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2020 Week 12 Preview: Rice Owls @ North Texas Mean Green

SB Nation logo SB Nation 11/19/2020 Steve Helwick
a group of football players on the field © Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Network: ESPN3

Location: Apogee Stadium — Denton, TX

Spread: North Texas (-1.5)

ESPN FPI: Rice has 67.7% chance to win

All-time series: Series tied, 5-5

Last meeting: Rice 20, North Texas 14 — November 23, 2019

The teams will meet for the second year in a row on the weekend before Thanksgiving. Rice pulled off its lone home victory of 2019 when North Texas paid a visit to Houston last November, snapping the Mean Green’s 3-game win streak in the series.

It’s been too long.

The Rice Owls and North Texas Mean Green have prepared for a slew of opponents this season that they may never face. There have been weeks of game prep thrown out the window due to COVID-19 cancelations, many of which have been within 48 hours of kickoff. As a result, neither program has taken the field since October.

North Texas has faced an dreaded uphill battle in returning to the field. Two postponements and one cancelation separate the Mean Green from their most recent on-field action on Oct. 17. Last time North Texas played, Rice’s football season hadn’t even commenced.

The Owls were the final C-USA team to take the field in 2020, playing consecutive weeks on Oct. 24 and Oct. 31. The past two weeks, Rice was struck with consecutive postponements due to COVID-19 issues within UTSA and Louisiana Tech. Saturday’s matchup in Denton will be Rice’s first game in three weeks and North Texas’ first in five weeks.

Rice Owls outlook

After suffering a heartbreak in Houston against Middle Tennessee on a missed “quadruple doink” field goal, Rice (1-1, 1-1 C-USA) recovered and played its most complete game of the Mike Bloomgren era. The Owls annihilated Southern Miss in Hattiesburg 30-6, winning by their largest margin against an FBS opponent since 2014.

After ranking 123rd in scoring offense last season with under 18 points per game, Rice’s offense has undergone a dramatic renovation. The Owls have back-to-back 30-point games in a season for the first time in six years and rank third in the C-USA with 32.0 points per contest.

The offensive renovation can be directly attributed to the arrival of Mike Collins. The former TCU grad transfer quarterback has molded into the pocket passer head coach Mike Bloomgren had searched for since arriving at Rice three years ago. In 2019, Rice fired 13 touchdown passes in 12 games. Collins is on pace to shatter that total even in a shortened-season, delivering eight touchdown strikes through two games in 2020.

Collins wasn’t required to throw much in the blowout win over Southern Miss, but when he did, he made them count. He averaged nearly 20 yards per completion, connecting on 12 of 17 passes for 233 yards.

His favorite target has already been established as wide receiver Austin Trammell, and the two form one of the best connections in the conference. Over a third of Collins’ completions this season have landed in Trammell’s hands, and the senior captain was responsible for the majority of Collins’ passing numbers in Hattiesburg. Trammell caught seven passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns that game — heightening his stat-line to 219 yards and five touchdowns in two appearances this year.

Even with Trammell’s domination, Rice maintains a balanced offense. The Owls’ power run game is spearheaded by Juma Otoviano, who hovers around 100 rushing yards per game. This year, Otoviano has taken over as the workhorse back but Rice will mix things up with other rushers. Freshman Khalan Griffin has excelled as the secondary back in limited action and seems poised for a breakout game at any moment.

Wildcat quarterback JoVoni Johnson is an explosive runner as well and has done well moving the ball in 3rd and short situations. Lastly, if Rice needs one yard, the best option is superback Jordan Myers. Primarily a tight end, Myers is capable of lining up anywhere on the field and has been a master at moving the sticks on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 opportunities. Myers is also second on the team in receptions and operates as the Owls’ ideal short-yardage receiving target.

While the offense has drastically sharpened this season, defense remains the identity of the Owls. In the opener against Middle Tennessee, the rust was evident but the unit quickly recovered against Southern Miss, forcing the Golden Eagles out of the end zone in the game’s entirety.

North Texas is familiar with the tenaciousness. In the prior meeting with North Texas, Rice shut out Mason Fine and the Mean Green in the opening half. In the second half, the Owls defense forced a turnover on downs in the red zone to secure a 20-14 victory. North Texas was limited to 75 rushing yards, 163 passing yards, and two turnovers in the defeat.

