The second week of the college football season gets started with the Rice Owls playing host to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The game is set to kick off at 8:00 EST on Friday, September 6 at Rice Stadium in Houston. Fans can watch the game on CBS Sports Network.
Early betting odds list the Demon Deacons as 17.5-point favorites on the road with an over/under of 56 points. Click here to check out all of this week’s college football odds.
Wake Forest is breathing a big sigh of relief after escaping with a win in their season opener against Utah State. The Demon Deacons needed an 89-yard drive in the closing minutes to win 38-35, ultimately converting on a 4th & goal to avoid the upset. It wasn’t the ideal way to start the season, albeit against a quality mid-major. Now the Demon Deacons have to go on the road against another mid-major opponent before starting ACC play next week.
Rice, on the other hand, had a decent start to the season despite losing to Army. The Owls more than three touchdown underdogs against the Black Knights but only lost 14-7. It wasn’t exactly a strong performance, but against an Army team that won 11 games last season, it seemed like a step in the right direction. However, the Owls won’t be facing a triple-option service academy this week. They’ll be hosting an ACC opponent that’s been to three straight bowl games, making this a real litmus test for where Mike Bloomgren is early in his second season at Rice.
These two teams met last September as well, with the Demon Deacons winning at home 56-24. Wake Forest went up 28-0 in that game early in the 2nd quarter before taking their foot off the gas and allowing the Owls to score a few touchdowns in the second half. There was a clear talent difference in that game, something that Rice will likely have to overcome on Friday.
Admittedly, I was unimpressed with Wake Forest in their season opener while Rice only losing by seven points got my attention. But there’s still a talent gap between these programs, and I trust Wake head coach Dave Clawson to sort out a couple of things between the first two games. Also, the Utah State team that nearly beat Wake Forest is legitimately good, so I’m not surprised the game was close. I’ll lean toward the Demon Deacons having enough to beat Rice comfortably and cover the spread.
Wake Forest may have had a close call last week, but the offense wasn’t a problem. In fact, it was the offense that saved them. Jamie Newman, who finished the 2018 season strong at quarterback, threw for over 400 yards against Utah State and made a couple of massive throws on the game’s final drive. He also had three touchdown passes and no interceptions while also running the ball over 20 times, so he’s the undisputed leader of the offense.
Perhaps more importantly, wide receiver Sage Surratt had seven catches for 158 yards, including a 70-yard catch to set up the game-winning score. He looks ready to take over for Greg Dortch as Wake’s go-to receiver. Former quarterback Kendall Hinton also made an impact with nine catches, adding depth to Wake’s wide receiver corps. Against Army, the Rice secondary wasn’t challenged much, but they’ll have their hands full against the Demon Deacons.
To be fair, the Wake Forest running game is a little bit of a concern. The Demon Deacons averaged just 3.1 yards per rush despite Cade Carney rushing for over 100 yards. The Wake Forest offensive line remains a work in progress early in the season. But the Rice defensive line is still a concern and facing the Wake rushing attack will be different from the Army triple-option. I think there’s a good chance the Demon Deacons will be able to push around the Rice front-7 and get Carney going a little more.
The bottom line is that if Wake Forest scored points against Utah State, I have little doubt that they’ll be able to score points against Rice. That means the Owls will have to score points if they want to have any hope of staying in this game and beating the spread. That could be a problem after managing just seven points in the season opener, albeit against a solid Army defense.
Freshman Wiley Green emerged from a crowded quarterback competition during the preseason, but he struggled against Army. He completed just seven of his 14 passes for 62 yards. To be fair, the Owls were good on the ground, averaging six yards per carry behind Nahshon Ellerbe and Aston Walter. But they need to be more balanced and they need more from Green, which is tough to see happening, even against a Wake defense that’s rebuilding.
Ultimately, the Demon Deacons are going to score points and the Rice offense could become a little one-dimensional without reliable quarterback play. That’s going to make it difficult for the Owls to stay within striking distance. I like Wake Forest to bounce back from a rough opener and cover the 18-point spread against Rice.