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Owls look to (quadruple) bounce back against Southern Miss.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Daniel Schrager     10/27/20 9:50pm

Rice will travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi on Saturday to take on the University of Southern Mississippi in what will be the Owls’ second game of the season. The team is coming off of a double overtime loss to Middle Tennessee State University in their season opener. According to head coach Mike Bloomgren, while the Owls showed promise in the loss, the team has to improve before Saturday’s game.

“Last week’s game obviously didn’t go the way we wanted to; we didn’t get the result we wanted, and we’re in a results-oriented business,” Bloomgren said. “The hard part about that is that I thought our kids played incredibly hard. But the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, [and] there’s a lot of things we need to clean up between game one and game two.”

The Owls will face a Southern Miss team that is 1-4 so far this season. The Golden Eagles are coming off of a 56-35 loss to Liberty University last Saturday.

On offense, the Owls hope to build off of their 34-point performance against MTSU. The Southern Miss defense has allowed 43.2 points per game this season, a figure that ranks 12th out of the 13 C-USA teams playing football this fall.

Rice emphasized the running game against MTSU, running the ball 45 times. Sophomore Juma Otoviano led the way with 20 carries for 84 yards, and freshman Khalan Griffin was involved as well, with 46 yards on nine carries. Southern Miss has struggled to defend the run this season, allowing 215 yards per game on the ground. 

Meanwhile, in the passing game, quarterback Mike Collins threw four touchdowns in his Rice debut last week, but also committed two turnovers. Senior receiver Austin Trammell was quiet for most of the game, before catching two consecutive passes for 68 yards and a touchdown to take the lead with less than a minute remaining. 

Rice’s tight ends were heavily involved in the passing game as well, with redshirt senior Jordan Myers catching six passes for 65 yards, and sophomore Jack Bradley catching two for 49 and a touchdown. They will face a Southern Miss pass defense that has allowed the fourth-most yards in the conference this season. According to Collins, however, the Southern Miss defense is talented, and Rice will have to be prepared.

“They’re athletic guys, and they do a lot of different things [schematically],” Collins said. “We [have to be prepared for] all the different fronts that they bring, and [figure out] how to attack their coverages.”

On defense, the Owls held MTSU to only 3.0 yards per attempt on 39 carries last weekend, led by a 13-tackle effort from senior linebacker Blaze Alldredge. However, in the passing game, they allowed 333 yards through the air to MTSU junior quarterback Asher O’Hara. Alldredge said the defense needs to do a better job of being aggressive and forcing turnovers.

“What hurt us most on the defensive end is that we played passively, played to not make mistakes,” Alldredge said. “Third downs and turnovers are something we didn’t do well [against MTSU]. They gave us one, but we didn’t take any away. We need to be aggressive and dominant.”

Through their first four games, Southern Miss’s offense relied heavily on its passing game, led by redshirt senior quarterback Jack Abraham who currently leads the conference with 278 passing yards per game. However, Abraham missed their last game for undisclosed reasons. His replacement, redshirt sophomore Tate Whatley, showcased his ability running the football, with four touchdowns on the ground. Southern Miss is yet to announce a starter for this week. 

According to Bloomgren, despite Whatley’s success on the ground, the Southern Miss offense won’t change much depending on who plays quarterback.

“Either of those guys are very capable of leading their offense, and I don’t think their game plan will change immensely no matter which one is in [the game],” Bloomgren said.

Alldredge said that the defense is taking steps to surprise either quarterback on Saturday, which happens to be Halloween.

“We’re putting in some new tricks, some new treats, in the holiday season, for these quarterbacks, whichever one steps back there,” Alldredge said. “We’re hoping to give them some nightmares.”

The Golden Eagles have had a turbulent season so far. In addition to the uncertainty that surrounded the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Golden Eagles have had to adapt to a number of sudden changes this year. One week into the season, their head coach Jay Hopson abruptly resigned. He was replaced in an interim capacity by co-offensive coordinator Scotty Walden, who at 30 years old became the youngest head coach in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. The team later had a COVID-19 outbreak that led to a game being postponed. Walden himself missed their most recent game due after testing positive for COVID-19. Walden said that, while the experience was difficult, his staff handled the situation seamlessly.

“I’m a big routine guy, it threw a big wrench in that,” Walden said. “I hated not being around the team the whole week. The staff [was] amazing with the way they picked everything up.”

On Tuesday, reports surfaced that Walden would be leaving the team to accept the head coaching position at Austin Peay State University. He is not expected to coach against Rice. In his place, the Golden Eagles will turn to defensive coordinator Tim Billings as their third head coach of the season. According to Bloomgren, the Owls will be prepared no matter who is coaching.

“It’s a wild situation,” Bloomgren said. “They’ve been in a tough deal since the end of game one. But [Walden] wasn’t going to play any snaps anyway. So I don’t know how much of a factor it’s going to be. We’re not going to prepare any differently.”

Kickoff is at 2:00 p.m. this Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

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