Rice Football is set to open its 2020 season on Saturday against Middle Tennessee. How to watch, key stats, x-factor picks and more.
After delaying their season of four separate occasions, Rice football intends to play football this coming Saturday. The Owls are the last Conference USA school that intends to play this fall to get underway. Once they kick off, Old Dominion will be the lone C-USA team to forgo football this fall.
The Owls’ first opponent, Middle Tennessee, began their season on Sep. 5, almost two months (49 days to be precise) before Rice begins its campaign. Even given the extra time, Middle Tennessee is only one game up in the win column in seven tries. They beat FIU in Week 6, falling to 1-5 this past weekend with a road loss at North Texas. On the plus side, they’re one of two Conference USA schools that hasn’t had a game postponed by COVID-19 protocols.
We’ll preview Rice football vs Middle Tennessee on this week’s episode of The Roost Podcast which will be released on Thursday. 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.) If you haven’t yet, consider checking out our extended offseason interviews with notable Owls like Anthony Rendon, Taylor McHargue, Christian Covington, Erica Ogwumike and more!
Sizing up the contenders
Rice football will experience one of the more peculiar oddities of the 2020 season first hand. Their opponent has played six games before Rice has played any. Rice gets the added advantage of six games worth of film — Middle Tennessee hasn’t seen Rice quarterback Mike Collins take a single snap in the Owls’ offense.
On the other hand, Rice will have plenty of early-season rust to knock off. Injuries have left question marks on the depth chart that might not be resolved before Saturday. Quarterback Asher O’Hara and the Blue Raiders look dreadful in their season opener against Army and have gotten better in every game since. Which side has the edge? Time will tell.
All Time | Rice leads 1-0
Last Five | Rice leads 1-0
Last Meeting | Road 2019, Rice won 31-28
Rice Stat Notables (Returning 2019 Leaders)
Passing | Green – 75/142 (52.8 percent), 787 yards passing, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing | Johnson – 27 carries, 159 yards (5.9 yards per carry), 2 TD
Receiving | Trammell – 60 receptions, 726 yards (12.1 yards per reception), 4 TD
Tackles | Alldredge – 102, Montero – 83, Chamberlain – 65
Pass Breakups/Interceptions | Nyakwol – 6 PBU, Smith/Chamberlain – 2 INT
Middle Tennessee Stat Notables (2020)
Passing | O’Hara – 120/168 (63.8), 1176 yards passing, 9 TD, 8 INT
Rushing | O’Hara – 117 carries, 407 yards (3.5 yards per carry), 4 TD | Mobley – 50 carries, 277 yards (5.5 yards per carry), 3 TD
Receiving | Pierce – 40 receptions, 389 yards (9.7 yards per reception), 2 TD | Ali – 19 receptions, 243 yards (12.8 yards per reception), 1 TD
Tackles | Grate Jr – 47 | Thomas – 43 | Blankenship – 43
Interceptions/Pass Breakups | Grate Jr, Riley – 2 INT / Riley – 3 PBU, Shepherd – 3 PBU
Middle Tennessee X-Factor | Can anyone else please step up?
The 2019 Middle Tennessee offense was built on the back of Asher O’Hara. He had 29 total touchdowns, including nine on the ground. The rest of the offense tallied seven rushing touchdowns and none of the MTSU running backs surpassed 300 total yards. All were dwarfed by O’Hara’s 1058 rushing total.
Head Coach Rick Stockstill brought in some transfers in the backfield and vowed to give his quarterback some help. So far, not much has changed. No rusher other than O’Hara is averaging more than 30 yards per game on the ground. That’s not a high bar. Jarrin Pierce has been the most sure-handed pass catcher but has just two scores so far.
O’Hara tried to will his team past the Owls last year and it didn’t work. He’s going to need some help. If another skill player or two can come to his aid, the Blue Raiders will be much more dangerous on offense and have a better chance to win this game.
Rice X-Factor | Be Like Mike
Rice football has been after consistent quarterback play for some time. The Owls think they’ve found their answer in the form of TCU grad transfer Mike Collins. The veteran signal-caller impressed in fall camp, winning the job midway through. Now he’ll get his first chance to don the Rice uniform and put his strong practice record to the test.
Collins has better arm talent than previous Rice quarterbacks, but he’ll be without last year’s leading receiver Bradley Rozner who had wrist surgery before opting out of the 2020 season. With so many moving parts around him, it’s hard to pin down who will emerge to come to his aid, but having an answer at quarterback is the first step to solving the weapons problem.
If Collins can be what Rice expects him to be, this offense can work. If the offense works, and the defense continues on the trajectory it was on last fall, Rice could be looking at the most complete team of Bloomgren’s tenure.
Pick ‘Em Contest
If you haven’t yet, make sure you submit your entry for The Roost’s weekly pick’em challenge. Choose an answer to each of the six questions below and submit them on the forum thread or the Patreon page to enter.
- How many points does Middle Tennessee score?
Over 20.5 / Under 20.5
- Who leads Rice in rushing?
Juma Otoviano / Khalan Griffin / Other
- How many sacks will the Rice defense register?
Over 2.5 / Under 2.5
- Which team wins the turnover battle?
Rice / Middle Tennessee / Tie
- Who scores first in the second half?
Rice / Middle Tennessee
- Who wins?
Rice / Middle Tennessee
Injury Report (Subscribers only)
The Roost’s 2020 Rice Football Season Preview has four pages dedicated to every opponent the Owls face. There are depth charts, important new arrivals and depth chart breakdowns for every team in Conference USA. Better yet, it’s not just speculation, each profile was created with insight from local experts who cover those teams day in and day out. Pick up your copy today and get four pages and more than 1,000 words on every foe.
One Final Thing
2020 was meant to be the year Rice football went bowling. Revised requirements have made the Owls bowl-eligible before they play their first snap of the season. With that threshold somewhat removed, the only tangible measure beyond wins and losses is a conference championship.
It would be a stretch to demand perfect with a schedule in flux and so many uncertainties, but how close Rice comes to obtaining that ultimate goal will be how this season is measured. The wacky offseason has quelled whatever momentum was left over from last fall, but the mindset within the Brain Patterson Center remains undeterred. This team believes they’re ready to take that next step.
No matter where Rice lands on that spectrum, reaching the field safely is an accomplishment given the circumstances. With that achieved, it’s time to start with Saturday against Middle Tennesse. Go 1-0 this week, and as cliche as it sounds, the rest of the schedule will take care of itself.