Rice is especially stout at the linebacker position. Outside linebacker Blaze Alldredge has continued his tackling pace from last season, checking in atop the roster with 21 tackles. Antonio Montero has been pivotal at stopping the run as well with 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The Mean Green present a capable rushing trio in DeAndre Torrey (6.6 yards per carry), Tre Siggers (4.3), and Oscar Adaway III (8.9), and this will be the most talented halfback unit the linebackers have seen this year.

The strongest area of improvement within Rice’s defense can be witnessed on the defensive line. Increased pressure has been felt by opposing quarterbacks this year with Trey Schuman, Kenneth Orji, and Ikenna Enechukwu stepping up as pass rushers. As a team, Rice is averaging two sacks per game last season — a notch above the 1.2 sacks per game produced in 2019

North Texas Mean Green outlook

North Texas (2-3, 1-2 C-USA) has unintentionally taken a month off of football due to an influx of COVID-19 cancelations and postponements within the C-USA. The Mean Green were one of 14 FBS teams to begin the season the weekend of Sept. 5, but not much progress has been made in the schedule. The majority of Big Ten and Mountain West teams started Oct. 24 and have only played one fewer game than North Texas.

This season has required much patience for Seth Littrell’s program. Last time North Texas was in action, the Mean Green upended Middle Tennessee in a 52-35 shootout in Murfreesboro. Despite a 2-3 record, North Texas presents one of the better offenses in college football this season. The Mean Green rank 20th in scoring offense, sitting in the top 12 in both rushing and passing yards per game. Only UCF averages more yards than the 593.6 average North Texas has generated this season.

North Texas has rotated two quarterbacks this season, and both have contributed to the offense’s massive success. Austin Aune is a strong pocket passer with two 300-yard games and three multi-touchdown games under his belt this season. Jason Bean shines in the mobility aspect, accumulating 231 rushing yards and a team-high four touchdowns on just 19 attempts. Aune has served as the primary quarterback this year, but Bean has started twice and made three appearances through five games.

The Mean Green present a dangerous rushing trio piloted by senior DeAndre Torrey. After a down year in 2019, Torrey has regained his mojo this season with 444 rushing yards through five games. North Texas hasn’t played in a month, but Torrey finished his last outing on a high note by posting 143 yards and two touchdowns on the Middle Tennessee defense.

Secondary running backs Tre Siggers and Oscar Adaway III have been solid implementations into the rushing attack as well. Like Torrey, Siggers ran past the century mark against the Blue Raiders. As for Adaway, he hasn’t seen the field since a Sept. 19 game against SMU. He has since recovered from a hand injury and the freshman hopes to continue his stellar start to his collegiate campaign — 25 attempts, 222 yards, 2 touchdowns.

North Texas has an array of playmakers in the skill positions players, and they aren’t just limited to running back. The Mean Green feature one of the top receivers in the country in Jaelon Darden. He hasn’t played in over a month but still ranks ninth in the FBS in receiving yards and first in touchdowns. Darden’s last three performances all featured 10 or more receptions and he enters the Rice matchup with a 2-game streak of eclipsing the 200-yard threshold.

Rice’s defense is formidable, but not invincible. Middle Tennessee was able to drop 333 passing yards on the Owls thanks to many openings in the secondary. If North Texas aims to win its second straight contest, passing will be prioritized the Mean Green’s No. 1 option.

Even though North Texas’ produces off-the-charts numbers offensively, the defense gives up roughly what the offense attains on a game-to-game basis. The Mean Green allow 44.2 points per game, situated at fifth-to-last in the FBS and worst in the C-USA in the category. Only Arizona State (which has played one game) and Bowling Green allow more yards than North Texas’ 549.4. Rice should have no issue sustaining its 30-point streak against the Mean Green, but North Texas’ offense must be revert to its A-game in order to win in shootout fashion.

Prediction

Both teams will come out of the gate a bit rusty, having last experienced in-game situational football in October. There is definitely shootout potential in this one, especially if that rust becomes evident through missed tackles and blown coverages. North Texas has a slight advantage offensively, but Rice presents the much more potent defense in this matchup.

The key matchup to watch is the running back trio of DeAndre Torrey, Tre Siggers, and Oscar Adaway III against Rice’s powerful linebacking corps. Blaze Alldredge and Antonio Montero have been sharp on their assignments all season long, and they’re aiming to build off of magnificent performances against North Texas from last November.

Expect Jaelon Darden and Austin Trammell to trade blows in an offensive showcase. In the end, Rice’s defense will function as the separator and the unit records enough stops to lift the Owls to 2-1.

Prediction: Rice 38, North Texas 33

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