Rice Football won last week and host North Texas with their eyes on two-straight victories. How to watch, stats to know, x-factor picks for both teams and more.
It took 12 weeks, but Rice football has put its first mark in the win column. The Owls took down Middle Tennessee on the road, riding a 31-point first half to the first road win of the Mike Bloomgren era. They’ll attempt another first this coming Saturday — a winning streak — possible with a win over North Texas on Senior Day.
On the other side of the field, North Texas will be on high alert. Sitting at 4-6 after a road loss to Louisiana Tech in Week 11, the Mean Green had an idle week to prepare for a critical two-game stretch. North Texas has to win out to achieve bowl eligibility, making Saturday’s penultimate contest a big one.
Rice can equal last season’s win total with a win while simultaneously crushing North Texas’ hopes of a bowl berth. There’s a lot on the line. Here’s what you need to know about both North Texas and Rice before their Week 13 tilt.
We’ll preview the North Texas game on Episode 18 of The Roost Podcast which will be released on Thursday. Find us on the podcast page or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. (And consider leaving us a 5-star review while you’re at it.)
Sizing up the contenders
Rice has preached having a 1-0 mentality all season long. Now those expectations have tangible results. Will the taste of that elusive victory prove to be the catalyst the Owls have been seeking? The “know-how” combined with a friendly atmosphere and the possible return to health of a few more defensive playmakers could prove to be enough push to get Rice football back on the right track.
That’s part of what should scare the Mean Green faithful. With quarterback Mason Fine already banged up and the Owls newfound confidence, they’ll have to come out swinging and force the Owls onto the defensive early.
This was a close game last year before North Texas broke things open with a big fourth quarter. And that came in Wiley Green’s first road start. After Tom Stewart’s three-touchdown connection with Brad Rozner last weekend, there’s certainly potential for this game to boil up into another shootout.
All Time | North Texas leads 5-4
Last Five | North Texas leads 3-2
Last Meeting | Away 2018, North Texas won 41-17
Rice Stat Notables
Passing | Stewart – 67/110 (60.9 percent), 760 yards passing, 7 TD, 1 INT
Rushing | Walter – 127 carries, 615 yards (4.8 yards per carry), 6 TD
Receiving | Rozner – 47 receptions, 681 yards (14.5 yards per reception), 5 TD | Trammell – 49 receptions, 581 yards (11.9 yards per reception), 3 TD
Tackles | Alldredge – 81, Montero – 68, Chamberlain – 56
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Thornton – 5 PBU, Smith – 2 INT
North Texas Stat Notables
Passing | Fine – 218/348 (62.6), 2659 yards passing, 27 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | Siggers – 127 carries, 831 yards (6.2 yards per carry), 5 TD
Receiving | Darden – 65 receptions, 655 yards (10.1 yards per reception), 11 TD | Lawrence – 43 receptions, 579 yards (13.5 yards per reception), 3 TD
Tackles | KD Davis – 79, Tyreke Davis – 64, Muhammad/Harvey – 58
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Harvey/Robinson – 7 PBU, Harvey/Robinson/Muhammad/Sanders – 1 INT
North Texas X-Factor | Stopping the run
Allowing the Owls to dictate the stay and pace of this football game is chief among the priorities North Texas must avoid. The Mean Green rank 12th in run defense in C-USA play, allowing 193.3 yards per game on the ground. Aston Walter’s senior night will be added incentive to pick up where he left off against Middle Tennessee, his fourth 100-yard rushing performance in five games.
North Texas wins when Mason Fine has the football. He doesn’t need a ton of time on the clock, but he does need opportunities. The Owls’ ability to play keep away will hinge on their ability to control the ball, extends drives and come away with points.
Running the football is always going to be central to the core identity of Rice football under Mike Bloomgren. When tasked with sealing the game against Middle Tennessee, they put the ball in the hands of Walter. He delivered.
If North Texas can limit the Owls’ on the ground, they’ll force Rice to be one dimensional. The Owls won through the air last week, but they’ve still got a way to go before opponents scheme out their aerial abilities before their rushing prowess.
Rice X-Factor | The Secondary
The offense seems to have turned a corner, but the strength of this iteration of Rice football remains on the defensive side of the ball. The front seven played exceptionally well against Middle Tennessee. The back end of the defense was okay, but not quite as stout as they’d shown in recent weeks.
A 90-yard bomb from Asher O’Hara to Ty Lee was the most discouraging moment, but the ease with which the Blue Raiders marched down the field in the fourth quarter left some reason for concern, too.
Andrew Bird’s interception and an impressive first half proved the Owls have the pieces and the scheme to hold things down. They’re going to receive one of their toughest tests of the year this weekend against Mason Fine. The Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year, Fine has battled through bumps and bruises, leading an offense that has had to score to keep his team within games.
Fine has put up yards against most everyone he’s faced. Keeping him out of the endzone and making him work his way down the field are musts for this defense to continue to succeed.
Zane Knipe made his return to the field last week against Middle Tennessee, taking an end-around carry for a first down. He’ll continue to get phased into the offense as he gets fully healthy, but the passing attack will still be primarily funneled through Brad Rozner and Austin Trammell. Running back Juma Otoviano left the game in the second half. His status for the upcoming week is unknown.
On defense, Andrew Bird returned to action and snagged his first career interception. Anthony Ekpe and Trey Schuman were held out of the game but could return as early as this coming week. Those two are going to be the names to watch.
The Roost’s 2019 Rice Football Season Preview has four pages dedicated to every opponent the Owls face. There are depth chart, important new arrivals and depth chart breakdowns for each foe. Better yet, it’s not just speculation, each profile was created with insight from local experts who cover those teams day in and day out. Pick up your copy today and get four pages and more than 1,000 words on every foe.
Pick ‘Em Contest
If you haven’t yet, make sure you submit your entry for The Roost’s weekly pick’em challenge. Choose an answer to each of the six questions below and submit them on the forum thread to enter.
- Who catches more passes?
Rozner / Trammell (or tie)
- Which team defense forces the first turnover?
Rice / North Texas
- Will Blaze Alldredge lead Rice in total tackles?
Yes (or tie) / No
- How many first downs will Rice achieve?
Over 19.5 / Under 19.5
- Does Mason Fine throw a touchdown pass after halftime?
Yes / No
- Who wins?
Rice / North Texas
One Final Thing
The approach Rice football has taken over the past two seasons has been widely respected by coaching staffs around Conference USA and the nation. Men who had no reasons to say anything overwhelmingly positive or negative about Rice weren’t afraid to voice their belief in what the Owls were building. When this team turned the corner, they said, it would be dangerous.
It’s way too early to tell if a three-point win over a team which will be spending its winter at home rather than a bowl game is enough to declare an about-face. Nevertheless, the ability to play a complete game in all three phases and come away with a win on the road was monumental for this team.
What happens on Saturday against North Texas has the potential to better define where Rice is on the continuum between rebuilding and reloading. One more win opens the door for a three-win season, a step up from a two-win 2018 campaign. No other tangible measurement of progress would speak as loudly as that.
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