Rice football is preparing for their final home game of the season, a tall challenge against UTSA. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
Neither Rice football nor UTSA played a competitive game last weekend. The Roadrunners ran past Louisiana Tech at home while Rice watched Western Kentucky run away with their contest in Bowling Green, KY. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s game.
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs UTSA 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
UTSA is playing out the stretch on their way to a second consecutive appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game. Meanwhile, tensions are much higher in Houston. The Owls have two more chances to reach six wins and an elusive bowl eligible season. This is the last home game of the year for Rice, who would love nothing more than to send their seniors out on a high note.
All Time | UTSA leads, 6-3
Last Five | UTSA leads, 5-0
Last Meeting | Away 2021, UTSA won 45-0
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | McMahon – 160/266 (60.2 percent), 2102 yards, 18 TD, 14 INT
Rushing | Montgomery – 70 carries, 452 yards (6.5 yards per carry), 0 TD / Otoviano – 43 carries, 274 yards (6.4 yards per carry), 1 TD
Receiving | Rozner – 35 receptions, 733 yards (20.9 yds/rec), 8 TDs / McCaffrey – 51 receptions, 656 yards (12.9 yds/rec), 6 TD / Esdale – 29 receptions, 353 yards (12.2 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Conti – 58 / Morrison – 53 / Taylor – 48
Pass Breakups | Dunbar – 7 / Taylor – 6 / Fresch – 5
Interceptions | Taylor – 2 / Morrison, Nyakwol, Chamberlain, Fresch, Narcisse – 1
UTSA Stat Notables
Passing | Harris – 246/356 (69.1 percent), 3039 yards, 22 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | Brady – 146 carries, 623 yards (4.3 yards per carry), 9 TD / Barnes – 63 carries, 419 yards (6.7 ypc), 5 TD
Receiving | Cephus – 73 receptions, 823 yards (11.3 yards per reception), 5 TD / Franklin – 65 receptions, 791 yards (12.2 yds/rec), 9 TD
Tackles | Ligon – 64 / Chattman – 53 / Harmanson – 45
Pass Breakups | Chattman, Mayfield – 11 / Fortune – 5 / Taylor – 3
Interceptions | Mayfield – 3 / Griffin – 2 / Chattman, Morris, Jones – 1
UTSA X-Factor | Take away the air
UTSA hasn’t lost yet, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t survived a few scares along the way. They won one-score games against UAB, North Texas and Western Kentucky. What did each of those contests have in common? Aggressive quarterback play by the Roadrunners’ opponents. WKU averaged 7.6 yards per attempt. North Texas averaged 10.5 . UAB averaged 8.5.
Austin Reed has made a name for himself as a passer this season, but Austin Aune and Jacob Zeno aren’t world-beaters.
Conversely, UTSA has been pretty stingy on the ground, averaging less than 160 total yards per game allowed, fourth best in the conference. If the Roadrunners can limit Rice through the air and force them to run into their fierce front seven, they’ll cap the Owls’ offensive upside. So although it might sound counterintuitive to entice Rice to run, UTSA can find the most success if they stop Rice through the air.
Rice X-Factor | Take it away
At this point, it seems like wishful thinking to hope for a turnover-free game from Rice football. While that would, of course, be ideal, there is one other way for the Owls to find success in that respect: take the ball away.
More takeaways would also be a boon to a defense that has struggled to get off the field. At this points, more risks and more potential takeaways might be the best solution. Granted, defensive coordinator Brian Smith will put together a game plan that’s more nuanced than this, but at the end of the day, if you can’t stop them, take the football away.
Winning the turnover battle is something the Owls haven’t done with any regularity this season. If they’re going to try and beat the only team still standings that hasn’t lost a Conference USA game yet, they’ll need to do so on Saturday. There’s no way around it.
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One Final Thing
Rice football has not lost following a loss this season. Put another way, the Owls are undefeated following a defeat. If they can extend that streak to one more series, they’ll clinch bowl eligibility and secure another marquee win in a season smattered with highs and lows.
If we’ve learned anything this season about the Owls, it’s how frustrating and unpredictable this team can be. Every unit has gone through the same bouts of inconsistency and results have gone from encouraging to quite unwatchable on a week-to-week basis. Which version of the Owls shows up next weekend? Who knows?
What the Owls do possess is a certain level of fearlessness that goes beyond understanding. They aren’t scared when they step into the ring with the best Conference USA has to offer. And quite often, if they can start out on the right foot and avoid a disaster snowball, they’ll give the top teams a run for their money.
Perhaps that then is the x-factor of all x-factors. Can Rice throw the first punch and avoid shooting themselves in the foot? When they’ve been able to do that this season, they’ve won.
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