clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

No. 12 Texas looking to bounce back against overmatched Rice

New, 12 comments

As long as the Longhorns don’t allow the LSU loss to carry over, they should have few issues with Rice at NRG Stadium.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Rice Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The LSU game and all the hype that came accompanied with it are now in the rearview, and the No. 12 Texas Longhorns are set to close out their non-conference slate on a much more quiet note against the Rice Owls.

This reality is a bit underwhelming from the outside looking in given the magnitude of what took place on the Forty Acres just days ago, regardless of Saturday’s game getting underway at NRG Stadium, and potentially even more so given that the Owls will enter the matchup sitting at 0-2 on the season after suffering defeats to Army and Wake Forest. ESPN’s FPI projects Rice’s record to drop to 0-3 by Saturday evening, giving the Owls only a 2.5 percent chance at the upset.

However, as Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger noted on Thursday, the Longhorns aren’t overlooking the Owls.

“Regardless of opponent, regardless of where we’re playing, who we’re playing, we should always play to the Texas standard,” Ehlinger said. “That’s how you continue to develop throughout a season.”

Ehlinger’s comments considered, Texas is the overwhelming favorite for a reason, but the Owls will provide a few unique challenges for the Horns.

That will prove most evident on offense, as Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando detailed on Wednesday.

“Rice is unique because there’s a lot of two tight ends, three tight ends, two backs in the backfield,” Orlando said of the Owls, which often utilize 21, 22, and 23 personnel. “It’s something we had to work on. It’s just different. We’re used to seeing spread stuff, we’re used to seeing fast-paced, and now we’re seeing three tight ends and a huddle. So it’s different. We’ll have to be different.”

A significant reason for the jumbo sets, which almost seems foreign in modern college football, is that Rice, as previously detailed on BON, places increased emphasis on running the ball with the senior running back tandem of Aston Walter and Nashon Ellerbe, which have each eclipsed the 100-yard mark to begin the season.

“The Rice offense has rushed on 57 percent of its offensive snaps, and even that figure is likely a bit conservative compared to what the Owls actually want to do.

For example, Rice rushed on 30 of its 44 snaps to open the season against Army, but was essentially forced to become much more balanced the following week, totaling 37 rush attempts to 35 pass attempts, largely because the Owls spent their entire 41-21 loss to Wake Forest playing from behind. Ideally, Rice’s offensive emphasis will more closely resemble the season-opening loss to Army, which was a 7-7 contest until the final few minutes.”

In attempt to counter all the size and bodies Rice will rely upon to establish its ground game, Orlando said Texas will play four linebackers, with Juwan Mitchell joining Ayodele Adeoeye (Mac), Jeffrey McCulloch (Rover), and Joseph Ossai (B-Backer) at the second level — a look rather different than the defensive-back-heavy sets the Horns were required to use against Louisiana Tech and LSU.

Fortunately for Texas and a secondary that not only struggled mightily last week, but is becoming increasingly injury-plagued with safeties B.J. Foster (hamstring) and DeMarvion Overshown (vertebrae) each sidelined, Rice will focus even further on establishing the run with starting quarterback Wiley Green likely sidelined after suffering a head injury against Wake Forest.

“They’re going to try to pound it, cut the game in half and extend drives,” said Orlando. “It’s not option football, but the mentality is very much like option football.”

If Green can’t play, the starter will be Harvard grad transfer Tom Stewart, who actually filled in nicely last week, completing 19-of-30 attempts for 185 yards and one score.

At his disposal will be a trio of targets to note, with Austin Trammell serving as the headliner. Rice’s starting X receiver, Trammell will move around a bit, including stints in the slot. Thus far, he’s hauled in 10 receptions for 107 yards and one score.

Fellow junior receiver, Bradley Rozner, leads Rice in receiving yards to date, with his seven catches resulting in 109 yards, thanks in large part to a 40-yard pickup. Trammell, too, has some speed and explosive ability with a 38-yard reception to his name, which came against Army while he was set up in the slot.

Elsewhere, backup receiver August Pitre III is an interesting talent, as the 6’2 freshman features some impressive length and can make the difficult catch.

Defensively, Rice isn’t exactly LSU, which even allowed 38 points to the Longhorns, including 31 in the second half. Last week, the Owls sacrificed even more to Wake Forest, allowing 41 points and upwards of 500 yards of total offense.

Nevertheless, Ehlinger still found praise for Rice defensive coordinator Brian Smith’s unit.

“They’re an incredibly intelligent defense,” Ehlinger said. “They run a little bit of everything. They mix it up. They have a bunch of different looks and they’ll give you every single different look.”

Ehlinger’s remarks were apparent as soon as the first snap against Wake Forest.

Rice’s base defense is a 3-4, but the Owls opened the game with five down linemen; one of them being edge rusher Anthony Ekpe, who’s arguably the team’s top overall talent and leads the defense with 15 tackles. If there’s any single player who’s going to pose problems for the Longhorns up front on Saturday, it’s Ekpe. However, he is undersized at 6’0, so he lacks ideal height and length.

Sharing the linebacking corps with Ekpe are a pair of sophomores in Antonio Montero and Treshawn Chamberlain, who are tied for second on the team with 15 tackles each, as well as junior Blaze Alldredge.

Up front, sophomore Trey Schuman and his backup, junior Elijah Garcia, are solid off the edge, totaling 27 tackles to date, while defensive tackles Myles Adams and De’Braylon Carroll feature a bit of size and are quick off the ball.

That said, the current Texas offensive line is proving to be one of the program’s most notable in recent memory and should have little issue with the Owls, which have allowed 200-plus rushing yards twice in as many games to open the season.

That should prove even truer for the Texas pass-catching corps against a Rice secondary that surrendered 313 yards and three touchdowns through the air, with 158 yards and two scores going to 6’5 receiver Scotty Washington, who feasted on Rice corner Andrew Bird. Opposite of Bird will be redshirt sophomore Tyrae Thornton, who was sidelined for much of the Wake Forest game due to a targeting ejection. Safety George Nyakwol is the headliner of the Rice secondary, and sharing the defensive backfield with him will be a combination of junior Naeem Smith and sophomore Prudy Calderon, who nearly accepted a walk-on opportunity with the Longhorns before siding with the scholarship offer from Rice.

On paper, Texas is quite clearly the superior team across the board, and that should prove evident on the field as long as the Longhorns don’t allow the LSU loss to carry over. That’s historically been the case, as Texas owns the all-time series edge 72-21-1, which includes 13 straight wins dating back to 1995.

That streak will stretch to 14 on Saturday night.

Prediction: Texas 41, Rice 10