Rice football visits UTSA this week in another matchup of Texas-based AAC teams. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
UTSA took care of business last weekend, holding on to beat North Texas on the road. Rice football was less fortunate, falling at home to SMU in a game that came down to the final possession. That sets up a pivotal matchup for both teams this weekend. Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup between Rice and UTSA.
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.
Sizing up the contenders
UTSA is still very much in the hunt for a spot in the AAC Championship Game, but getting there might still require some work. They’re undefeated in league play, but so are the Tulane Green Wave and the SMU Mustangs. The Roadrunners need to keep winning to stay in the race.
For Rice, they’ve turned their attention to a second consecutive bowl berth. With three games remaining, the Owls need two wins. Getting one of those this weekend with a road trip looming in Charlotte would be an extremely encouraging result. Knocking off UTSA in the process would be another signature win for head coach Mike Bloomgren.
All Time | UTSA leads, 7-3
Last Five | UTSA leads, 5-0
Last Meeting | Home 2022, UTSA won 41-7
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Rice Football Stat Notables
Passing | Daniels – 121/287 (63.1 percent), 2443 yards, 21 TD, 7 INT
Rushing | Connors – 65 carries, 414 yards (6.4 yards per carry), 5 TD / Otoviano – 63 carries, 225 yards (3.6 yards per carry), 4 TD
Receiving | McCaffrey – 45 receptions, 700 yards (15.6 yds/rec), 9 TDs / Connors – 35 receptions, 371 yards (10.6 yds/rec), 3 TD
Tackles | Wyatt – 60 / Morrison – 54 / Conti – 52
Pass Breakups | Fresch, Taylor, Devones – 6 / Wyatt – 5 / Jean, Flowers – 3
Interceptions | Taylor -2 / Devones, Conti – 1
UTSA Stat Notables
Passing | Harris – 147/228 (64.5 percent), 1722 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT
Rushing | Barnes – 127 carries, 606 yards (4.8 yards per carry), 6 TD / Horry – 70 carries, 419 yards (6.0 ypc), 7 TD
Receiving | Cephus – 62 receptions, 750 yards (12.1 yards per reception), 7 TD / Ogle-Kellogg – 26 receptions, 440 yards (16.9 yds/rec), 6 TD / McCuin – 25 receptions, 365 yards (14.6 yds/rec), 2 TD
Tackles | Robinson – 47 / French – 45 / Moore, Wisdom – 40
Pass Breakups | Alexander – 11 / Fortune – 5 / Wisdom – 4
Interceptions | Davidson – 2, Five tied with one
UTSA X-Factor | Make Rice one-dimensional
The UTSA defense hasn’t been nearly as dominant as it’s been in previous seasons, but they have found success on the ground against conference opponents. UTSA’s five AAC opponents have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, the second-best mark in the league. Given the Owls’ uncertainty at quarterback this week, controlling the ground game has to be near the top of the Roadrunners’ objectives.
But the numbers go deeper than those averages. UTSA’s last two games — closer wins against East Carolina and North Texas — have been kept close by their opponents’ rushing successes. Those two teams combined to rush for 328 yards against the Roadrunners. That defense was able to snuff out poor rushing teams, but can they limit the tandem of Dean Connors and Juma Otoviano?
Rice is going to want to run the football. UTSA has to stop them. If they can, the Owls are going to have less margin for error with their offense, regardless of which quarterback is on the field.
Rice X-Factor | Be Physical
Through the first two drives for Rice football against SMU, things looked like they might be over quickly. The Owls were getting blasted off the ball, losing battles in the trenches and were fortunate to get a big special teams play to keep them in the game. Then the team adjusted and started throwing haymakers of their own.
From the second quarter on the physicality with which Rice played was unmistakable. It’s the only compelling explanation for how a defense that was missing four starters (Jojo Jean, Josh Pearcy, Chris Conti, and Gabe Taylor) was able to go toe-to-toe with one of the most productive offenses in the AAC. Likewise, a Rice offense relying on a backup quarterback had tremendous success against a potent SMU front.
Cornerback Sean Fresch explained it this way. “SMU’s offense hasn’t played a defense like ours and hasn’t really been in a dogfight like that,” he said. “Once they saw they were in that, we fed off of that. That’s what we do. No retreat, no surrender. That’s our saying.”
The injury report is lengthy this week. Rice will be the underdog once again. It’s going to take creative scheming on both sides of the ball and some fortunate bounces, but above all, Rice has to come ready to go 10 rounds and trade blows with UTSA. If they can punch back, the Roadrunners will have a game on their hands.
Injury Report (Subscribers only)
One Final Thing
For two weeks in a row, Rice football has come up agonizingly short from a statement win. Beating either Tulane or SMU would have been momentous for the Owls’ program. Knocking off UTSA, especially if Rice enters the game undermanned, might be equally impressive.
On a personal note, I had a conversation in the press box a few weeks ago with someone who isn’t directly on the Rice beat but pays attention to the program. We agreed that although this team was maddeningly inconsistent at times, they had the potential and the talent to deliver one more statement win.
Whether it was against Tulane, SMU, or UTSA, we agreed Rice would find a way to win one of them.
If that prediction is going to come true, Rice has to find a way to win this weekend.
No matter the outcome, Bloomgren’s reminder following the SMU game rings true. When addressing the comeback that fell short, Bloomgren said this: “That’s something we never could have done in years past. We never would have been able to rally around a freshman quarterback and give him a chance to make some plays and make this thing a really good game against a great team.”
He was 100 percent correct. This Rice team is better than they’ve ever been. Sooner or later, that talent has to shine through. Otherwise, the Owls will be the unluckiest of teams once again. It’s possible, but that math suggests otherwise. Hopefully the scales balance back this weekend. The Owls are certainly due.
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