The second game of the 2019 football season will see the Deacs head to Houston, Texas to take on the Rice Owls in a rematch of last year’s 56-24 win. I would like to point out as a reminder that this game was initially scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 7th, but it has been moved back a day to Friday, September 6th and will kickoff at 8pm. Once again, I’ll give a brief rundown of some stats from last season and some projections for the upcoming season and then attempt to breakdown the matchup a little more in depth.
Game Date: September 6th
Head Coach: Mike Bloomgren (1 year, 2-11)
2018-19 record: 2-11 (1-7)
Highest Ranking: None
Bowl Game: None
Wins: Prairie View, Old Dominion
Losses: Houston, Hawaii, Southern Miss, Wake Forest, UTSA, UAB, FIU, North Texas, UTEP, Louisiana Tech, LSU
Yards per Game: 318.4 (124th in NCAA)
Yards Allowed per Game: 446.1 (103rd in NCAA)
Points per Game: 18.9 (123rd in NCAA)
Points Allowed per Game: 36.0 (112th in NCAA)
S&P+ Rankings (2018-19 season):
- Overall: 129
- Offense: 124
- Defense: 125
- Special Teams: 29
- SOS: 98
Projected S&P+ Rankings (2019-2020 season):
- Overall: 126
- Offense: 123
- Defense: 113
- Austin Walter - RB (133 carries, 546 yards, 1089 total yards, 6 total TD)
- Emmanuel Esukpa - RB (122 carries, 461 yards, 3 TD)
- Zach Abercrumbia - DT (55 tackles, 4.5 TLF, 2 FR)
- Justin Bickham - CB (30 tackles, 9 PD)
- Austin Trammell - WR (62 receptions, 632 yards, 3 TD)
- Aaron Cephus - WR (40 receptions, 565 yards, 5 TD)
- Anthony Ekpe - DE (35 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 6 sacks)
- George Nyakwol - DB (67 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 2 int)
- Blaze Alldredge - LB (65 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 int)
- Prudy Calderon - DB (38 tackles, 4 int, 7 PD)
The first game on the road this year is basically a complete 180 from the home opener (if you just go by record, they are literally exact opposites, as Utah State was 11-2 last season and Rice was 2-11). According to the the S&P+ projected win probability, just 5 percentage points separate the chances the Deacs have of beating Elon (93%) as they do Rice (88%). On top of that, the Owls will likely be favored in just 1 game this season against UTEP, who was dead last in the S&P+ rankings last year and the only team below Rice. Needless to say, the Deacs should have a very good chance of winning in Houston on September 6th.
On the offensive side, the Owls lost their 2 leading rushers from last season, including Austin Walter, who crushed the Deacs with 18 carries for 165 yards (9.2 avg) and 2 TDs in our last meeting. They also lost 2 of their starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad. That will likely have a huge impact on the Rice offense early in the season due to their reliance on the run game. Rice finished last season 128th in adjusted pace and 39th in adjusted run rate by S&P+ (Here’s a brief explanation on adjusted pace if you are interested), meaning that when they have the ball they are looking to run it as much as possible and eat the clock. For those of you who are not fans of advanced statistics, the Owls threw the ball 28 times per game compared to 38 rushes per game last season, which adds up to only 66 plays per game. For the sake of comparison, Rice ran fewer plays than the Navy triple option offense last season in the same number of games (before you blame that on Rice not being very good, Navy went 3-10 and only averaged 30 more yards per game than Rice did).
While the Owls do return a couple of solid receivers in Austin Trammell and Aaron Cephus, their quarterback situation is completely up in the air. The Owls started 3 QBs over the course of last season, and, according to The Roost, they changed starting QBs 4 times in the final 6 weeks. With Shawn Stankavage graduating, it appears that red-shirt sophomore Wiley Green (3 starts, 45-88, 621 yards, 3 TD, 4 int) and Harvard grad transfer Tom Stewart (106-200, 1614 yards, 14 TD, 2 int) are currently the two players battling it out to see who will start in week 1 for the Owls. Either way, the Rice starting QB will have limited game reps with the offense come week 2.
On the defensive side, things weren’t much better last season for the Owls. Rice gave up 446 yards and 36 points per game and finished ranked 125th in defense by S&P+ (that’s actually not much different from the Wake Forest defense, which gave up 458 yards and 33 points per game, however we finshed ranked 64th in defense by S&P+ due to the strength of our opponents). The Owls lost 4 of their best players on the defensive line, by far the strongest unit on the defense, to graduation. They also lost 2 of their better pass defenders in Justin Bickham and Houston Robert to the transfer portal. That means that the secondary that gave up 4 touchdowns to Greg Dortch a season ago will have to rely on a few younger, more inexperienced players. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kendall Hinton put on a Dortch like performance in this one.
To be completely frank, Rice is in full rebuild mode. Mike Bloomgren inherited a team that won 9 games in 3 years and is just starting his 2nd season at the helm for the Owls. These things don’t just turn themselves around in a year. I probably don’t need to remind anyone here that in Clawson’s 2nd season, the Deacs went 3-9 and only managed to score 17 points per game. That being said, I think there is a very good chance that, like Wake not too long ago, Rice will spend another season taking their lumps while they try to set the foundation to move the program in a positive direction. The Deacs really should have absolutely no trouble coming out of this one with a win.
If you want to read more, check out Bill Connelly’s full breakdown of Rice for the upcoming season.