Rice Football bounced back with a vengeance, knocking off UAB on the road in the Owls’ most complete performance of the season.
Empowered by a productive week of practice and the excitement of a move to the AAC, Rice football came out ready to play against UAB on Saturday. Despite entering the game as heavy underdogs, the Owls traded blows with the Blazers, never once looking overwhelmed or outmatched.
For all the productive plays created by the UAB offense and defense, something in this game was abundantly clear. Rice wanted this one. Not only did they play with intensity, their quality of play matched their level of desire. For the second year in a row, Rice has upset one of Conference USA’s best. And they’ve pulled off both wins away from home. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
As fast as fast can be
The X-factor for Rice football in this week’s game preview was extremely straightforward: start fast. From the moment the ball was kicked into the waiting arms of Juma Otoviano, Rice did exactly that.
Special teams started fast. Otoviano burst through the coverage team and took the ball out to the 50-yard line.
The offense started fast. Rice converted two fourth downs, marching the remaining 50 yards down the field to score the opening touchdown and put Rice up 7-0. They’d follow that up with a second touchdown drive on the ensuing possession to take a 13-0 lead.
The defense started fast. Gabe Taylor forced a fumble on UAB’s first offensive play. Antonio Montero recovered, setting the offense up for another scoring drive.
Rice goes Green
It’s been quite a career for Rice quarterback Wiley Green. Given the bench following a rough showing against Arkansas then injured in the loss to Texas, Green surprisingly resurfaced this week when Jake Constantine was unable to play. Dropped down the depth chart multiple times in his Rice career, Green’s shortcomings have always been decision-based rather than ability-based. He can make the plays, and he showcased that ability on Saturday.
Green wasn’t perfect. He was credited with a fumble on a bang-bang play where it appeared he attempted to hold back a throw he had already committed to, leading to the fumble ruling rather than an incomplete pass. Nevertheless, he bounced back and marched Rice up and down the field, again and again.
This quarterback job still belongs to Constantine when he’s ready. But Green’s big day gave proof to the coaching staff’s longstanding belief that the offense didn’t need herculean playmakers to work. It just needed execution. Now, to Green’s credit, he made some big plays like this one:
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) October 23, 2021
Green finished the game 17-for-22, throwing for 205 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 77 percent of his passes, the best mark of his career in any game in which he attempted at least seven passes. Green proved this offense can work, and he did it against one of the best defenses in Conference USA.
Defensive absences noticed, but overcome
Rice managed to get by with a largely depleted secondary during the 2020 season, in part because they had remarkable healthy among the front seven. This year, more or less every level of the defense has suffered an important injury. De’Braylon Carroll was lost for the season during the summer. Rice was without him, Kenneth Orji and Trey Schuman against UAB.
Treshawn Chamberlain, who was one of the healthy cogs in that 2020 defense, missed this game. So too did George Nyakwol. Whether it was those specific absent pieces that were the ones Rice couldn’t afford to lose or the entire defense has taken a step back from where it was last season, this unit isn’t nearly as effective as it once was.
The Roost Podcast: Stay tuned for the game recap this week
Big plays and turnovers are important, but right now Rice needs to improve on things like tackling and gap integrity. It’s not as if those missing men are the only ones capable of wrapping up. Rice has capable players. They just need to start executing. The Owls are allowing their opponents way too many “easy” yards and setting themselves up for failure.
Fortunately for Rice, the tackling improved as the game progressed. That played a huge role in the Owls’ retaking the lead early and controlling the game into the second half. For the most part, they kept the play in front of them. Well-timed blitzes and solid coverage made UAB work for every yard the rest of the way.
Not consistent, but resilient
The perils of last week’s trip to San Antonio seemed lightyears away to the Rice football players and staff on Saturday afternoon at Protective Stadium. In the wake of what was certainly one of the most frustrating and disappointing losses of Mike Bloomgren’s tenure, the Owls once more found a way to write their own history.
After an 0-3 start, Rice bounced back with three consecutive victories. The UTSA loss was crushing, but this is still a team that’s won 6 of their last 10 conference games — 7 out of 11 now. That included the upset of No. 15 Marshall and now a win over C-USA conference favorite UAB, both of which took place outside the confines of Rice Stadium.
The concern after the rough start and shutout losses to Texas and UTSA was legitimate. But the discovery of quarterback Jake Constantine and the proof the team can still win without him when they play together proved even more meaningful. Rice hasn’t ironed out all the kinks, but they’ve proven they can win, and win big games. And after all the low points over the last few years, winning is all that really matters.
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