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Owls to battle Roadrunners on Saturday

Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Daniel Schrager     11/3/20 9:37pm

Rice will host the University of Texas at San Antonio on Saturday in what will be the Owls’ third game of the season. Rice beat The University of Southern Mississippi on Saturday to improve to 1-1 on the season. 

Head coach Mike Bloomgren said that he was happy with the team’s performance in their first win of the year.

“It felt good to get a win,” Bloomgren said. “[It was] an incredible effort from start to finish. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of this team.”

The Owls will look to build off their previous game against Southern Miss. On Saturday, the Owls beat the Golden Eagles, 30-6. The Owls built a large lead thanks to a 20-point second quarter, and were able to stay comfortably ahead as the game went on. On offense, they were led by a four-touchdown effort from quarterback Mike Collins, three of which went to senior receiver Austin Trammell. Meanwhile, the defense forced three turnovers, and was able to limit the Golden Eagles offense to just six points. 

According to Bloomgren, while the team played well, they still have to improve as the season goes on.

“Although that was the week one to week two jump we wanted to make, we’re far from a finished product,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work that we still [need] to do on this football team to be as good as we’re capable of being. And I really believe these guys are committed to doing that work.”

UTSA, meanwhile, enters the game at 4-4, having started their season six weeks before Rice. In their first season under head coach Jeff Traylor, the Roadrunners are looking to improve off of a 4-8 record last season. While they began their season with three straight wins, they have lost four of their last five games. They are coming off of a 24-3 loss against Florida Atlantic University. Traylor said that while their last few games have been challenging, they are in a good position going into the final stretch of their season.

“These last four games have really challenged our players,” Traylor said. “[But] we have a real chance to make a statement [in our final] four games.”

Through two games, the Owls’ offense has shown promise. They rank third in the conference in both points per game (32.0) and yards per game (418.5). So far, the Owls have shown balance between their running and passing games, ranking fourth in the conference in both passing and rushing yards per game. Rice ranks ninth in all of college football with 47.5 rushing attempts per game, but this has been offset by a passing game led by Collins’ eight touchdowns, five of which have gone to Trammell. According to Bloomgren, the improvement of the passing game, sparked by the arrival of Collins, has been the biggest difference in Rice’s offense from last season.

“Someone told me yesterday that [the past two weeks were] the first time since 2014 that Rice has scored 30 or more points in back-to-back games,” Bloomgren said. “Mike [Collins] is the biggest change. It’s the best play we’ve had out of a quarterback in our time here.”

Rice will face a UTSA defense that has shown similar balance. They rank seventh and eighth in the conference in rushing and passing yards allowed, respectively. They’ve allowed 27.4 points per game this season, which ranks a slightly better sixth out of 13 teams in the conference. They are led by safety Rashad Wisdom, who has 63 tackles to go along with two interceptions on the season.

On offense, the Roadrunners feature a run-heavy approach. They are led by running back Sincere McCormick, who leads the entire NCAA in rushing yards with 921. He also has the most rushing attempts in college football this season. Their passing game, meanwhile, has seen some turnover at the quarterback position. While they began the season with Frank Harris at quarterback, Harris went down with an injury in late September. Backup Lowell Narcisse took over for Harris, and impressed enough to win the starting job, before suffering a season-ending injury in mid-October. Now, Harris is back under center. He has thrown for 895 yards this season, in addition to 258 yards on the ground, and has scored nine total touchdowns.

Rice’s defense will be tasked with slowing down McCormick and the UTSA offense. After allowing 40 points to Middle Tennessee State University in their first game, the defense bounced back to allow only six points to Southern Miss. Bloomgren attributed this improvement to a number of young players stepping up. In particular, he said that redshirt freshman safety Chike Anigbogu, who forced a fumble late in the second quarter, played a pivotal role for Rice.

“Chike ended up being our defensive player of the game,” Bloomgren said. “[He went from finding out that] he was starting on Thursday [before the game], to defensive player of the game.”

Rice’s run defense has been stout, holding opponents to 3.3 yards per carry, good for third in the conference. This figures to play a large role against the run-heavy UTSA offense. Their pass defense, however, ranks tenth in the conference with 251 yards per game allowed. According to defensive coordinator Brian Smith, preventing big plays will be key to the defense’s success.

“Any time you’re giving up big plays the way we did in the first game, that’s never a good thing,” Smith said. “We’ve talked a lot about eliminating the big plays, keeping the [offense] in front of us. I think the guys got the message, and they did a lot better [against Southern Miss].”

Last year, the two teams met in San Antonio. After a back-and-forth game, the Roadrunners pulled ahead on a late touchdown to win 31-27. The Owls are 3-5 all-time against UTSA, and have not beaten the Roadrunners since 2014.

Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

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