By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas –Time for Texas to show just how dominant it can be.
The No. 12 Longhorns play winless Rice on Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston looking for a big bounce back with no letdown following last week’s down-to-the-wire loss to now-No. 4 LSU.
Here are five key players we will be watching and some of the things we expect to see when the Longhorns hit the road for the first time this season and look to beat Rice for the 42nd time in 43 games since 1966.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB Keaontay Ingram
Expect Texas to give Ingram the ball early and often against the Owls, for two reasons. First, the Longhorns want to control the game and get out of Houston with everyone healthy and ready for the Big 12 Conference season. Secondly, Ingram wants to bounce back after a less-than-stellar game against LSU in which he dropped a touchdown pass and showed poor body language through the rest of the game. These are the kind of games that the Longhorns’ feature backs are supposed to dominate and make their mark.
CB Kobe Boyce
The Texas defense was shredded by LSU’s Joe Burrow last week, and Boyce, a sophomore has had uneven performances in the Longhorns’ first two contests. But Rice’s offense will allow the Longhorns to play more of their base package on defense, and that’s where Boyce can shine. He’s good at taking away the room on the field between the hashmarks and the sidelines, but sometimes struggles when receivers go across the middle. He’ll have plenty of help from the safeties this week.
WR Brennan Eagles
Texas will likely be without star “X” receiver Collin Johnson, who will be a game-time decision because of a balky hamstring, so expect quarterback Sam Ehlinger to distribute the ball to some of the other wideouts, and Eagles would be the second choice behind slotback Devin Duvernay, the Longhorns’ leading receiver. Eagles has already made an impact this season, catching eight passes over the first two games for 175 yards and three touchdowns. If there’s a time for a truly “breakout” game, it’s now.
WR Devin Duvernay
Through two games, Duvernay has proven to be quarterback Sam Ehlinger's most reliable and consistent target, getting open for quick gains and long touchdowns alike. Will Duvernay, who was named the Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Week after the game against LSU, have another monster game against the Owls and solidify his status among the elite college receivers?
DE Malcolm Roach
The Texas starting defensive line has been relatively quiet, stats-wise, over the first two games, combining for just seven tackles (five by Roach). This is the type of game against a run-first team in which the Longhorns’ big dudes can build some numbers, and some momentum for the conference gauntlet to come. Roach, who was lauded for his play in the LSU game by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, might double his tackle total against Rice and even grab a sack or two.
The Texas defensive front seven versus the Rice offensive line. The Owls want to run the ball, to control the clock to limit Texas’s touches on offense and because they don’t have the playmakers on offense that most of the Longhorns’ opponents have. But if Rice want to stay with the physical play in the trenches, Texas should be more than up to the task. It’s just a matter of how many blitzes Texas will run to make things even tougher for the Owls. Look for the defensive front seven to produce at least two turnovers in this game.
THE WILD CARD
Texas will win, but just how big the margin gets will be up to Tom Herman and whether or not he wants to open up the offense. If the Longhorns want to build style points, this one could get out of hand quickly, which should mean we will see a healthy dose of Casey Thompson at quarterback and Roschon Johnson carrying the ball in the second half.