Football names starting quarterback days before season opener
While many Rice students spend their summer breaks around the world researching, working or spending time with their families, the Rice Owls football team spent the better part of their summer on campus preparing for the upcoming season. With their Aug. 30 season opener against the Army West Point Black Knights fast approaching, the Owls are now in their final stretch of preseason training camp, now with their newly named starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Wiley Green.
During head coach Mike Bloomgren’s first season at the helm in 2018, Rice finished with a 2-11 record. The Owls’ only Football Bowl Subdivision win came at home against 4-8 Old Dominion University in Rice’s last game of the season. Their other victory came on a last-second field goal against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Prairie View A&M University.
Rice struggled mightily in the passing game last season, where the Owls averaged almost 100 fewer yards per game than their opponents. Three quarterbacks started for Rice at various points in the season, and five quarterbacks attempted a pass. Nine games into the season, Green emerged from the depth charts as a surprise quarterback option, starting against the University of North Texas. Green proceeded to throw for 313 yards against the University of Texas, El Paso the following week, the most for an Owl freshman since 1984. He also led Rice to their lone conference victory against Old Dominion in the season finale.
On Tuesday, Bloomgren put a temporary rest to weeks of quarterback uncertainty by officially naming Green as this week’s starting quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Evan Marshman and Harvard graduate transfer Tom Stewart had previously been competing for the starting job. But according to Bloomgren, Green’s improvement this summer earned him the position.
“He’s got elite arm talent in what I’ve seen from him,” Bloomgren said in a Tuesday press conference. “His post-snap [play] in the fall was so much better than it was in the spring. If Wiley was a freshman coming into this system this year, maybe Tom’s experience in game and moxie as a quarterback would have beat him out. But, that’s not where we are. Wiley’s pretty comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Though the Owls finished at the bottom of the Conference USA standings, the advent of a new season brings with it a wave of new players and talent to the team. Bloomgren, formerly the director of offense at Stanford University, added more than three dozen new players in the offseason, topping the 31 players that he added prior to his first campaign.
“We brought in 40 new [players],” Bloomgren said. “Thirty of them were high school seniors last year ... Of [the] 10 transfers, they are bringing with them 202 games of college football experience to our football team and that is huge.”
Last year, Bloomgren played 19 true freshmen. But according to Bloomgren, those freshmen managed to make notable progress throughout the season.
“What you saw was [the freshmen’s] ability to grow in the offseason and spring ball and know what it looks like and what it feels like in a game,” Bloomgren said. “Some of these guys; there’s a couple of them like Wiley Green and Clay Servin who are [currently] redshirt freshmen, which is laughable in a really good way. They don’t hold themselves or carry themselves like that. They have game experience and they are performing like old vets.”
The Owls compete against a string of Power Five teams in non-conference play this season, including Wake Forest University, the University of Texas and Baylor University in successive weeks — with all three games in Houston and to be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Rice will face the Demon Deacons and Bears at home at Rice Stadium and will challenge the Longhorns at NRG Stadium. The Owls come out of this stretch and go straight into C-USA play.
Undoubtedly, Rice faces some tough matchups in the early stages of the season. In particular, Texas won last year’s Sugar Bowl and finished No. 9 in the final Associated Press and coaches’ polls. But Bloomgren said he feels much more confident in his ability to lead the team this year.
“Everything is different,” Bloomgren said. “It’s the second time around for me. Just understanding more about my staff and this team and having the comfort in knowing how great the people around me are and having the trust in them. I probably tried to do too much as a first-year head coach, especially with the experienced guys that I have around me. I know who I can trust with what so that I can focus on things that are truly important. I know this team better. I know this group of guys, especially the leaders, better. I will sleep well Thursday night.”
The Owls’ first game is on Friday, Aug. 30 at 5 p.m., and will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Rice’s home opener will be on Friday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.
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