An old SWC rivalry gets fresh legs as Texas head to Houston to take on the Rice Owls. Here are a few things to watch for heading into Saturday night.
When Texas has the ball…
Last week Sam Ehlinger cemented his status as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football. The junior from Westlake torched the LSU defense and nearly led Texas to a season-defining victory. Ehlinger’s most exceptional traits are his ability to keep drives alive on third down and how he protects the football.
He can beat you with his arm or his legs. Tom Herman would rather Ehlinger make plays with his arm and stay out of harm’s way. When he does players like Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson are the primary targets. Last week Brennan Eagles had a career evening.
Texas should be able to do what it wants against Rice’s defense. The Owls are improved but, they’ve yet to run into the size and athleticism Texas brings to the table. Rice’s linebackers are active led by Antonio Montero and Treshawn Chamberlain. Anthony Ekpe has adapted well to the rush defensive end position, and George Nyakwol is a ball hawk in the secondary.
Herman will want to establish the run game in preparation of a move into Big 12 play. The Horns are thin at running back with Keontay Ingram carry the bulk of the carries now that Daniel Young and Jordan Whittington are out with injuries. Rice can keep things respectable by turning Texas over and playing defense with an offense that keeps Texas off the field.
When Rice has the ball…
Tom Stewart gets his first start at Rice with the injury to Wiley Green. Stewart, a grad transfer from Harvard, looked good in his extended play last week against Wake Forest. He has an emerging weapon in JUCO transfer Bradley Rozner, a big target who stepped up big time last week. Austin Trammell continues to be a go-to receiver as well.
After one of their better rushing performances at Army, the Owl ground game stalled out against Wake; Rice averaged less than two yards a carry on 37 attempts.
Texas’ defense catapulted Joe Burrows into a Heisman candidate last week as the Tigers exposed the young Longhorn secondary. Whether Rice can throw efficiently enough to threaten Texas will depend on whether they can slow down Todd Orlando’s pressure packages.
Longhorn linebacker Joe Ossai continues to headline, making big plays and creating havoc. Texas believes Ta’Quon Graham is the next great Texas defensive lineman and Malcolm Roach is a steady force from his end position.
Whether Rice can run the football is the telling area here. The Owls may get sophomore Juma Otoviano back after missing last week due to injury. The combination of Otoviano, Aston Walter, and Nahshon Ellerbe give Rice a potent backfield. If they can work the clock, perhaps they can slow Texas down and make this a game into the third quarter.