The end of non-conference play is nigh for the Texas Longhorns, who face their last non-Big 12 opponent in the Rice Owls on Saturday. Texas is licking its wounds somewhat coming into this week after losing a thriller at home to LSU. With a win, the Longhorns would have a winning record in non-conference play for the second year in a row, something they haven’t done since 2011-2012.
Texas is a heavy favorite to do just that as they travel down the road to Houston, Texas to play the Owls. Rice and Texas used to face off on an annual basis when they were both in the Southwest Conference, but they’ve managed to maintain the regional rivalry since that conference’s dissolution, meeting 12 tims in the history of the Big 12.
The Longhorns have dominated the series in that time, and are currently on a 13 game winning streak. The Owls have a new head coach in former Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who is 2-11 thus far at Rice and could certainly make an impression by even keeping this a relatively close game. Can Rice pose a challenge to the Longhorns, who might be looking ahead to the start of conference play?
- When: SAT, SEP 14 at 7:00 PM CT
- Where: NRG Stadium
- Forecast: Mostly Sunny, High of 97
- TV: CBSSN
- Stream: CBS Sports
- Betting Line: UT -32.5, O/U 56
Rice Owls (0-2)
Second year head coach Mike Bloomgren brought the “meat and potatoes” philosophy from Stanford in hopes of having success at Rice, a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2014. The Owls came into this season off two wins in 2018, but they’ve started off 2019 showing some signs that Bloomgren’s moving in the right direction.
A strength for the Owls, who like to line up in tight, multiple tight end formations, is their ability to run the ball. Through two games, running back Nashon Ellerbe is averaging 7.6 yards per carry, and this year they’re running the ball just over 33 times per contest. Expect Ellerbe and senior Aston Walter to get the bulk of the carries against Texas.
The passing game will be a bit of a question mark for the Owls, who will be without starting quarterback Wiley Green on Saturday. Instead, they’ll rely on senior Tom Stewart, a grad transfer who had nine starts at Harvard. Rice will hope Stewart can jump start their offense a bit, as the Owls are managing a mere 158 yards per game passing in 2019.
Defensively, the Owls will likely lean on their back seven, where most of their experience on that side of the ball resides. Junior safety George Nyakwol may be the best defensive player on the roster for Rice, and he’s part of a unit that thus far is in the top half of FBS in passing defense.
Texas Longhorns (1-1)
Early season games against good Power Five opponents can reveal a lot about a team’s strengths and weaknesses, and the Longhorns’ last game against LSU certainly revealed a lot about them. Texas didn’t manage to pull out the win against the Tigers at home, but some stars did step up in that one.
Through two games, the Longhorns are looking like a team that can certainly throw the ball. Texas is averaging 355 yards passing per game, almost all on the arm of junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The veteran signal caller has talented wideouts to throw to, including the six-and-a-half foot tall Collin Johnson and the speedster Devin Duvernay, who’s currently the team’s leading receiver.
The Longhorns’ running game has been hardest hit by injuries, with only one scholarship player, headliner Keaontay Ingram, at that position able to take the field right now. Keep an eye on Roschon Johnson, who was converted from a backup quarterback, as he stepped up last week to the tune of 4.1 yards per carry.
Defensively the Longhorns have struggled a bit. Discussion about Texas as “DBU” has cooled down since the ‘Horns gave up over 400 yards passing against LSU. They are giving up an average of 405 yards thus far, so that will likely be a work in progress. With big defensive lineman and talented linebackers in their front seven, though, the Texas rush defense is holding teams to 87.5 yards per game.
3 Keys To The Game
Establish The Run – The Owls have thus far not be great against the run defensively, and Texas needs to be the more physical team in this contest. Finding ways to establish the running game early will help the Longhorns open up the rest of the field for Ehlinger and his wideouts .
Avoid Turnovers – Taking care of the ball as a road favorite is especially key. Right now, the Longhorns lead the conference in turnover margin, having turned the ball over once through non-conference play. If Texas can keep that trend up, they should be able to create some opportunities for themselves.
Don’t Give Up Big Plays – Rice is going to try to nickel-and-dime the ball down the field, but what the Longhorns want to avoid is letting the Owls capture some momentum by picking up big chunks of yards. The more plays that Rice has to execute, the better that probably is for Texas.
It would be tempting to think that the Longhorns might have a bit of a sluggish game after putting so much into their loss to LSU. Further supporting that idea is the fact that Texas hasn’t always performed well as road favorites.
And, Texas may very well not win by the 32.5 advantage that they’re getting right now from Vegas. Still, I look for the Longhorns to win this contest fairly comfortably, even if they don’t play the most mistake-free game.