Rice Football traded blows with UAB before the offense dried up under heavy rains as the Owls fell to the Blazers in a sloppy night.
Rain and lightning turned a promising start into a drawn-out, waterlogged affair on Saturday night in Birmingham. The Owls put together a strong first half but couldn’t overcome the elements, falling to UAB on a dreary night at Legion Field. UAB won by the final score 35-20 a few minutes past midnight. Here are a few takeaways from the game.
1. Throw the first punch. Check.
Playing with the lead is always a good thing, but it’s especially important if you want to run an offense predicated on grinding out games. Controlling the clock and running the football don’t complement comeback attempts well. That’s why it’s a good thing to have a smart running back and great blocking to set up plays like this:
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) October 5, 2019
Rice struck first against Louisiana Tech and never trailed in regulation. The encore performance against UAB included a shutout pitched by the Rice defense through the first quarter before UAB eventually equalized the score. Rice threw punches with UAB for a while before the Blazers pulled away in the second half.
2. Opening things up on offense
Rice snapped the ball in a five wide formation twice in the first quarter, including the very first play of the game. Wiley Green went downfield on the first play, looking for Bradley Rozner who drew a flag for defensive holding. The Owls converted the second five wide play on a post to Jake Bailey before it was called back on a hold by Rice.
Neither play will show up in the box score because of the penalties, but both were a clear indication Rice is willing to open up the offense and try some new things.
It wasn’t just new formations; Rice noticeably took more shots downfield than they had in previous weeks. Green was actively scanning further than the line of scrimmage and he connected on a few throws that traveled vertically down the field, rather than trusting his receivers to do most of the work after the catch.
Green had a season-high 161 yards passing, two touchdowns and somewhere around 100 yards of pass interference penalties along the way.
3. Secondary shows some leaks
UAB running back Spencer Brown left the ball after the first drive of the game. Not only was Brown a critical piece to the Blazers offense, he became the school’s all-time leading rusher this season. Without him in the game the Blazers took to the air, finding plenty of early success.
Quarterback Tyler Johnston connected on touchdown passes of 46-, 36- and 57-yards in the first half. UAB’s longest score driving lasted 2:41.
This wasn’t the first team to test Rice deep. Wake Forest took shots, so did Baylor. Rice had given up a few deep balls, but the secondary seemed nowhere near as suspect as it did last season when the Owls surrendered an average of 2.5 pass plays of 30 yards per game allowed. Entering the UAB game Rice had given up eight such plays, an average 1.6 per contest, a mark that sits roughly in the middle of C-USA.
Even with the imperfect pass defense, the Owls hung around. George Nyakwol registered the Owls’ first interception of the season in the closing minutes of the first half. Treshawn Chamberlain added to the total with a third quarter pick.
4. Loud and clear
An emphasis on downfield passing wasn’t the only noticeable change with the Rice offense on Saturday. The Owls played an aggressive brand of football. Even when Rice didn’t complete their passes down the field they forced UAB into uncomfortable situations. The opposing secondary was littered with flags all night for defensive holding and pass interference.
A few other decisions stood out. Trailing by seven in the second quarter, Rice went for it on fourth and 10 from the UAB 36 yard line. Not only did they get it, they finished the drive with Green’s first touchdown of the season — an endzone jump ball to Brad Rozner.
In like fashion, Rice rolled the dice before the halftime whistle. After getting possession of the ball with 90 seconds to play, Rice chose to push down the field rather than run off the final seconds. The Owls made it to midfield and did not score, but the decision not to neal the ball was a tone-setter for what this offense could become.
5. Messy, messy, messy
UAB didn’t play a perfect game by any means. Multiple turnovers and flags all over the defensive secondary made it a relatively sloppy night for the home team. Then the rain — which somehow managed to stay away for nearly the entirety of the hour and a half lightning delay — began to come down in buckets.
Conveniently for the Blazers, Mother Nature opened the heavens around the time the home team had scored their second touchdown of the third quarter. Trailing by two scores, The Rice offense never got back in sync. Tom Stewart, inserted for his running ability, put the ball on the deck.
Including two rain-induced fumbles, the Owls tallied a season-high four giveaways. Rice also committed six penalties for 65 yards. That was bad, but not early as careless as UAB’s 167 yards of penalties. You can’t write a loss off based on weather, but there’s no doubt the rain played a significant factor in the second half of this game.
Rice football has played too well over the past month to not have any wins to show for themselves. A lengthy weather delay and sudden pouring rain made this most recent defeat a soggy one. There’s a lot of hurt in the Owls’ locker room right now making this the perfect time for an off week and a cooling off period.
We’re not taking a break
Rice football has the week off, but there will still be content going up on the site and on the podcast. A portion of next week’s episode is up for y’all to decide. Carter and I are going to work through some of your questions in a mailbag segment. We’ll cover everything from the UAB game to midseason thoughts and beyond.