Rice football hosts ECU in their first-ever AAC home game this weekend. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
East Carolina dismantled FCS Gardner-Webb this past weekend, much in the same way Rice Football disposed of their FCS opponent, Texas Southern, two weeks ago. The Owls were less fortunate in their conference opener on Saturday against USF, falling 42-29. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s matchup between Rice and ECU.
Audio / Visual Preview
We’ll preview Rice football vs ECU 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
Rice owns the lone FBS win between these two programs, upsetting Houston to clinch the Bayou Bucket in Week 2. Since then the Owls have seen their star quarterback JT Daniels get knocked out of a game with injury and are in need of some good news. ECU is still searching for an FBS win to alleviate some concerns in Greenville over the sluggish start. It’s a bit early in the season for a must-win game, but both programs really want this one.
All Time | Tied, 2-2
Last Five | Tied, 2-2
Last Meeting | Home 2010, Rice won 62-38
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | Daniels – 80/125 (64.0 percent), 1237 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT
Rushing | Connors – 29 carries, 139 yards (4.8 yards per carry), 1 TD / Alexander – 17 carries, 35 yards (2.1 yards per carry), 5 TD
Receiving | McCaffrey – 20 receptions, 370 yards (18.5 yds/rec), 4 TDs / Walker – 8 receptions, 178 yards (22.3 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Wyatt, Morrison – 27 / Conti – 22 / Taylor – 20
Pass Breakups | Fresch – 4 / Jean – 3 / Wyatt, Taylor, Narcisse – 2
Interceptions | Devones – 1
ECU Stat Notables
Passing | Flinn – 34/68 (50.0 percent), 365 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT / Garcia – 32/55 (58.2 percent), 234 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing | Harris – 42 carries, 171 yards (4.1 yards per carry), 3 TD / Garcia – 32 carries, 178 yards (5.6 ypc), 1 TD
Receiving | Johnson – 16 receptions, 178 yards (11.1 yards per reception), 0 TD / Hatfield – 9 receptions, 128 yards (14.2 yds/rec), 0 TD
Tackles | Wood – 30 / Edwards – 29 / Jackson – 19
Pass Breakups | Davis, Wilk, Rogers, Jones tied with 2
Interceptions | Jackson – 1
ECU X-Factor | Protect the Football
ECU enters the game +1 in turnover differential, but they were -3 entering their game against Gardner-Webb before posting a +4 differential in that contest. Even in that game, ECU still turned the ball over once. Through four games, they have yet to post a turnover-free result. That might not matter against an FCS opponent, but it has mattered in their FBS games so far.
The Pirates lost the turnover battle in each of their first three games and were tied for fourth-worst in the AAC in turnovers entering Saturday. That’s a recipe for disaster, especially on the road. Rice has only forced three turnovers so far this season, but they’ve been close on a few other plays and have enough playmakers on defense to make ECU nervous. They can’t afford to tempt fate here.
Rice X-Factor | Get off the field
For all the missteps Rice football suffered in their loss to South Florida, the inability to get off the field on defense was the most concerning. Excluding drives that ended in the end of the half, Rice kept USF from scoring three times. Five touchdowns allowed and two field goals, seven scoring drives, against three stops is not sustainable, particularly when everyone in the stadium knows who is getting the ball before the play happens.
If JT Daniels is available, winning a shootout will always be a possibility, and backup quarterback AJ Padgett has flashed in limited duty before, but winning football for Rice will always rely in some capacity on a competent defense. The Owls didn’t have that last weekend and the results were, unfortunately, predictable.
ECU is converting a modest 36 percent of their third downs on offense and scoring 22 points per game, which includes their recent thumping of Gardner-Webb. This shouldn’t be an offense that can run circles around the Rice defense. The Rice pass rush needs a bounce-back game in the worst way, as does the secondary. No matter the quarterback, this one is going to depend on a solid defensive showing.
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One Final Thing
Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren always likes to fall back on the mantra that things are never as good and never as bad as they feel in the moment. The Owls’ season seemed to be rocketing upward after the Houston win and falling to pieces after the USF loss. This team has to hope the reality is somewhere in between.
There are no more Power 5 opponents on the schedule. Instead, the road ahead should be manageable. If Rice proves they can bounce back and take care of business at home against a sub-.500 team, things will revert back toward their optimistic beginnings. If not, there probably should be some soul-searching done after a strong start.
Regardless, no referendums should be made as a result of any one game. That’s a statement, as I write it, feels doomed to be ignored no matter how the East Carolina game goes. But in all fairness, that’s how this sport is consumed, more often than not and this program showed Saturday it has work to do before it fully earns the benefit of the doubt.
So, as Bloomgren and his players often say, Rice needs to go 1-0 this week in a very winnable and very much-needed game.
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