Rice Football started fast and faded just as quickly as the Owls drop to 1-2 on the season following a road loss to North Texas.
Expectations were high when Rice football finally returned to the gridiron after a two-week delay. The Owls had suffered consecutive postponements following an uplifting 30-6 win at Southern Miss, snuffing out any momentum the Owls could have hoped to carry into their game against North Texas.
Rice came out strong and faded fast, resulting in a humbling road loss to North Texas. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game.
Messy, messy, messy
Rice fumbled FOUR times in the first half. That’s an inexcusable turnover count for a full game, let alone the first 30 minutes of action. The mistakes turned what looked to be a runaway day for the Rice offense into an ugly slugfest against what began as a flailing North Texas attack.
The Owls’ lost one fumble in the redzone. Soon after, Mike Collins put a ball behind Jake Bailey in the endzone on fourth down. If he throws that in front of Bailey, it’s a 17-0 Rice lead. Instead, North Texas takes over and a 66-yard Jason Bean touchdown run cuts the Rice lead to 10-7. Turnovers plus turnovers on downs put Rice in a bad spot.
The muffed punt was the third instance of the usually sharp Rice special teams unit turning it over in the Owls’ first three games. North Texas fired a line-drive ball toward Austin Trammell, who was hit immediately upon fielding the ball, almost as if he didn’t expect the quick contact. Again, North Texas capitalized, with a go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing possession.
The offense has looked good. But if they can’t eliminate the self-inflicted mistakes, it’s not going to matter. That goes for the special teams too, who saw an 80+ yard punt return touchdown called back by an uncharacteristic penalty.
The offensive line meets its match
Through their first two games, the Rice offensive line had played extremely well. Ball carriers weren’t getting hit in the backfield and Mike Collins was given clean pockets to work. There were plenty of instances of those things against North Texas, but the frequency of open spaces significantly lessened.
North Texas defensive tackle Dion Novil was a monster. His power on the interior of the line seemed to catch the Owls off guard. He routinely impacted Collins in the pocket, highlighted by an impressive sequence at the end of the first half. He pushed the center into Collins on the second-to-last play of the game to force a hurried throw. Novil then followed up with an unblocked sack on the following play to end the half.
Rice has held up well against powerful interior rushers before. They’ve seen plenty over the past several seasons. They were just flat out beat up front. That left Rice throwing into pressure against a shallow zone all day.
The secondary is going to be alright
Rice received good news this week with the return of Kirk Lockhart, Treshawn Chamberlain, and Andrew Bird. Adding the extra experience was a huge boost to a unit that had been up and down to start the season.
The Owls needed all their reinforcements, and then some. Starting corner Tre’shon Devones was not on the field to start the second half.
When Miles McCord was being attended to on the sideline following a diving attempt, reserve corner Chris Boudreaux, who converted from wide receiver, was forced into the game in the redzone. Naturally, the ball was quickly thrown his way, but he held his ground and helped Rice force a quick field goal. McCord and Bird were both on the field to finish the game.
Not silent, but flat
The Rice offense had been dynamite early on this season. Rice entered the North Texas game coming off back-to-back 30+ point performances. It seemed clear that the offense was better than it had been in the past, but it was hard to christen them good without at least one more game of data.
They came out sharp against North Texas, but mistakes and the shaky performance on the offensive line proved this unit still has some work to do before they make the jump. This touchdown from Collins to Trammell proved how good the unit can be when they’re clicking:
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 21, 2020
But the inability to solve the North Texas defense proved more troublesome. After the Owls’ hot start, North Texas deployed basically the same scheme. They kept defenders near the box, crashing the line on run plays and dropping them into a zone if the Owls passed. Rice wasn’t able to solve that wrinkle, and they paid for it dearly.
The blueprint is out now for the rest of Conference USA. Rice is going to see this defensive style deployed against them again. They’ll have to be ready.
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