It’s a tough opener for Rice as the Owls travel to West Point to play the Black Knights on Friday night.
Year Two of Intellectual Brutality
After a 2-11 first year, Mike Bloomgren continues his efforts bring a cultural change to the Rice program. Rice’s two wins, an opening week victory over FCS opponent Prairie View and a season-ending win over Old Dominion, bookended a frustrating year, but one with expected growing pains. Now it’s time to turn those frustrations and growing pains into progress.
Bloomgren is turning the roster over through recruiting efforts, but it’s a process. Youth will be served again in 2019, as another crop of freshman will get a shot to contribute immediately.
The Black Knights
Jeff Monken went and did the damn thing. After two losing seasons, his Army program has won eight, ten, and eleven games in the past three. He’s flipped the Navy series to his favor, and this team is a borderline top 25 squad. And they do it all with the option, that beautiful, deadly efficient offense that, when run correctly, guarantees the defense chooses wrong.
When Rice has the Football
The first question is who yells hut on the first snap. Based on the winds and tea leaves I’d bet its Wiley Green. Green, a redshirt started three games last season, with typical true freshman mixed results. If Green doesn’t start the chances are that honor goes to Harvard grad transfer Tom Stewart. Both will play if Bloomgren’s track record holds.
Rice’s young offensive line could blossom into the strength of the unit, a development that will give Bloomgren the warm and fuzzies all over. The receiving corps took a hit with the suspension of Aaron Cephus from the program. Austin Trammell is a gamer, and he’ll be the first option for whoever throws the pill.
Army will run an odd front with a rebuilt defensive line and linebacking group. Only LB Cole Christiansen returns from 2018’s top ten unit. The significant change on defense is the loss of coordinator Jay Bateman who went to North Carolina this offseason. John Loose moves up to coordinate the unit that finished eighth in yards allowed per game last season.
Rice must run to survive, eat clock, and out-Army the Black Knights by keeping the triple option on the sideline. Expect Friday to be a game of keep away, if Rice can control the clock they have a shot to stay in the game, if they can’t stay on the field on third down, Army is like a boa constrictor.
When Army Has the Football
Get ready for a treat on Friday night as a dinosaur from eras gone by roams free - the fullback. Army uses one the way God intended, to deliver body blows like Stipe Miocic. On last seasons depth chart, Army listed five fullbacks, three seniors, all with “or” next to their name. I’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower, but I doubt it’s more glorious.
Army’s plan is simple. Run the fullback until you stop it. Then run the quarterback until you stop it. Then run the pitch man until you stop it. If you can stop all three, congratulations, you’re special. Oklahoma couldn’t stop any of it last season.
Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins became the first Army quarterback to throw for 1,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a single season. He makes the machine go. That machine ran for 312 yards per game in 2018, second-best in the FBS. If the Black Knights start rumbling, hang on.
Rice’s defense lost some key contributors to the grad transfer portal, but the strength of the unit is in some exciting young players. Treshawn Chamberlain and Antonio Montero headline at linebacker, while George Nyakwol, JUCO transfer Naeem Smith and sophomore Prudy Calderson hold down the back end.
Army will put the Owl line depth to the test, Friday night. They’ll also test Rice’s patience to play their assignments. The option is death by 1,000 cuts, but play with bad eye discipline or assume your read and you give up big chunks.
By the Numbers
Army ran the ball 824 times in 2018, 63 times per game, the most in the FBS.
For all it’s intellectual brutality, Rice ran the ball three less times per game in 2018 than in 2017, and averaged 1.8 yards less per carry.
Rice running back Juma Otoviano carried the ball just twice through the first nine games, but still managed to rush for 349 yards in the final five contests.
The Owls allowed 78 plays of 20 yards or more, worst in CUSA.