Three Keys: Rice

The Army football team dealt with scoreboard pressure quite well on Oct. 4 against Ball State. Rice is a better team than Ball State, but the extent to which the Owls eclipse the Cardinals is what’s still unknown. A year ago, Rice was an outstanding team; this year, it stands on the negative side of mediocrity. Can Army take advantage?


THREE KEYS TO BEATING RICE

1 – Shut down the big play.
Rice scored directly on 81- and 31-yard plays last week. It also scored on a four-yard touchdown run one play after a 50-yard gain. Hawaii is not that good a team (though it did beat Army last season), and yet the Warriors held Rice in check on the vast majority of snaps the Owls took. Hawaii achieved this feat on the road, too, playing in Houston on Rice’s home turf. This is an offense which can definitely be contained. What sank Hawaii was a set of brief but crucial lapses. Army can’t afford those, and if the Black Knights are able to succeed in this one component of the game, they’ll dramatically improve their odds of winning.

Just to magnify this point a little bit (because it bears magnification): Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson completed only 10 passes in 23 attempts against Hawaii, but those 10 throws (thanks to his 81- and 31-yard strikes) produced 248 yards, or 24.8 yards per completion. Army’s defense will want to get off the field, sure, but a containment-based defense, one which dares Rice to slowly dink and dunk its way down the field, has a good chance of eliciting errors from the Owls. Big-play avoidance is the foremost key for the Black Knights.

2 – Test Rice’s defense with some pace and sprinklings of creativity. Hawaii’s offense just didn’t challenge a weak Rice defense which was shredded for an average of over 40 points in the Owls’ first three games this season. Hawaii managed only 261 total yards and was only 6 of 18 on third downs. Rice’s defense is vulnerable, and while slick execution is the cornerstone of any triple-option team, the addition of some pace in spots, plus a well-timed wrinkle every 12 snaps or so, could enable Army to outflank Rice to an even greater degree than a basic, straightforward package free of any appreciable deviations from a normal triple-option script.

3 – Third-down offense. Army’s offense converted 9 of 15 third downs in the win over Ball State. That’s 60 percent, definitely enough to – if not win – control the pace of play and keep the defense rested. Coaches dream of that level of efficiency on third downs. It’s a great target for Army to set each week. If the offense can continue to hit said target, the Black Knights should be in good shape. At worst, they’ll have a chance to win in the final minutes. At best, they’ll win this game by 17 points.

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