The Rice Football Film Room is back after a bye to preview the Owls’ upcoming game against a UTSA offense led by Lowell Narcisse.
Hey y’all, welcome back to the Rice Football Film Room. Hope y’all are as ready for Rice to get back to it after a bye week, especially since they’re a favorite—for the first time this year!—at UTSA this weekend.
UTSA, like Rice, has had a tough year, but thanks to a considerably easier schedule, they’re sitting at 2-4 with wins over Incarnate Word and UTEP. The outlook just got worse for them with the announcement that dual-threat QB Frank Harris is out for the rest of the season.
Harris will be replaced by Lowell Narcisse, the former 4-star LSU transfer (by way of a junior college), who packs a similar running threat in his large, athletic frame but is a considerably worse passer than Harris. Let’s talk a look at two plays that illuminate Narcisse’s game, both from the Roadrunners’ win over UTEP a couple weeks ago.
A Dangerous Runner
It’s first and goal for UTSA at the UTEP 9. UTSA is in 12 personnel with Narcisse in the shotgun, a TE and H-back to the right of the formation, and a running back behind and to the left of Narcisse. UTEP has nine guys in the box, with five on the line, and they’re playing off on both receivers.
It’s an inside zone read, with the H-back coming across the formation to fake a slice block (to make the end man on the line think it’s a split zone handoff) before slipping out to arc block if Narcisse pulls the ball. This has the effect of simplifying Narcisse’s read on the play: if the defender that he’s reading slips inside of the H-back’s fake, he can pull the ball. If the defender tries to go wide or engages with the H-back to set the edge, he can hand it off. In a sense it takes away the defender’s ability to muddle the read by “slow-playing” it, which is a common tactic against zone read plays.
Here, it’s a simple enough read: the defender slips inside the H-back to play the running back, and Narcisse pulls it. They’re fortunate that’s the read, because the defender lined up over the UTSA’s right tackle has beaten him inside and probably would have made the play if the ball had been handed to the back.
From there, it’s all about execution. The optioned defender actually does a pretty good job recovering to go after the QB, but he doesn’t have the angle to catch Narcisse, who shows impressive burst to the edge relative to his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame. The H-back gets an excellent downfield block on the linebacker, and the wide receiver fakes a fade route to draw away the corner. Touchdown, UTSA.
A . . . Risky Passer
It’s early in the third quarter, with UTSA holding a 10-3 lead in El Paso. UTSA has the ball on the UTEP 18, third and six. They’re in a four-wide set (I can’t tell for sure if it’s 10 or 11 personnel, but it looks like the biggest guy out there is No. 83 Dorian Clark, a receiver, so I think it’s 10), with trips (three receivers) in a bunch formation to the left. It looks like UTEP is in nickel personnel, and at the snap they bring the house and play man coverage.
It’s a rollout to the trips side, which simplifies things for Narcisse by only requiring him to read half the field. It’s hard to tell what routes the receivers are running because of the camera, but it looks like the No. 3 receiver (the innermost receiver) runs a short out-breaking route, while the other two release vertically. The coverage is pretty good, it seems, because Narcisse doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go with the ball.
UTEP gets two good shots at Narcisse but can’t bring him down. LB Sione Tupou barrels unblocked through the line to start, but gets tripped when No. 74 for UTSA wrestles his man to the ground and can’t bring down Narcisse by the ankles. DB Michael Lewis looks to initially be playing man on the running back, but comes for the QB when the back stays in to block. He takes a bad angle, though, and Narcisse shrugs him off.
At this point, though, Narcisse is stumbling toward the sideline, with four UTEP defenders converging on him. As he falls out of bounds, he appears to throw the ball away . . . except he doesn’t. He’s tossed a wobbly duck of a pass to receiver Blaze Moorhead in the end zone, who miraculously makes a diving grab for a UTSA touchdown. It works out for the Roadrunners here, but just about anyone could have told you that pass was, uh, ill-advised.
So that’s what you’re getting in Narcisse and the UTSA offense. They’ll run the ball a ton with him and spectacularly-named freshman RB Sincere McCormick, while only asking Narcisse to pass when they absolutely have to (he’s completing 42.1 percent of his passes for a positively ghoulish 3.6 yards per attempt, nearly two yards less than his per-carry rushing average). If the Rice defense can continue their stellar run defense coming out of the bye week, they’ll have a great chance at shutting down this UTSA offense completely.
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