What to watch for as UT takes on Rice this weekend at NRG Stadium
HOUSTON – Following a devastating 45-38 home loss to LSU, No. 12 Texas will be faced with the challenge of bouncing back against an in-state opponent, as the team travels to Houston to play Rice.
Texas played well offensively against LSU, but Joe Burrow was able to pick apart the Longhorns secondary with ease. Texas will play its first road game of the year roughly three hours away from its home field, against the struggling 0-2 Rice Owls.
Here are a few questions to keep in mind as the Longhorns travel to Houston this weekend.
1. What will Texas have to do differently this weekend to secure its first road win of the year?
Last week, Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers exposed holes in the Texas secondary. The middle of the field was essentially a safe space for LSU receivers, as they were able to get open all day behind the Texas linebackers.
The Texas secondary will have to play better press coverage, as any ranked team playing on the road (especially following a loss) is a vulnerable target for an unranked team such as Rice. In a press conference on Wednesday, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando praised Burrow and used the word "elite" to describe some of his throws.
In addition to tightening up the defense, Texas has to get better on third- and fourth-down conversions, especially when in opponent territory. Texas was 8-for-15 on third downs last week and 1-for-3 on fourth downs, including being stopped twice inside LSU's 5-yard line.
Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck said that the team was not as efficient in the red zone as he had wished early in the game against LSU but commended the play of the offensive line. He called it the "best offensive tackle group" he has coached in his time in Austin.
If Texas wants to avoid another ending such as this one -- see below -- it will have to make these adjustments.
Joe Burrow waved goodbye to Texas fans late in the 4th 👋 pic.twitter.com/HGOtITdRjp— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 8, 2019
2. What was Longhorns' head coach Tom Herman's response to the number of LSU injury timeouts late in the game on Saturday?
Toward the end of last week's game, LSU defenders went down with cramps on multiple occasions while Texas was on offense. When asked if these injuries affected the Longhorns' momentum, Herman said "yes," but would not go as far as to say that these were intentional by any means. The Longhorns' head coach said he had "no idea" whether or not these injuries were in "good faith."
3. What was response of Chris del Conte, Texas athletic director and vice president, to comments about the lack of air conditioning in the visitor's locker room?
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said after last week's game that there was no air conditioning in the Tigers' locker room at DKR, and that the team was made aware of this beforehand by the Louisiana Tech staff. Del Conte released a statement earlier this week shutting down these reports.
Coach O also made an appearance on the "Golic and Wingo" show Wednesday and said the following in regard to the locker room heat:
"What we heard is: Before the game, there was not a lot of air in the room and not a lot of ventilation. We brought our own blowers. We brought our own air conditioning. I'm not so sure if there was air conditioning there or not, but we made it better by bringing our blowers in and brought more air. It wasn't bad. The locker room wasn't bad. It did not affect us in the game. I can say that."
4. What is the latest status update on Rice freshman QB Wiley Green?
Rice released its depth chart for Saturday's game against Texas and officially announced that backup Tom Stewart will get the start this week as Wiley Green continues to recover from a brutal hit to the head in a game last week against Wake Forest. Head coach Mike Bloomgren said after the game that Green "has feeling in all his limbs and the team is awaiting results of a CT scan."
Green has continued to be evaluated throughout the week after being carted off the field last Friday, the team said. Below is an update from Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren, who, at his press conference earlier this week, sounded confident that the quarterback will be back on the field at some point this season.
Update on QB Wiley Green from head coach Mike Bloomgren— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) September 10, 2019
"Besides some soreness in his neck he's doing much better... We're hoping to get him back sooner rather than later."#GoOwls
Dallas native Stewart appeared in nine games for Harvard last year before transferring to closer to home for the 2019 season. He has completed 19 of his 30 passing attempts this year, for 185 yards and a touchdown. The Rice offensive line is going to have to do a better job at protecting its quarterback, as Stewart has been sacked three times this season.
5. Rice runs a lot of heavy-set formations. What will Texas do to adjust to a more slowly paced offense this weekend?
Texas will be faced with a different challenge this week, as the pressure shifts from the secondary to the linebackers and the defensive line as the Longhorns will take on run-heavy Rice. When asked about the team's formations, Orlando called the Owls' offense "unique," citing the team's array of two- and three-tight-end sets. With an opponent that relies on the ground-and-pound, expect Texas to use its four-linebacker set throughout Saturday's game. Orlando said Texas will likely use a four-man combination that will feature Joseph Ossai, Ayodele Adeoye, Juwan Mitchell and Jeffrey McCulloch. Texas has been solid stopping the run so far in 2019 and the four-man package will add a little more weight to the defense and serve as a nice counter to Rice's three-tight-end sets.
After facing Joe Burrow last weekend, maybe it's best for this Texas secondary to rest up as it approaches conference play.
Orlando and Beck seemed to be proud of their team's performance last week against LSU. Orlando said "the team played their tails off," but noted it has to do a better job of communicating on defense. Both coaches said the quick pace of play last week definitely made a difficult matchup even tougher but that the Horns are ready to move on to Week 3. Beck shut down the idea that Texas was looking forward to an easier game and said that the team needs to prepare as if it is playing "LSU or the Dallas Cowboys."
Although Rice is an easier opponent on paper, Texas can't sleep on this matchup. When asked if such players as Casey Thompson will get some extra reps this week against Rice, Beck reiterated that the team's focus is on winning the game, for now. Beck said he did not want to get into any hypothetical scenarios and was not ready to look past kickoff.
It will certainly be a little cooler during this weekend's game as the two Texas teams will take on one another under the lights inside the air-conditioned NRG Stadium in Houston. Texas will not have to travel far as the team goes on its first road trip of the season. Texas vs. Rice kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday.
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