Five key matchups to watch Saturday night:
TEXAS’ UP-TEMPO OFFENSE VS. ITSELF
Charlie Strong believes in hiring good offensive coaches, leaving them alone and letting them do their work. Whether that’s ultimately right or wrong is in the eye of the beholder. Strong clearly thought he’d see something different against Notre Dame than what he got. That’s likely why he demoted Shawn Watson and turned play-calling duties over to Jay Norvell. Now Norvell has 60 minutes to get the ball to Johnathan Gray, Daje Johnson, John Burt and others. Whether he uses quarterback Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard is a secondary issue; if the Horns can’t get the ball to their playmakers, this offense has no chance of success. Rice’s defensive matchups aren’t nearly as important as whether Texas can simply help itself.
Edge: Jay Norvell
RICE’S PASS RUSH VS. TEXAS’ OFFENSIVE LINE
Just like Strong predicted, Notre Dame stacked the line of scrimmage and came guns blazing last week. The Irish wanted to test freshmen Connor Williams (left tackle) and Patrick Vahe (right guard). Surprisingly, center Taylor Doyle struggled at times, and guard left guard Sedrick Flowers got so frustrated he punched somebody. Rice defensive tackle Stuart Mouchantaf was named a team captain. Graysen Schantz is a solid pass rusher. Linebacker Alex Lyons is on the Lombardi watch list. He’s no slouch, either.
TEXAS DEFENSIVE ENDS VS. RICE OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Texas’ Shiro Davis was on the field against Notre Dame, right? He was credited with three tackles, but never did anything meaningful. Fellow end Naashon Hughes made an impression, registering seven tackles (two for loss) and holding the edge. Davis is learning what Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed always knew: If someone plays well at one end, then you’ve got to hold down your side, too. Texas cannot afford to have only one side of its pass rush be effective. Rice’s Calvin Anderson made his first start against Wagner College. He should get tested this week. Caleb Williams has 33 consecutive starts.
RICE QB DRIPHUS JACKSON VS. TEXAS QUARTERBACKS
Rice comes into this game in a better position at quarterback than does Texas. Driphus Jackson is 9-6 as a starter and had seven completions of 50 yards or more in the season opener. He can scoot, too. Jackson averages 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. Compare that to what Texas has. Tyrone Swoopes is 5-8 as a starter and showed no dramatic improvement in the season opener. Backup Jerrod Heard didn’t play enough to really showcase what he can do. Will Norvell unlock Heard to match wits with Jackson? That remains to be seen. Strong did not indicate earlier this week who would start.
Saturday marks the 53rd anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s moon speech in which he asked, “Why does Rice play Texas?” Beating anybody is hard these days for the Longhorns. But they’re coming home with something to prove. Strong and the players know they cannot let this season spiral out of control here in September. Expect to see some new offensive wrinkles and a spirited effort. If Rice wins, Strong will face serious questions as to whether he knows what he’s doing.