Rice football visits USF in their first-ever AAC game this weekend. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
Winners of two in a row, Rice football heads to the Sunshine State for their first ever AAC game against a South Florida squad that played well against Alabama in Week 2, albeit in losing fashion. Head coach Alex Golesh didn’t mince words with the result. “Valiant efforts are for losers. Moral victories are for losers,” he said. “That’s what losers say. Winners win.”
There will be no moral victories this weekend. Someone will be tied atop the conference standings and someone else will be o-1. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s matchup between Rice and USF.
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs USF 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.
Sizing up the contenders
Neither USF nor Rice football were expected to be among the contenders for the AAC this season. The Owls were picked to finish 12th, the Bulls picked just behind them at 13th. The winner will be tied with Memphis at 1-0 for first place. If Rice wins, they’ll be 3-1 with a Power 5 victory already under their belt. If USF wins, they’ll be .500 through four games under a first year head coach. This is a big one.
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | Daniels – 53/85 (62.4 percent), 805 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT
Rushing | Connors – 24 carries, 137 yards (5.7 yards per carry), 1 TD / Alexander – 14 carries, 40 yards (2.9 yards per carry), 5 TD
Receiving | McCaffrey – 11 receptions, 171 yards (15.5 yds/rec), 4 TDs / Walker – 7 receptions, 151 yards (21.6 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Wyatt – 17 / Morrison – 16 / Pearcy – 15
Pass Breakups | Fresch – 4 / Devones, Jean, Wyatt, Narcisse – 2
Interceptions | Devones – 1
USF Stat Notables
Passing | B. Brown – 49/96 (51.0 percent), 450 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT
Rushing | B. Brown – 65 carries, 269 yards (4.1 yards per carry), 4 TD / Wright – 41 carries, 210 yards (5.1 ypc), 0 TD
Receiving | Atkins – 16 receptions, 142 yards (8.9 yards per reception), 0 TD / K. Brown – 6 receptions, 109 yards (18.2 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Shuler – 21 / Gordon – 19 / Evans – 18
Pass Breakups | Berryhill, Logan – 2 / Five others – 1
Interceptions | Berryhill – 2 / Stokes – 1
USF X-Factor | Contain the passing attack
USF ranks in the bottom quartile of the country in explosive passing plays allowed on defense (12), averaging four 20+ yard completions against their defense through three games. Against Alabama last weekend, though, USF gave up just one such play and (not coincidentally) posted their best defensive performance of the season against one of the most talented teams in the country.
If one is inclined to believe the box scores, as unthinkable as this might have been to those outside of South Main until even a few weeks ago, Rice quarterback JT Daniels has been better than either of the signal callers Alabama played against USF last weekend. He will test USF downfield. If they can stand tall and take that element away from the Ric offense, things could get interesting.
The Rice running game was more productive in the second half against Texas Southern than it had been yet this season, but it certainly hasn’t been fantastic quite yet. Someone is going to try to force the Owls to be one dimensional and it might just be USF.
Rice X-Factor | Win the turnover battle
Sometimes, it’s not rocket science. The Owls were -3 in turnovers against Texas and lost the game by four scores. They were -1 against Houston, allowing the Cougars to erase a 28-point Owl advantage because of miscues. Against Texas Southern, inarguably the least talented team Rice football has played thus far, they won the turnover battle 2-0 and won in dominant fashion.
The USF offense has shown spurts of ability in the early days of the Golesh era. If they’re able to move the ball well against the Owls, adding a turnover deficit on the road would not be a recipe that portends success. For Rice to enable themselves to play their game and stay on schedule, being turnover neutral, at a minimum, is a must.
In practice, that means a bit more poise from Daniels on some of his bolder throws and sure hands from the skill players, who have put the ball on the deck a few times so far this season.
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One Final Thing
Rice football has never started 3-1 under head coach Mike Bloomgren. The Owls got to 3-2 last year but had to knock off UAB in game five to get there. 3-1 would be a first. As Bloomgren continues to make his case that 2023 will be his breakthrough season, a strong start like that would certainly be noticed. It also could set up something more.
Rice returns home the following weekend and plays ECU (0-3) and UConn (0-3) before a bye week. This program is not far enough removed from some very hard seasons to start counting a single win before it happens, but it’s not too presumptive to say the schedule couldn’t be set up much more favorably for this team in the weeks ahead. A 3-1 start could turn into much more.
First, though, Rice football has to take care of business. Win this game on the road, their first road victory of the season, and come home healthy. If you can achieve that, we could be looking at a rare opportunity and an intriguing start to a season that hasn’t been seen on South Main in quite some time. They’ll just need to beat first-year head coach Alex Golesh to get that chance.
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