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Players to Watch: Rice Owls

A few notable players for a disappointing C-USA team.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Rice John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

The last two weeks have been a struggle, to say the least. They first had to deal with one of the best, and underrated, running backs in college football in AJ Dillon. He had his season high in rushing yards with 85 against the team’s defense.

After that, the team went up against another powerhouse on offense. With a complementary attack on the air and ground, 8th ranked Notre Dame was simply too powerful for Wake’s defense. The team once again struggled to find much success defensively as the Irish totaled 556 offensive yards while scoring a eight touchdowns.

In the Notre Dame game, I pointed out running back Tony Jones Jr and linebacker Te’von Coney.

Here’s how those two panned out last Saturday.

Jones Jr: 7 rush, 39 yards, 1 TD. 2 rec, 32 yards.

Coney: 3 solo tckl, 5 tot.

It’s clear that these two didn’t live up to my expectations. Other players on the team like running back Jafar Armstrong and safety Alohi Gilman came out of nowhere and ended up being real contributors in the blowout win.

With those tough matchups out of the way, it’s time to refocus. Luckily, Wake doesn’t have another big-time opponent on Saturday. Instead, their matchup is against Rice University.

Rice, to put it simply, has been substandard this season. After a close victory against Prairie A&M in week one, the team has gotten obliterated ever since. They’ve allowed their opponents to score 40 points per contest over the last three games. Their offense hasn’t picked up the load either as they have averaged 26 points per outing.

Facing a team that has been on a downward spiral is a great opportunity for Wake to bring back its confidence after a two-game slump.

However, we can’t call this game a sure win. Even though they are 25.5 point favorites, anything could happen on Saturday that shifts the direction towards Rice.

Here are two players who could make such impact:

Austin Walter

Walker is one of the few spotlights in the Rice offense. He has the versatility that coaches constantly look for. But, his physical frame may be the reason why he’s gotten the lack of attention that he deserves.

Walter is a do-it-all type of running back. As the second option in the backfield behind Emmanuel Esukpa, he has been able to understand his role to the fullest. He has learned the traits and has been able to be an essential complement to the power back in Esukpa. His unique speed also makes him a trouble for defenses no matter where he is displayed on the field.

In the backfield, he has become a gracious outside runner. Between pitches and sweeps, the team has always been able to allow Walter to shine in his role as the team’s “speed back”.

The versatility on offense has put Walter in position to be matched up against some of the best in program history. In fact, he only needs less than one hundred yards receiving and rushing to become only the second player in program history to 1,500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.

This speed has also translated into the return game. Although he has never scored a touchdown off of a kickoff return, he has still been a reliable factor. He has a career 20.4 yards per run back. This year, he has bested his previous three years as he currently has a boasts an impressive stat of 26.3 yards per return.

Think of Austin Walter as the team’s Darren Sproles. Sure, he won’t pound you inside and tire out your defense, but he still will create a huge problem for them. Between running outside, to catching short routes to returning kickoffs, the versatility from Walter is going to be the main priority for Wake’s coach Dave Clawson and his staff.

Houston Robert

Robert, like Walter, has been one of the few players who has made a positive impact on their respective side of the ball for Rice.

Last year, he was a mainstay in the tackling game in the second level. His above-average speed on top of his football IQ made him a havoc for offensive playmakers.

At the safety position, he has shown the ability to run in space, sideline to sideline, and he been there to prevent a bigger gain by the ball carrier. His main focus has been to limit the amount of YAC (yards after the catch), and has so far been able to do that on a consistent basis.

Last year, through seven games, he was able to rack up an impressive 30 total tackles. That type of number is beginning to see more and more as the safety position has evolved into a higher-emphasis on tackling in college football.

This year has been no different for Robert. Through three games played, in which his teams gave up an insensible amount of points, he still has been able to contribute in a positive way. He already has ten total tackles, which is surprisingly the sixth best on the team despite playing in one fewer game than most others.

Robert also looks to be expanding his game in the passing game, as for the first time in his career, he has come up with pass deflections against receivers.

Sure, he isn’t a ball-hawking safety nor is he a tackling machine that could get NFL scouts’ attention, but Robert still possesses the essential skills that could be a problem for the Wake offense.