What to Watch For: Previewing the Rice Owls

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Owls won’t feature a look like what the Longhorns have seen throughout the first two weeks, especially on offense.

After losing by a touchdown to a top-10 LSU team, the Texas Longhorns now set their sights toward a team on the other end of that spectrum as they prepare to travel down to NRG Stadium in Houston this weekend to take on the Rice Owls.

Winless to start the season, the 0-2 Owls dropped a close season opener to Army 14-7 in a game in which Rice forfeited a 96-yard Army drive late in the fourth quarter to break a 7-7 tie that spanned nearly three quarters.

The Owls followed that close loss with a bit of a thumping from the Wake Forest Demon Deacons’s spread offense that leaned on RPO concepts at times and utilized size at wide receiver on the outside and athleticism at the slot and tight end positions inside to put up 41 points on the Owls. Rice lost that game 41-21.

Look for the Longhorns to use some similar tactics and strengths against Rice, as well.

What could we see from the Owls’ offense?

For starters, Rice could look to backup quarterback Tom Stewart this Saturday after starter Wiley Green was carted off the field and taken to a hospital due to a big hit early in last week’s game.

The 6’3, 226-pound Stewart played high school football at Parish Episcopal in Dallas, the same private school where highly-ranked 2021 QB Preston Stone currently plays, and arrived to Rice this offseason as a grad transfer from Harvard. A start against the Longhorns would be Stewart’s first FBS start and second FBS game to play in overall.

Stewart isn’t quite the athlete that Wiley Green is, and accuracy has been his issue, but he has decent arm strength and led the Ivy League with a 15.23 yards-per-completion average in 2018.

Though he’s not known as a runner, Stewart did pull off a zone read scamper and score against Wake Forest last weekend.

Rice isn’t the type of HUNH-spread offense that the Longhorns face more often than not. Instead, the Owls’ offense is more closely related to the Stanford Cardinal’s style of play that focuses on ball-control and clock management with a power run game and some spread sets.

The architects behind the current Owls’ offense are second-year head coach Mike Bloomgren and second-year offensive coordinator Jerry Mack.

Bloomgren’s previous stops include time at Stanford from 2011 to 2017, where he was in an offensive coordinator role from 2013 to 2017, as well as time with the New York Jets from 2007-10, where he reached assistant offensive coordinator.

Owls’ offensive coordinator Jerry Mack was previously the head coach at North Carolina Central from 2014 to 2017 and also had a stint with the New York Jets as an intern in 2009 and 2010.

Though Rice’s offense prefers ball-control over tempo, the Owls do deploy a handful of different looks using everything from shotgun spread and RPO looks with three and four wide receivers to traditional I-formations utilizing 21-personnel.

11 personnel, 3×1 spread sets

21 personnel, I-formation

The Owls also aren’t afraid to line up in some interesting jumbo packages either.

Notable players on offense include 5’8, 200-pound running back Aston Walter, who rushed for 254 yards on a 4.0 average in 2018, and 5’10 185-pound junior receiver and return specialist Austin Trammell, who led the Owls with with 62 receptions and 632 receiving yards last season.

WR Austin Trammell with an elusive catch and score vs Wake Forest

Regardless of the different looks and formations, the Rice offense simply lacks the beef and talent to be much of a threat against the Longhorns in this one.

Expect the Longhorns’ defense to clamp down after having its hands full with a talented and fast LSU offense last weekend. Adjustments on defense need to be made for Texas, and this is set up to be a great week to implement those.

How does Rice set up its defense?

For the most part, the Owls’ defense relies on its undersized linebackers to make plays out of a base 3-4 defense that includes a Rush linebacker in junior Anthony Ekpe. The 6’0, 235-pound junior currently leads the defense with 17 tackles and led the Owls in sacks last season with six.

In coverage, lining up in man was the choice more often than not, though Rice did mix in some zone at times and would also sub in a nickel if needed.

Base 3-4 defense

In all, the Longhorns shouldn’t have any problems bouncing back this week to notch another win before Big 12 conference play begins. After last week’s heavyweight match-up that went down to the wire against LSU, the goal for this week will be to establish a comfortable lead early so the starters that are still healthy can exit the game to prevent anymore injuries before Texas hosts Oklahoma State the following weekend.

Source: Burnt Orange Nation