The 2019 Rice Football senior class went out with a bang, winning their final home game at Rice Stadium over preseason C-USA favorite North Texas.
The hot start exhibited by Rice football in their win over Middle Tennessee last weekend carried over into their final home game of 2019. Before North Texas had run their fifth offensive play the Owls held a 10-0 advantage.
Rice rode that hot start to their second consecutive win, the first time they’ve won back-to-back games since 2016 (at Charlotte, vs UTEP). Here are a few immediate thoughts from the win:
1. Out execute everybody
The Rice offense has morphed a bit throughout the 2019 season. The playbook has been slimmed down and the offense has incorporated more spread concepts than it had in recent weeks. Despite the shift, the Owls have remained loyal to some of their staple in the ground game.
Rice runs the ball out of dozens of different formation. In need of one yard or less on fourth down or on the goal line, they’ve gone to this play more often than not:
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 23, 2019
Rice stacks the line of scrimmage and puts multiple fullbacks in the box. All 22 players on the field are within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Everyone knows what’s going to happen next — Rice runs this play all the time — it doesn’t matter. The ball is snapped, and Rice gets the first down or the touchdown. Every time.
It’s one thing to put athletes in space and let the best man win. This play is rooted entirely in the 11 guys on offense doing their jobs. If they execute they can get a yard. From my memory, nobody has stopped this play yet this season and Rice has run it at least a dozen times.
2. More opportunities = more points
Midway through the second quarter the Owls looked up at the scoreboard and saw a 20-0 score displayed in the glowing red bulbs. The lead was the largest Rice had achieved this season, amassed in a joint effort from the offense, defense and special teams.
As good as the offense was — and they were great — it was the defensive performance that kept the disparity on the scoreboard so severe. North Texas didn’t get a first down until there were less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
The Mean Green scattered incomplete passes and shortened runs across the field, barely managing a pulse on offense until it was too late. Rice picked off Mason Fine on his second possession, setting up the offense for their first touchdown of the game.
In a potential momentum-swinging moment, Charlie Booker fumbled the ball to North Texas, giving the ball to their opponents in Rice territory for the first time that game. On the very next play, Naeem Smith knocked the ball onto the turf and Rice recovered. The offense took the ball down the field and scored.
The biggest play, though, came on fourth down with 4:20 to play in the game. Mason Fine found Michael Lawrence in the endzone for what could have been the game-winning touchdown. No sooner had the receiver’s fingers touched leather did Treshawn Chamberlain lay a blow that reverberated around Rice stadium. The ball fell to the turf and Rice would go on to win the game.
3. Second half offense is quiet, again
Rice hasn’t scored in the second half of a football game since Oct. 26, a span of 28 days. Some of that can be explained away by a scheduling quirk, the Owls’ second off weekend came two weeks ago. The rest is a bit puzzling, especially when juxtaposed against the 51 points this team scored in their first halves against Middle Tennessee and North Texas.
The good news for the Owls’ resides in the final box scores of their most recent pair of games. Rice did enough in each of those first halves to not require anything else from their offense after the break.
While it’s not a sustainable strategy and adjustments to any adjustments will need to be made, the results are as positive as Rice fans could ask for. The wins are still wins, but what the offensive looks like in the second half against UTEP will be more heavily scrutinized.
4. Senior Day shows
The 2018 and 2019 Rice football teams have been marked by their youth. Defensive tackle Myles Adams was the lone true senior honored during Senior Day festivities. Those who stood by his side were a mixed bunch.
Their journeys were all unique, but the collective showing from the Owls’ veterans was impressive in their last game at South Main.
- Aston Walter, playing his final home game in his sixth season of college football, completed his first pass. It went for 27 yards.
- Charlie Booker, a transfer from Harvard, scored his first Rice touchdown and led the team on the ground with 78 yards rushing.
- Tom Stewart, also a Harvard transfer, won his first college football game played in the state of Texas.
- Myles Adams led a front seven that limited North Texas’ starting running back Trey Siggers to 3.2 yards per carry.
- Nahshon Ellerbe converted the clock-killing run in the final minutes, icing the game for the Owls
5. Finish strong
Rice football won two games in Year Zero under Mike Bloomgren in 2018. Although the rebuilding effort was expected to take several seasons, the lopsided win over Old Dominion to end the year combined with strong efforts on the recruiting front propelled expectations higher entering 2019.
The schedule was unforgiving and the team struggled to finish games. But even after an 0-9 start, Rice now has the opportunity to improve on their win total from last season.
If they can do it, the journey to three wins would have been a wild one — swinging from a certainty to a pipe dream — as the team rattled off a myriad of disparate results. A win their season finale against UTEP would give the Owls tangible improvement in the win column. There have been numerous encouraging moments, but wins and losses will forever be the way athletic success is measured.
Three wins, all coming in the final three games of the season, would be massive for this program, especially considering where things sat just a few weeks ago. Because of Saturday’s Senior Day win over North Texas, the Owls are just one win away. It looks like a lot can happen in one month after all.
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