Rice Football has put the finishing touches on their prep for North Texas. Injuries, game plan updates and more from a busy week of practice at South Main.
Bloomgren has already compartmentalized the Middle Tennessee win and turned his attention to North Texas. He received more than 200 text messages in the hours following the big win, culling the tally of unread messages to 102 by midweek. Rex Ryan, who visited with the team during the bye week, was one of those congratulators, which included several people that have been encouraging Bloomgren every step of the way.
Needless to say, it was a fun week for Rice football. Coming off their first win of the 2019 season, the team was energized and working hard to turn the single victory into a winning streak. As they prepared for North Texas, head coach Mike Bloomgren and the staff remained focused.
“The validation for me is not going to come from winning one football game. So many of the things we’re doing are already validating it,” Bloomgren said. “To win the one this week, which is the only thing that we have that we can control, is everything… that’s where all of our focus is.”
It wouldn’t be another week of practice without some notes to pass along on the quarterback position. This week, the picture looks as clear as it has in quite some time.
Tom Stewart will start. He played extremely well against Middle Tennessee, proving he has what it takes to lead this offense, assuming his back cooperates. The backup spot is a bit less clear, but as of it now it appears JoVoni Johnson will not be close enough to 100 percent to go. Depending on how he feels on Saturday and the situation in the game, it’s most likely Evan Marshman will be the acting No. 2 against North Texas. With one game left to maintain his redshirt status, the staff is unlikely to roll out a limited Johnson.
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We could see Marshman in some form or fashion even if Stewart is good to go for the duration of Saturday’s contest. He still has a few special packages in place. I do feel confident in saying there will be some sort of change-of-pace pairing. We saw Juma Otoviano run some wildcat quarterback in recent weeks. There are a few players who could fill that role on Saturday, Marshman included.
As for the skill position players, it was nice to see Zane Knipe get involved with a 12-yard carry against Middle Tennessee. Knipe said this week “It feels good to finally contribute, to finally be able to be out there with my brothers.” We’ll see his role grow as he returns to form and is worked into the system.
The most notable change to the depth chart this week is at corner where true freshman Tre’shon Devones has won the starting job over Andrew Bird. Devones got the start last week in Bird’s return to the field after injury. Bird did have an interception prior to halftime, but Devones did more than enough to claim the starting spot, including a forced fumble on the first play of the game.
“He’s just done a phenomenal job,” Bloomgren said of Devones. “He’s an uber-talented kid and he’s taken advantage of every opportunity.” With Devones, Thornton and Bird, Rice has three corners they trust to a great degree. Jason White and Josh Landrum have looked good in spots as well. The position as a whole has taken a significant step forward from last year to this year.
As will be the case with JoVoni Johnson, running back Juma Otoviano seems like a long shot to play Saturday. Otoviano has one game left to retain his redshirt status and is dealing with a lower body injury, too. He’ll more than likely be held out one more game to get him as healthy as possible before ending his season at UTEP.
Game Preview: Rice Football vs North Texas
On the other side of the ball, edge rusher Anthony Ekpe has progressed a fair amount this week. After doing individual drills last week, he’s been gradually eased back into the defense. He’ll be a true game-time decision on Saturday after being doubtful for the last several weeks. His fellow lineman Trey Schuman is less fortunate. He will not play against North Texas.
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