The first scrimmage of 2022 Rice Football spring practice is complete. Here are a few individual standouts and some big picture takeaways.
Defense won the day on the first scrimmage of the spring. The back-and-forth battle of the two sides of the ball was weighted heavily toward that side of the ball for the entirety of the season as Rice football donned pads to engage in one of their most highly anticipated sessions of the spring. This update breaks down some individual standouts on both sides of the ball and their ramifications on the team thus far.
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Defense, Defense, Defense
It was no surprise that coach Bloomgren’s initial remarks following the first scrimmage of the spring focused on his defense which had allowed just one touchdown to the offense over the course of two hours and roughly nine complete drives.
“I thought the defense had a great day,” Bloomgren said, going out of his way to heap praise on Ikenna Enechukwu and the Owls’ defensive line, which seemed to live in the backfield from the opening whistle.
The defense tallied six sacks during those nine drives and added three additional sacks on a set of nine third-down drills. The offense didn’t have an explosive run of 10 yards until Dean Connors burst through the line on a 10-yard carry on Drive 7.
There were no turnovers forced, but the defense was dominant nonetheless. In total, the offense managed three scoring drives: two field goal attempts and one touchdown, which came on a tight end screen to Gavin Reinwald on the final drive.
There wasn’t a lot to write home about at the quarterback position during Saturday’s scrimmage. Neither Wiley Green nor TJ McMahon made many egregious mistakes, but they didn’t do much else noteworthy either.
Green hit Andrew Mason on a ~50-yard bomb to set up the offense’s lone touchdown of the day, but there really weren’t any other truly explosive plays in the passing game. McMahon had the Luke McCaffrey sprinting well past the last defender on what should have been a bomb touchdown, but he overthrew his man and missed the opportunity.
Green finished 7-of-10 for 90 yards and one touchdown.
McMahon was 9-of-15 for 87 yards and no touchdowns.
Bloomgren noted that he was “happy with all of them,” but stressed they’d had better offensive performances this spring and that this team needed “to figure out how to do it against our defense when they’re amped up on a scrimmage day.”
Receivers and running backs
The wide receiver room quickly became one of the most intriguing positions to follow this spring with the departure of Jake Bailey to the Transfer Portal and the news Bradley Rozner would not be participating in practices quite yet. Those items, coupled with the previous departure of August Pitre in December, left Rice football with a wide-open depth chart, at least for the time being.
Luke McCaffery makes sense in the slot long term, but he worked outside, leaving room for Kobie Campbell on the interior in most of the first team packages. Campbell had flashed with his quickness but had a key drop that stalled the offense’s first drive of the game and forced them to settle for a field goal.
Cedric Patterson led all receivers with four catches for 61 yards. Mason had the aforementioned long connection. No other pass catcher tallied more than 27 yards during the scrimmage.
That bland showing extended to the backfield as well. Rice running backs averaged 3.7 yards per carry, with the bulk of that coming from an 11-rush, 34-yard stat line from Ari Broussard. Bloomgren noted that Broussard “ran hard”, but that was about it.
The Owls’ headman did single out Connors as one of the winners of the day. The JUCO transfer averaged 5.3 yards per carry, far and away the best of any ball carrier on the team, ending with a 4-carry, 21-yard line. From the naked eye, he appeared to have the most explosiveness and looks to be a real contender for an extended run this coming season.
And then there were three
Rice football was already thin at the corner position this spring and had a few additional players sit out on Saturday, leaving then with three healthy corners: Sean Fresch, Jordan Dunbar and Jojo Jean. None of the Owls’ other boundary men suited up, leaving that trio to cover nearly 100 defensive snaps. Not only did they make it through the day, they flourished.
Jean, a redshirt freshman from the 2021 signing class, did not see action at all last fall. Still, I noted at least three occasions during the scrimmage in which he made a significant play, including an endzone pass break up on an underthrown ball from TJ McMahon. It was a throw that could have been a touchdown if it had been better placed, but Jean adjusted and made McMahon pay for the misfire, batting it away.
It’s not clear how long Rice football will be this thin at the corner spot and whether or not they’ll get back anyone else in the near future. If not, this is a tremendous opportunity for Jean.
Odds and Ends
- Rice football has to replace longtime long snapper, Campbell Riddle. It appears that the job will be filled by Tommy Tholen a JUCO transfer who committed to the Owls last spring.
- Here’s how the offensive line lined up for the most part on Saturday, from left to right. First team: Clay Servin, Braedon Nutter, Isaac Klarkowski, Shea Baker, Ethan Onianwa. Second team: Trey Phillippi, Faee Pepe, Issac Klarkowski, John Long, Mike Leone.
- Safety Josh Williams is a name that keeps popping up. He had a sack in the scrimmage and has made a few big plays throughout the spring. The staff really likes the up-and-coming redshirt freshman.
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