Rice Football returns to Houston this week to take on a struggling North Texas team. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
North Texas and Rice football could not have had more opposite weekends despite both holding multi-score leads midway through the third quarter of their respective games. The Mean Green surrendered 21 straight points, losing at home to Liberty in a game they controlled for the entirety of the first half, if not longer.
Rice, on the other hand, was able to complete the upset. The Owls became the first Conference USA team to beat UAB at home since the Blazers’ program was reinstated beginning with the 2017 season. Riding high, the Owls now seek to pick up a much-needed win at home. Here’s what you need to know:
Kickoff time | 1:00 PM CT
Venue | Rice Stadium – Houston, TX
TV | ESPN3
Radio | Sports Map 94.1 (FM) / Stretch Internet (Online)
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs North Texas this week’s episode of the Blue and Gray Preview Show, streaming live on Wednesday at Noon on the Rice Athletics YouTube channel. You can also catch the recap of last week’s game on The Roost Podcast, which should be released shortly. 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
North Texas is playing for pride at this point. Discussions regarding the security of head coach Seth Littrell’s job have endured throughout the season with the voices of his detractors growing louder and loud with each successive loss. A bowl game is still nominally within reach, but even that might not be enough for Littrell at this point.
On the other sideline, Rice football very much so has plenty to play for on Saturday. Should they win, they’d even their season-long record to 4-4 and be two wins away from the bowl berth they’ve had their eyes fixed on all year. More still, they’d be 3-1 in league play and firmly in the race for a conference title. Both objectives get much harder should Rice not hold serve on their own turf against North Texas.
All Time | North Texas leads Rice, 6-5
Last Five | North Texas leads Rice, 4-1
Last Meeting | Away 2020, North Texas won 27-17
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Rice Stat Notables
Passing | Constantine – 49/66 (74.2 percent), 564 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Rushing | Myers – 71 carries, 284 yards (4.0 yards per carry), 6 TD
Receiving | Bailey – 29 receptions, 290 yards (10.0 yds/rec), 1 TD / Patterson – 16 receptions, 265 yards (16.6 yds/rec), 1 TD
Tackles | Montero – 48 / Smith – 41 / Pearcy – 36
Pass Breakups | McCord/Dunbar – 5, Smith – 4
Interceptions | Smith/Nyakwol – 2, Four others tied with one
North Texas Stat Notables
Passing | Aune – 78/149 (53.4 percent), 851 yards passing, 6 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | Torrey – 164 carries, 853 yards (5.2 yards per carry), 7 TD
Receiving | Burns – 40 receptions, 448 yards (11.2 yards per reception), 2 TD / Pirtle – 25 receptions, 211 yards (8.4 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Davis, KD – 59 / Davis, Tyreke – 39 / Nixon III – 31
Interceptions | Five tied with one apiece
Pass Breakups | Sanders – 3, Three tied with two apiece
North Texas X-Factor | Get off the field
On paper, the North Texas defense has been ever so slightly a hair below Rice’s defense. If it’s possible to boil the difference down to one specific factor, third down is unquestionably the Mean Green’s Achilles heel. North Texas opponents are converting 47.4 percent of their third down opportunities this season, the second to worst mark in C-USA and the 122nd rate in all of FBS football. C-USA opponents convert on average 43.6 percent of their third down tries against the Mean Green.
UTEP, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, UTSA and UAB own the best third down defenses in the conference. It’s no coincidence those five teams also boast the top five scoring defenses in C-USA. Yes, better defenses (tend to) give up less points, but the North Texas defense could take a substantial leap up the ladder by finding a way to get off the field at a better clip.
Rice wants to grind the clock and extend drives. If the North Texas defense can’t get Rice off schedule, it’s going to make it tough for this team as a whole to do much of anything to get out of sync.
Rice X-Factor | Do it again
When Rice knocked off Marshall on the road in 2020 it managed the feat behind a stellar defensive performance. The Owls picked off the Herd five times that game, returning one of those snags for six points of their own.
That wasn’t the case for Owls against the UAB Blazers last weekend. Rice found success in all phases, from Wiley Green’s first-ever 3-touchdown passing day to a masterful fake punt to the final stand by the defense to close the door. The ask for this team is to do something they’ve done few times in recent memory, do it again.
Safety Naeem Smith used the word resilient in his postgame comments on Saturday. Rice has now proven on multiple occasions they can shake off one bad day and turn the page quickly. The next step is stringing multiple good days together. That can start on Saturday, and if it doesn’t, they’ll have enough firepower to beat North Texas.
Pick ‘Em Contest (Subscribers only)
Make sure you submit your entry for The Roost’s weekly pick’em challenge. There will be swag and prizes for the top finishers at the end of the season. Choose an answer to each of the six questions below and comment on this post on the Patreon page to enter. It’s that easy.
Injury Report (Subscribers only)
One Final Thing
For better or worse, Rice football gave the rest of their opponents notice of just what they are capable of when they put together a complete game, because that’s exactly what we saw Rice cobble together against UAB. It wasn’t perfect — far from it — but it was arguably the first time this season where all three phases have worked in unison to win a football game.
If UAB was sleeping on Rice at all, something head coach Mike Bloomgren did make a passing comment regarding following the game, that’s not going to be the case again this season. Nobody is going to overlook Rice anymore, largely because Rice has shown its hand.
Now, assuming Rice is going to get the best North Texas has to throw at them, it’s time for them to prove they are what their record says they are. The Owls have a better conference record than North Texas and Louisiana Tech, both of which are still on the Owls’ schedule. Rice can get within one win of a bowl berth simply by beating the teams they’ve already moved above in the standings.
It’s not that simple. But in many ways it is. Rice has beaten a team they weren’t “supposed to” beat. Now they have to beat someone they should.
- Rice Football 2021: NFL Owls Week 11 Stats Update
- The Roost Podcast | Ep 101 – CUSA Review with Eric Henry
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- Conference USA Football 2021: Week 12 C-USA Roundup