JoVoni Johnson left his first start as the Rice football quarterback with an injury, but made the most of his longest outing of the season.
It wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to like from JoVoni Johnson’s first career start on Saturday against Marshall. One of four Rice football quarterbacks to see action this season, Johnson proved to be the most dynamic.
Including all plays and penalties, the Rice offense entered Saturday averaging 4.4 yards per play. On Saturday against Marshall, they averaged 4.1 yards per play. When you look further into the numbers, Johnson’s role sticks out — in a good way. When he was in the game, Rice averaged 4.7 yards per play and 5.8 yards per play when he got extended run.
When looking at Johnson’s nine drives as a whole, the offense averaged 4.7 yards per play. Three of those nine drives, weren’t reflective of Johnson’s own ability. Two included costly personal fouls that set the offense up in First-and-25 (or worse). The third was a 2-yard dump-off pass at the end of the first half.
The Rice offense hasn’t proven adept to overcome many Second-and-27 situations, regardless of who is at quarterback. Johnson’s six drives without personal fouls or a short clock resulted in 209 of his 211 total yards, good for 5.8 yards per play. That’s the best rate yet this season for the Owls. Before sacks, Johnson rushed for 85 yards on 10 carries.
Exclude his lone three-and-out, which he arguably did everything he could given the plays called and the protection on third down, and the offense averaged 6.2 yards per play in his five key drives.
Of the six main drives, Johnson had just two drives of four plays or fewer. On Drive 3, he came up just short on a third-down run. On Drive 8 he was forced to throw the ball away on third down to avoid a sack from an edge rusher who blew past the line.
The four drives which didn’t end quickly are where things get interesting. Johnson’s second drive was a thing of beauty. He marched the offense down the field, hitting Austin Trammell on a screen pass for the Owls’ lone touchdown.
Drive 5, his first drive of the second half, ended in a missed field goal. But Johnson actually hit Rozner on a third down slant which probably should have been hauled in. If Rozner completes that catch, Rice has the ball inside the 10-yard line. At a minimum, that sets up a shorter field goal. But the potential for another touchdown was there for the taking as well.
Johnson’s final two meaningful drives ended in injury. A hard hit on second down forced him out on Drive 6 after he’d led the team to the Marshall 36 yard line. Stewart came in and was sacked on the next play, taking away an opportunity to either kick a long field goal or, more likely go for it on fourth down. Johnson was knocked out of the game after an 18-yard run on Drive 9, from which Stewart picked up four yards and turned the ball over on downs.
If it seemed like the offense was better under Johnson, that’s because it was. And the other players felt the difference. “I love it, honestly. He gave us another threat,” running back Juma Otoviano said postgame. “His confidence was high. He kept us going today.”
The bottom line
Slicing and dicing stats can make any quarterback look good. That’s not what this exercise was meant to do. Without making any definitive statements, it’s meant to be a helpful guide when evaluating Johnson’s performance.
Johnson played six drives that didn’t include personal fouls or the end of the half. He got the Rice offense across midfield and into scoring position in four of those six drives. He was unable to finish two of those four drives, leaving the game with an injury. If Rice gets points of any kind on half of those drives, its a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Who knows what things look like if he finishes the game.
The bottom line is this: when Johnson was able to stay upright, he got Rice football into scoring position. No, he wasn’t perfect. He must learn when and how to slide. Even with this small sample size, a healthy JoVoni Johnson might just be the best thing for Rice going forward.
When asked about the difference he noticed in the offense after the game, Bloomgren was complimentary of Johnson’s game. “Not just a spark, because obviously he did that,” Bloomgren said. “He had a little edge to him. I thought when plays broke down, he was able to move the sticks.”
Bloomgren didn’t have an update on his status following the game, nor has he made any definite statements on his plans for Johnson for the remainder of the season. But if Johnson can help this offense — and it sure looks like that’s the case — we could see a lot more of him moving forward.Join The Roost. React to stories and news in the forum. Stay plugged into the latest happenings in Rice Football with practice notes recruiting updates and more. We are your No. 1 source for Rice Athletics News.
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