Renewing an old Southwest Conference rivalry, the Rice Owls and Texas Longhorns are squaring off this weekend at NRG Stadium in Houston. In another bit of nostalgia, the Longhorns are entering the game as 32-point favorites.
Texas head coach Tom Herman likely has some motivating to do this week in practice. His squad nearly toppled the LSU Tigers last weekend amid an emotional scene in Austin. Traveling to Houston for a game at a sterile NFL stadium probably won’t get the Longhorns’ juices flowing.
Rice head honcho Mike Bloomgren shouldn’t have any trouble getting his players up for a meeting with the Lone Star State’s marquee program. Preparing them to win the game, on the other hand, is a different proposition.
Here are some key factors to watch when Texas and Rice take the field on Saturday night.
Texas vs. Rice
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)
Spread: Texas -32
When Texas Has the Ball
The Texas offense looked dramatically different in the first and second halves last week versus LSU. The Longhorns scored on just one of six drives in the first two quarters, which included getting stymied on the goal line by the Tigers on back-to-back possessions. UT opened the floodgates in the second half, however, generating 31 points after scoring on all five possessions as the LSU defense wore down.
Which version will Rice see on Saturday night? Either way, the Owls should prepare for plenty of horizontal passing with the occasional deep throws mixed in. UT junior QB Sam Ehlinger always represents a threat to run out of the backfield, but Herman probably won’t call his number too often coming off last week’s slugfest.
For Rice, keeping the Horns in shouting distance will probably come down to keeping UT from popping off too many chunk plays in the quick passing game on the perimeter.
When Rice Has the Ball
Bloomgren comes from the Stanford coaching tree, which means plenty of tight ends, fullbacks and quarterbacks actually lining up under center. Unfortunately for the Owls, they’re not exactly playing with Cardinal-type personnel. Excluding sacks, they pumped out 72 rushing yards from 33 run plays last week against Wake Forest, a sign of the potency of the Rice ground attack.
Given the preference of Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to play smaller on defense, the Owls may find some room to run on occasion. Do that often enough, and it could open up some opportunities to hit wideouts like Brad Rozner and Austin Trammell with play-action passing. For that to work, however, Rice’s offensive line will need to move around the Texas defensive line, which is easier said than done.
After an emotional loss last week, questions will come up about the Longhorns’ focus on Saturday night. Frankly, Rice’s only real hope to keep this game competitive relies on a flat performance from UT. The good news for the Owls: Texas has a tendency to let overmatched teams hang around longer than they should. That might come into play here.
Even so, there’s no reason to believe this will be anything other than a walkover for Texas as the Longhorns prepare for their Big 12 opener the following week against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Tom Herman may even sit some of the UT starters earlier than usual.
Prediction: Texas 38, Rice 10
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.