After seemingly countless thousands of miles, two continents, a couple of beatdowns, and a hurricane Rice is back home. The Owls are 1-0 in CUSA, and that's all that matters at this point. They welcome Butch Davis and Florida International to Rice Stadium Saturday. A few keys to the matchup.
Get Jackson Tyner Comfortable
Rice lost starter Sam Glaesmann last week to injury, so Jackson Tyner once again steps into the fire. Tyner started Rice's last two games of 2016 and came in for relief against both Stanford and Houston. He's still young and relatively raw. I heard Kevin Summon talk about his young quarterback Kellen Mond last week and emphasized how important it is to have a direct dialogue with young signal callers to find out what, on the play sheet, they're comfortable with and what they aren't. Inefficiency at quarterback marked Rice's two losses. Billy Lynch and David Bailiff need to structure the Owl's attack around what Tyner does well and get him into the game early.
Granson, Cephus, and Smith
Rice's receiving group is either bad or underutilized. We aren't ready to declare the former, so we'll assume the latter. No Owl receiver has more than four catches in any game this season. None have 100 yards receiving on the season. The Owls are playing offense with a hand or two tied behind their back. We think Kylen Granson and Aaron Cephus are the caliber of big, talented athlete that Rice needs on the edge. Smith is a ready-built slot. Rob Wells is a big tight end target who can block out and make plays over the middle. So why aren't they better? Chalk up some of that to the Owl's quarterback play, but the scheme has to play a role.
Attack, attack, attack
FIU is 1-1 with a blowout loss to UCF and a seven-point win at against SWAC product Alcorn State, in a home game moved to Birmingham. FIU averages seventeen points a game. Their defense has exactly one sack and three hurries in two games. They have good pieces on offense, quarterback Alex McGough and receiver Julian Williams are talented, but the Panthers haven't yet gelled. Rice can't let this be FIU's coming out party. Brian Stewart's defense needs to set their playmakers, Brian Womac, Emmanuel Ellerbee, and Graysen Schantz loose. On offense, get after an FIU defense that allows a 71% completion rate and is 120th in the FBS in passing yards allowed. Rice has nothing to lose and going 2-0 in CUSA, however flukey that might seem, is critical.
Notes and Numbers
- Rice is 1-0 All-Time vs. FIU, winning their only matchup in 2014.
- Due to Hurricane Irma, the Panthers relocated their football team and seven other sports to Birmingham for the week.
- FIU quarterback Alex McGough is currently second in CUSA in passing yards.
- The Owls rank first in CUSA and 20th in the FBS in punt return yardage.
- Rice linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee has nine double digit tackle outings in his last 14 games.
- The Owls are one of the fewest penalized teams in the nation ranking thirteenth among FBS school.