 6.0 yards per carry in their season opener against Army. The Owls’ executed their gameplan to a tee, controlling the game and putting themselves in position for a game-winning drive. That drive stalled out just outside the redzone. The Rice offense stalled with it.
In subsequent games against Wake Forest, Texas and Baylor the Owls averaged 1.8, 2.8 and 1.8 yards per carry, respectively. Rice just wasn’t winning in the trenches against those three Power 5 opponents to the same degree they did against Army.
On the basis of talent alone, that makes sense. All three of those programs ranked inside the Top 60 in weighted four-year recruited rankings. Rice checks in at No. 119 and Army at No. 103. So, in theory, once the Owls resume playing opponents of a similar caliber, the offense should get back on track. At least, that’s what Rice offense coordinator Jerry Mack is counting on.
“The speed of the game is just so much different when you play those upper-tier top 25 teams,” he said, “Those guys are still really talented in Conference USA, but the size of the guys is a little bit different… Now those guys are a couple of inches smaller or 20 pounds lighter. So it should balance out a little bit more just from a physicality standpoint.”
Closer to even in terms of team talent. Rice will stick to their guns and run the ball. They’ll have the benefit of tackles Clay Servin and Justin Gooseberry, both of whom missed the Owls’ most recent game with injuries. Not having bruising fullback Reagan Williams will be a big loss, but the Owls have a stable of backs ready to give it their best shot.
Mack is sticking to his guns. “You can’t panic. You have to stay the course. I think at the end of the day, we know want to have a physical brand. We know we want to be a run-first style of offense and we have to stay committed to that.”
The Owls are committed. On Saturday we’ll see whether or not that resolve is well placed.