After a bye week, the Rice Owls head east to Southern Miss to take on the Golden Eagles in a critical CUSA game for both squads.
Here are three big questions ahead of Saturday’s contest:
How Much Will Kwadra Griggs play?
After suspending Kwadra Griggs for the first two games of the season, Jay Hopson reinstated the quarterback this week. Hopson took the mystery out of the room by announcing that Griggs looked good in practice and would “no doubt” play against the Owls. Current starter Jack Abraham isn’t the problem for the USM offense; he’s performed very well. We doubt Hopson lets Griggs start just yet for fear of losing his young starter Abraham, but Griggs will see the field.
Playing two quarterbacks is a tricky proposition, and few teams can juggle both and maintain continuity. While Hopson might be excited to have Griggs back, he’ll want to take care on how he uses both quarterbacks.
Can Rice’s Secondary Improve?
In a three-game stretch that saw improvement in the Owl defense overall, the Rice secondary continues to be a shortcoming. Prairie View, Houston, and Hawaii all gave the Owls problems through the air. For the Owls, the hope is that a bye week can help the defensive backfield regroup. USM, through two weeks, found their offensive pace through the air and they’ve no doubt seen the film on Rice’s pass defense. They’re probably licking their chops. We’ll see if the Owls can answer the bell.
Can a pass rush emerge?
Brian Smith talks about aggressiveness and attacking the quarterback, but his first Owl defense struggled through three weeks to create the kind of pressure Smith would like. After a three-sack performance against PVAMU, Houston shut the Owls out, and Hawaii allowed just two sacks. That two sacks in 58 combined attempts.
Houston and Hawaii both thrive by getting the ball out quickly, negating the rush, and playing with enough tempo to wear the rush down. Southern Miss will attempt a similar strategy. Does Smith decide to call off the dogs and play more coverage or continue to send more the four rushers leaving his secondary to fend for themselves?
If a pass rush has a chance, which Owl defender or defenders are prime candidates to make it happen? Glad we asked. Rice’s two inside linebackers, Martin Nwakama, and Dylan Silcox are both quick enough to disrupt. We’d like to see more from senior defensive end Graysen Schantz, who has the size and length to cause problems.
Nothing helps a coverage unit like an effective pass rush.