LSU playing a regular season game in an NFL stadium isn’t new. Since 2010, LSU’s played regular season games in the old Georgia Dome, AT&T Stadium twice, the Superdome, Lambeau Field and NRG Stadium.
Normally when LSU plays in an NFL venue, it’s against a marquee opponent, not the Rice Owls. But that’ll be the situation in week three when LSU travels to Houston. Of all the games impacted by COVID-19, the Rice game may take the most damage but it won’t be on the LSU side of things.
Rice is paying LSU about $3 million to play this game. The thinking was get LSU to come play in Houston, the largest non-Louisiana alumni base in the nation, and Rice would make up the money with gate revenue. But if there’s a limited amount of fans allowed in NRG Stadium, or worst case scenario for the Owls no fans at all, it could be a spectacularly unfortunate deal for Rice.
And oh yeah, they still have to play the game in what will probably be a one-sided affair.
2019: 3-9 (3-5, MAC), 121st S&P+
Head Coach: Mike Bloomgren
Offensive Coordinator: Jerry Mack
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Smith
Rice got off to a rough start for the 2019 season, losing its first nine games. But the Owls were able to bounce back and win its final three games to close out the year. The bad news for Rice is that quarterback Tom Stewart and running back Aston Walter graduated so it feels like right back to square one for the Owls.
Redshirt sophomore Wiley Green figures to be the new man at quarterback for the Owls. Green started seven games last season and completed 52 percent of his passes for 787 yards and four touchdowns.
Where Rice may really struggle is at running back. Not only was Rice’s leading rusher Aston Walter a senior, but so too were its second and fourth leading rushers, and JoVoni Johnson, who was third on the team in rushing yards, is a quarterback. Rice has six running backs on its roster and only one, redshirt sophomore Juma Otoviano, has recorded a carry. The other five running backs consist of two true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and a redshirt sophomore. Otoviano has had impressive outings in his career; he set a freshman record for rushing yards in a game with 224 against Old Dominion, and scored his first ever touchdown against LSU in the 2018 game in Tiger Stadium.
Rice brings back its top two receivers from the 2019 season, senior Austin Trammell (60 catches, 726 yards, 4 touchdowns) and redshirt junior Bradley Rozner (55 catches, 770 yards, 5 touchdowns). Trammell was Rice’s do everything player, leading the Owls in catches, all purpose yards, and also returned kicks and punts last season, while Rozner made the C-USA Second-Team.
What’s interesting about Rice offensively is that while its two best players are wide receivers, the Owls are content limiting possessions and running the ball. Rice ranked 122nd in tempo last year and are 110th over the last three seasons. The Owls try to lean on their offensive line, but that philosophy will be tested this year as Rice has to replace three starters.
Defensively the Owls bring back a lot of pieces and, per ESPN’s Bill Connelly, are expected to rank a respectable 65th in S&P+ this season. It starts with senior linebacker Blaze Alldredge who recorded 102 tackles, an eye-popping 21.5 tackles for loss, and threw in four sacks for good measure. Antonio Montero (83 tackles) and Treshawn Chamberlin (64 tackles), Alldredge’s running mates at linebacker, are back as well.
Rice also brings back just about its entire secondary highlighted by its starting safety tandem of Naeem Smith and George Nyakwol. Also back is corner Tyrae Thornton, who led the Owls in pass break ups with seven.
The Owls are undergoing a big change special teams wise. Rice loses Chris Barnes who was the Owls’ place kicker. Barnes shared punting duties with Adam Nunez who also graduated. Redshirt sophomore Will Harrison looks to take over the place kicking duties but doesn’t have the strongest leg. Harrison was 2-5 on field goals last year and his long was only 28 yards.
2020 Rice Schedule
September 3 (Thursday): @ Houston
September 12: vs. Army
September 19: vs. LSU (NRG Stadium)
September 26: vs. Lamar
October 3: @ Marshall
October 10: vs. UAB
October 17: BYE
October 24: vs. Middle Tennessee State
October 31: @ Southern Miss
November 7: vs. UTSA
November 14: @ Louisiana Tech
November 21: @ North Texas
November 28: vs. UTEP