The 2019 Rice Football season has come and gone. Spring ball will be here soon, but first a look back at what we learned about this team last season.
The 2019 college football season ended with purple and gold confetti falling from the rafters of the New Orleans Super Dome. Rice Football will host the defending champion LSU Tigers at NRG Stadium in 2020. Before we get there, a few observations about what we learned about the Owls this season and what might need to change moving forward.
1. The Rice defense is the real deal
The Owls held eventual top-10 Baylor scoreless in the second half and jumped out to a 20-0 lead 0n North Texas, eventually beating the Mean Green on the back of some spectacular defensive plays. They shored up their most glaring deficiency, the long ball, and found a way to limit some of the most prolific passers in Conference USA. A year removed from finishing 11th in total defense against C-USA foes, Rice improved to sixth in 2019.
2. This team has star power
Not only has Mike Bloomgren retooled the roster with D1-caliber players, but he’s also added names that people outside of South Main will know. Players like Austin Trammell, Bradley Rozner, Blaze Alldredge and Treshawn Chamberlain are stars in Conference USA. All earned postseason honors of some sort, with Alldredge being named first-team All C-USA by the conference and Pro Football Focus. Better still, all are slated to return next season.
3. The Owls have hit on the vast majority of their transfer targets
With the exception of offensive lineman Andrew Mike, a transfer from Florida in Bloomgren’s first season, Rice has hit home run after home run in the Transfer Portal. They’ve gone three-for-three with JUCO additions (Alldredge, Rozner and Naeem Smith) and gotten game-winning production from graduate transfers across the offense. There should be more additions on this front in the coming weeks.
4. The 2020 schedule gets a lot easier
Rice football gets Army at home next season while swapping out a slate of three Power 5 opponents for LSU, an FCS school (Lamar) and Houston. It’s plausible the 2019 team could have won at least a couple of additional games against the 2020 schedule, and Rice returns the vast majority of their overall production.
5. Rice proved they can win with offense and with defense
Rice beat North Texas with suffocating defense, keeping one of Conference USA’s best quarterbacks out of the endzone. A week later they beat UTEP with offense, rallying from a halftime deficit to win on the road. As good as the defense was, this team wasn’t one-dimensional in their wins.
Areas of concern
6. Inconsistent quarterback play remains a problem
- Shawn Stankavage
- Jackson Tyner
- Evan Marshman
- Wiley Green
- Parker Towns
- Tom Stewart
- JoVoni Johnson
Throw in wildcat quarterback Juma Otoviano and you’ve got way too long of a list. Rice hasn’t managed to keep the same hands under center for an entire season yet since Mike Bloomgren arrived at South Main. Awful injury luck has been a component of the quarterback quandary, but poor play has been equally culpable. If Rice football is going to take the next step, finding ONE passer for 2020 is a must. They’ll have a few to choose from: Green, grad transfer Mike Collins and JUCO transfer TJ McMahon.
7. The rest of the receiving corps never broke out
Rice is never going to post numbers akin to the spread offenses that have become ubiquitous with today’s spread offenses. That said, the ratio of pass catching options skewed to an extreme this season. Only two Rice receivers (Bradley Rozner and Austin Trammell) caught at least 20 passes. August Pitre third with 17, less than 1.5 per game. Jake Bailey was limited to a part-time role. Zane Knipe wasn’t healthy. None of the pass catching tight ends we’d hope to see materialized into consistent options. Whoever plays quarterback will need more than two options in the passing game.
8. The offensive identity seems uncertain
The Rice offense that started the season 0-9 looked fairly foreign from the version that ended the season 0-3. A lot of the core concepts were there, but the influence of offensive coordinator Jerry Mack was undeniable. Mack said after the season they’d retain as much of that simplicity as possible, but Bloomgren was careful to note they weren’t going to throw out the playbook either. What that means for 2020 is anybody’s guess.
9. It’s hard to consistently hit on transfers
Last year Rice brought in seven transfers who were expected to compete for starting jobs. Each of them — Tom Stewart, Naeem Smith, Bradley Rozner, Brian Chaffin, Justin Gooseberry, Nick Leverett and Charlie Booker — either started or were important contributors. The hit rate was as close to 100 percent as could have been reasonably expected. Doing that well in the transfer market for two years in a row is really hard to do.
10. Expectations are rising
Two wins in Bloomgren’s first season was okay. Three wins, and the fashion in which they came, were proof the Owls were headed in the right direction. 2020 is when everything is supposed to come together. The staff expects to be in a bowl game next winter, and that’s probably the baseline for the trajectory this team has set through two seasons.