Rice football opens Conference USA play against the UAB Blazers this weekend. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
The UAB Blazers sat and home during their bye week and watched Rice football push the Houston Cougars to the brink on Saturday night. The Owls did not prevail, but they should have given the Blazers plenty to prepare for as the teams prepare to meet for the first time since Rice upset UAB in Birmingham last season. Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup.
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs UAB on this week’s episode of the Blue and Gray Preview Show, streaming live on Wednesday at Noon on the Rice Athletics YouTube channel. Look for a recap of the game on the site afterward as well as on The Roost Podcast, which should be released early next week. 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
Both UAB and Rice football enter their Week 5 contest 0-0 in conference play. The Blazers were expected to be among the favorites in the race for the conference title, the Owls were not. But the dynamics of that title hunt could change quickly. Rice is playing some of their best football in recent memory right now and they beat UAB in Birmingham last season. The Blazers are the favorites, but this one could very well go the distance.
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All Time | UAB leads, 6-4
Last Five | UAB leads, 4-1
Last Meeting | Away 2021, Rice won 30-24
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | McMahon – 76/119 (63.9 percent), 976 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT
Rushing | Broussard – 60 carries, 160 yards (2.7 yards per carry), 6 TD / Montgomery – 19 carries, 152 yards (8.0 yards per carry), 0 TD
Receiving | McCaffrey – 26 receptions, 323 yards (12.4 yds/rec), 3 TD / Rozner – 13 receptions, 278 yards (21.4 yds/rec), 3 TDs / Esdale – 17 receptions, 219 yards (12.9 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Conti – 19 / Morrison – 17 / Taylor – 15
Pass Breakups | Morrison, Dunbar, Taylor, Fresch – 2 / Three others tied with one
Interceptions | Morrison, Nyakwol, Chamberlain, Taylor – 1
Passing | Hopkins – 35/52 (67.3 percent), 430 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Rushing | McBride – 48 carries, 400 yards (8.3 yards per carry), 5 TD / Brown – 38 carries, 247 yards (6.5 ypc), 2 TD
Receiving | Palmer – 8 receptions, 110 yards (13.8 yards per reception), 0 TD / Jones – 10 receptions, 91 yards (9.1 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Wilder – 21 / Taylor – 19/ Cash – 13
Pass Breakups | McWilliams – 4 / Swoopes, Bynum – 3
Interceptions | Key – 2 / Four others tied with one
UAB X-Factor | Stop the pass
Although Rice football has preached ground and pound under the direction of head coach Mike Bloomgren, the 2022 Owls have taken to the skies. In their most recent outing against Houston, Rice threw for 334 yards, almost 100 yards more than the pass-happy Cougars.
Through four games, Rice is averaging 262.3 yards per contest compared to 211.7 per game last season. On the other hand, the Owls rushing attack has more or less held steady, dropping slightly from 149.5 yards per game last season 147.8 this year. The 2022 Owls aren’t one-dimensional anymore.
UAB’s best bet is to take that extra tool away. The Blazers have had a Top 4 run defense in Conference USA in each of the last four seasons. They were No. 1 in the conference last year. If they can hang tight with the Owls through the air they’ll have a chance to render the entire offense less explosive and less effective. Rice is going to try and take to the skies. UAB has to find a way to answer.
Rice X-Factor | Stop the run
The Owls’ to-do will be exactly the opposite. As UAB attempts to limit Rice through the air, Rice will have to find a way to stymy UAB on the ground. The Blazers enter the game with the No. 1 rushing offense in Conference USA, averaging 253.3 yards per game. Their 6.23 yards per carry ranks fifth nationally. This is a team that is going to run the football a lot.
This won’t come as a surprise for Rice defensive coordinator Brian Smith. This script matches what UAB has sought to do in their prior matchups with the Owls over the years. UAB averaged 5.8 yards per carry in this matchup last season. They weren’t able to lean on the ground game quite like they might have hoped to, only managing to run the ball 22 times for 127 yards.
If UAB can’t run the ball, their deep shots off play action become harder to sell. If that happens, Rice can pin their ears back in traditional passing situations and severely limit the entire UAB offensive approach.
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One Final Thing
With a win on Saturday, Rice football should be mentioned among the teams in contention to win a conference title. No, that’s not hyperbole. There is no singular team in Conference USA that looks head and shoulders above any other.
UAB and UTSA remain the frontrunners for obvious reasons, but if Rice can knock off the former in back-to-back seasons behind the arm of their newfound quarterback, there isn’t a team in this league they can’t beat. That’s a lot at stake for a conference opener, which precedes a much-needed bye week which will give the roster time to recuperate and get healthy.
A close loss, similar to how Rice fell to Houston, would still keep this team in that conversation, serving as another datapoint suggesting this team is much better than they were a year ago. If this team is the team they’ve led us to believe they are, there’s no reason this isn’t another good game at South Main. And if things go the right way, it could be the fourth consecutive home victory for Rice football.
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