2017: Quickie Rice Preview

Good teams will finish the job.

North Texas is still trying to prove that they are a good team.

Yes, they are playing like one, and that is a subtle but important difference. When Seth Littrell says this team is not good enough to simply show up and that a full effort is required every week it is coach speak but true speak also.

Rice is not definitely not good team. But they should not be taken lightly as they are tough and are led by a good coaching staff. David Bailiff is a CUSA-winning coach and over his years as the head man the last 10 years he has won 10 games twice, 8 games once, and 7 one other time. He’s the winningest Rice coach this side of 1967.

He is to be respected.

That fact acknowledged, Rice has been poor for the last two seasons. They come into this one 1-10 and having had some absolutely awful losses — to UAB, Army — and others where they scored but gave things away — La Tech, Southern Miss, ODU — and others where the offense was terrible — UTSA, FIU, Houston.

There are surely a number of reasons why Rice has struggled so much this season, but one contributing factor is simply talent. The pass rush has been soft and the tackling has been poor.

Offensively, the QB play has especially been poor and when it has been okay, it has not been consistent enough to build a decently sustained attack.

Rice did beat UTEP, who are awful, and did play a close one against ODU, but no team has really had too much trouble with the Owls. While La Tech did struggle against Rice in Houston, it was more self-inflicted than it was anything Rice was impressing upon them.

In the last four contests, Rice has been improving and the offense in particular has been looking like something that could do some damage. Freshman WR Aaron Cephus (6’4″ 205 RS FR) is tied for 7th in the conference with 5 TD grabs and 10th in the league in total reception yards at 572. He leads the league in yards per catch at just over 24 per grab. For comparison, Jalen Guyon is third in the league with 16 per.

Another potential home run hitter is Austin Walter who has run and caught a pass for 70+ yards this season. He has 219 yards receiving on 18 grabs (12.1 per reception) and 385 rushing on 63 carries (6.11 yards per carry).

Starting QB Miklo Smalls (6’0″ 200 FR) is young and is not allowed to sling the ball much but he has completed 62% of his passes. He’s thrown just over 16 passes per game the last three (for 148 per) and run for just over 13 times per game in that same span for 225 yards.

He has not been great, but with him Rice has improved their 3rd down conversion rate. It is up to 55% in November (the last three games) vs the mid-thirties earlier in the year. That is partly why their scoring is up to 25 per game in November, up from the mid-teens in October.

Fun Facts

Rice has won its last nine senior days. North Texas is down 4-3 in the all-time series vs Rice, but is 2-2 in CUSA play against them.

Elsewhere

North Texas is expected to roll in this one by every measure and so we won’t go through them all to save time and get you back to turkey-consumption.

Overall

Put simply, North Texas’ offense is explosive and can only be stopped by a fierce pass rush and self-inflicted wounds like dropped passes, fumbles, bad throws, and ineffectual, uninterested blocking.

Rice is working toward getting better for next year by playing a collection of promising freshman. They have done well — offensively — against some teams that are working on things as well — UAB, USM, ODU. North Texas’ defense is prone to allowing big pass plays but rice is not built to exploit those issues. Rice also does not execute at the same level as Army or UAB.

North Texas should roll easily and get out of Houston with the 9th win of the year relatively easily.

MGN Prediction: North Texas 45 Rice 17