Date: Saturday, November 23, 2019
Kickoff Time: 2:30 p.m. CST
Location: Rice Stadium, Houston, TX
Streaming: NFL Network
Line: North Texas -6.5, O/U 55
Series Record: North Texas leads, 5-4
Last Meeting: North Texas won 41-17, in Denton
Overview - North Texas Mean Green
Over the span of just a few games, North Texas went from contender in C-USA West, to fighting for a bowl spot. Despite some key injuries, the team has been solid in its winning campaigns, but has been getting absolutely blown out against some of the sturdier conference competition.
It’s tough to point to any one aspect, though the largest change from last season to this is new offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder, who has struggled with getting his team in the end zone, and relying almost entirely on the heroics of senior quarterback Mason Fine, which is a solid plan, actually. Unfortunately, more complete teams like Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss have run over this team’s defense, and have effectively stopped the running game and even, on occasion, Fine.
All that said, this does leave question marks for the remainder of the Mean Green’s schedule, as Rice has one of the worst records in the conference, and the next weeks opponent, UAB, has struggled this season as well.
Headed into this weekend, Mason Fine and running back Tre Siggers are healthy, both with a significant advantage over their Rice Owl counterparts. The passing game will be interesting, as while Fine has been the more successful quarterback, UNT’s top receiver Jaelon Darden, has fewer yards on more receptions than Rice’s Brad Rozner. That athleticism should keep this one interesting.
In September we’d call this game a gimme, but Rice is coming off a win against Middle Tennessee, a team North Texas beat earlier in the season, but is currently 3-7 and not the marquee win we all thought they were this season.
Overview - Rice Owls
It finally happened! After providing countless scares and near-upset bids throughout the season, Rice pulled through and claimed its first victory of the season. The Owls registered a season-high 31 points — all in the first half — in a confidence boosting road win at Middle Tennessee. Rice now knows the feeling of winning and the Owls will have the opportunity to re-create that feeling in their final home-stand of 2019.
The key to the Owls’ first victory was the high-level execution on offense in the first half. Ranked 127th in yards per game and 125th in scoring offense, Rice failed to produce more than 27 points in a contest prior to its visit to Middle Tennessee. But the passing game overwhelmingly improved. In his second start of the season, quarterback Tom Stewart established a rhythm by completing 18/23 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns. After enduring a rotating carousel of quarterbacks, Rice will likely settle on its senior quarterback for the remainder of the season, after Stewart showed the best QB performance the team has witnessed all season.
Stewart’s breakout game also intertwined with a memorable offensive showcase by wide receiver Brad Rozner. Leading the Owls with 681 yards on the season, Rozner contributed 130 receiving yards and was the recipient of all three Stewart’s touchdown passes. He operates as the Owls’ downfield threat, while co-starting wide receiver Austin Trammell is a frequent target on screen passes.
Despite the passing success of last week, Rice’s pro-style offense isn’t afraid to ground the ball often. Running back Aston Walter managed to record his fourth 100-yard game against C-USA competition last Saturday, and the Owls often gain an advantage in the trenches in conference play with an experienced offensive line — featuring three grad transfer seniors.
Defensively, the Owls are prepared to battle North Texas in the running game. In Rice Stadium this season, they’ve limited two top 50 rushing offenses well below their season averages, holding Marshall to 122 rushing yards and Louisiana Tech to 84. In its last four home games, Rice has yet to yield more than 23 points overall and 21 points in regulation. Three 7+ win C-USA teams — Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, and Marshall — have combined for just 63 points against the Owls’ defense.
Outside linebacker Blaze Alldredge has been instrumental in leading the unit with 81 total tackles and 17 tackles for loss (4th in FBS) this season. Antonio Montero and Treshawn Chamberlain also make up one of the better tackling linebacker units in the country, and inside linebacker Anthony Ekpe could rejoin the unit after missing the last four games due to injury.
Rice’s secondary will be greatly tested by two-time reigning C-USA Player of the Year Mason Fine. Healing from a concussion against Louisiana Tech two weeks ago, Fine looks to replicate his 333-yard outing he posted on the Owls’ secondary last season. Rice’s passing defense has struggled at times in C-USA play and only 15 teams in the FBS force fewer interceptions than the Owls. Limiting Fine from catching fire through the air and forcing turnovers should be Rice’s primary focus as the program attempts to claim a 2-game win streak for the first time since November 2016.
Prediction - North Texas
Rice is by no means a pushover, as not only their last game proved, but so did their OT loss to LA Tech. North Texas has a lot to work on, as well, and this is a must-win game or their season is over a week early.
Still, despite improvements from their opponent, we can at least say the Mean Green have been solid against teams with losing records. Their win over UTEP was comfortable and their win over UTSA was towering, so despite the line, we’re prepared to split the difference, provided they don’t sleep on the Owls, which they absolutely should not do. North Texas 35, Rice 27.
Prediction - Rice
Rice isn’t going to beat North Texas in a shootout. The Owls need to keep this game low-scoring like most of their battles at home this season. Rice hasn’t fared well against elite-level talent at the quarterback position this season. Both Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger enjoyed near-perfect performances against the Owls’ secondary, but the unit has improved as the season progresses.
What the Owls need in the early going is to force three-and-outs and turnovers in favorable field position to give the offense a short field to work with. Rice’s offense demonstrated an unforeseen level of play against Middle Tennessee, and working with a short field is the best way to make that sustainable. Preventing Mason Fine from lighting up the defense is a tough task for any C-USA team. Combining that defense with the same offense from last week is the Owls’ key to victory, but a North Texas team facing bowl eligibility is a dangerous opponent. North Texas 31, Rice 20