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Rice aims to show their improvement as they welcome UTSA to Houston

If the Owls want to be able to point to progress this season then a win against a struggling UTSA team is a perfect opportunity.

NCAA Football: Rice at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas

Kick Off: 6 pm CT

TV: N/A

Stream: ESPN3

Live Stats: Side Arm Stats

Audio: 93.9 The Bull (San Antonio)

Betting Odds: Rice -2.5, O/U 52

Records: Rice (1-4), UTSA (2-3)

Series Record: The series is tied at 3-3.

Last Meeting: UTSA won the 2017 meeting 20-7.


UTSA Roadrunners outlook

It’s hard to win consecutive games yet still drop in the S&P+ rankings but somehow UTSA found a way to make it a reality. Even though quarterback Cordale Grundy has settled into his role as the starting quarterback, UTSA’s offense is still wholly incapable of creating big plays. UTSA ranks dead last in explosiveness on offense and second to last in Isolated Points per Play — an advanced statistic that determines how much extra yardage an offense gains on successful plays.

No matter what statistic you look at, the message is simple. This offense is not getting the job done in any aspect other than avoiding turnovers. It was enough to barely escape Texas State and UTEP after hot starts. Can UTSA be so lucky against an improving Rice team?

If the Roadrunners do find success on offense this week it will be with a retooled offensive line. Starting right tackle Jalyn Galmore’s season abruptly ended with an injury last week, causing guard Josh Dunlop to move outside to tackle while Jordan Wright returned from injury to fill in at left guard. Expect this lineup to stick this week.

Perhaps the most concerning outcome of last week’s game was the sudden disappearance of UTSA’s running backs. Jalen Rhodes rushed for just 17 yards on 10 carries against UTEP, while BJ Daniels had just three carries in the game. The Roadrunners absolutely have to get these guys rolling again to get the offense back on track.

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Kansas State
UTSA fullback Halen Steward hauls in a touchdown catch.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Roadrunners have improved on defense over the past two weeks, although that could be misleading due to the weaknesses of the offenses they’ve faced, as the defensive line has feasted against poor offensive lines recently.

UTSA’s linebackers have been playing very solid football, while the cornerbacks have finally stopped allowing long gains through the air. If the secondary can continue to prevent long bombs then the Roadrunners will keep this game close or win it.

Rice Owls outlook

After losing four straight games over the past month, the Rice Owls really need to beat UTSA to prevent an awfully long losing streak. After facing the Roadrunners, Rice will see UAB, FIU, and UNT, all of which will be heavily favored. A loss to UTSA sets up a likely eight game losing streak in the middle of the schedule, assuming the Owls can find a way to win at home against UTEP on November 3rd.

The wins aren’t flocking in yet but Head Coach Mike Bloomgren is making progress this year. Taking “Intellectual Brutality” to heart, Rice is embracing the toughness that Bloomgren is demanding from his program.

Graduate transfer Shawn Stankavage won a heavily-contested quarterback battle to start the season but he hasn’t quite maintained his early success this season as the pro-style quarterback passed for just 103 yards on 32 drop backs against Wake Forest last week. Given that UTSA has struggled to defend tall targets out wide, Stankavage would be wise to target 6’4” Aaron Cephus this week to bounce back from his rough outing against Wake Forest.

Even when Rice’s pass game isn’t clicking they’ve been able to find ample success on the ground. 232 pound running back Emmanuel Esukpa has bludgeoned defenses with his ferocious, downhill style, while senior back Austin Walter has been the Owls’ biggest play maker this year. Walter is averaging 6.5 yards per carry which, strangely enough, matches his twin brother Aston’s rushing average.

Rice’s defense is still looking for play makers to establish themselves. Safety Houston Robert leads the defense in tackles for loss (2.5) and is tied for the lead in sacks with just 1.5. Having a safety lead your defense in sacks is never a good sign.

With the Owls lacking many real standouts on defense, they’ve been able to work a lot of young players into the rotation. 20 different players have record three or more tackles for the Owls’ defense this year, with 10 of those players being underclassmen.

Prediction

This game can certainly go anyone’s way. A turnover here, a dropped pass there, and either team could scamper to victory. I’m picking UTSA to win this game because I feel that their defensive line will be the best combination of talent on the field at any given moment. Do I feel confident in UTSA’s offense scoring enough points to hold a true lead? No, not at all. But in a race to the bottom, someone has got to “win”. The Roadrunners make it three straight this season, and score their fourth straight victory over the Owls.

UTSA 24 Rice 21