Mike Bloomgren reveals Rice Owls' quarterback plan vs. Arkansas Razorbacks in 2021 opener
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Bloomgren reveals Rice's QB plan vs. Arkansas

Wiley Green is one of two quarterback competing for the starting job at Rice.
Wiley Green is one of two quarterback competing for the starting job at Rice. (Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has been preparing to face two different quarterbacks in its opener and now it knows for certain it will see both of them.

Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren told reporters Tuesday afternoon that neither Luke McCaffrey nor Wiley Green had separated himself from the other and both of them would get snaps against the Razorbacks on Saturday.

It isn’t his preferred situation, but the fourth-year coach said he believes playing both is what’s best for the Owls.

“My comfort level is to have a starter and have him take every rep in practice,” Bloomgren said. “That’s not where we are right now. The people at Arkansas are going to see two quarterbacks this weekend because they both earned the right to do it.”

Which of those two quarterbacks actually takes the first snap will remain a mystery right up to kickoff because Bloomgren plans to keep it a secret.

In fact, he actually joked with one local reporter that he’d text him the name of the starter at 1:02 p.m., just before kickoff.

“I’ll try to (name the starter) walking out the tunnel,” Bloomgren said. “We’re going to keep it under wraps as long as we can because I do think those guys present some different skill sets.”

The name most fans recognize in Rice’s quarterback battle is McCaffrey, as he comes from a decorated football family. His father, Ed, played in the NFL and is now the head coach at Northern Colorado, while each of his older brothers signed with Power Five programs out of high school.

One of those brothers was Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian, whom Bloomgren coached while the offensive coordinator at Stanford.

The youngest McCaffrey was a 5.7 three-star recruit who spent two years at Nebraska before transferring. Listed as an “athlete” on Rivals, he started a pair of games at quarterback for the Cornhuskers last season and has also played some wide receiver in college.

When breaking down the two candidates, Bloomgren didn’t shy away from describing McCaffrey as the more dynamic quarterback in the run game. That area of his game is what Arkansas coach Sam Pittman singled out to the media earlier this week.

“We cut up every run that he had from Nebraska, we cut up every pass that he threw from Nebraska and it’s impressive,” Pittman said. “He’s a really good player. You’ve got to watch him when he runs a draw and things of that nature.”

While he’s dangerous with his legs, Bloomgren said the Razorbacks shouldn’t overlook what he can do with his arm. Even with the connection to his older brother and having recruited him out of high school, he was blown away by his arm strength after he arrived in Houston.

In addition to his 530 yards and four touchdowns on the ground at Nebraska, McCaffrey also completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 608 yards. He did, however, have twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdown passes (3).

“From the film and from studying Luke when he was in high school, I knew he had a good arm,” Bloomgren said. “I didn’t know he had this kind of arm. I didn’t know he had a howitzer for a right arm, which is really cool.”

The thing that is preventing McCaffrey from running away with the job is the fact that he hasn’t been in the program very long. Before landing at Rice, he actually spent a couple of weeks at Louisville this summer.

That gives Green an edge when it comes to understanding the playbook, simply because he’s been there much longer. He started 10 games over his first two seasons at Rice before getting buried on the depth chart last season.

During his time with the Owls, Green has completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 1,435 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. When spring drills ended, though, Green had climbed back to the top.

“The difference in them right now is this is Year 4 for Wiley Green in this system,” Bloomgren said. “Luke has been with us for a month and a half, two months. Luke has just closed the gap knowledge-wise so well.”

Learning an FBS playbook in such a short amount of time can be difficult, even at the Group of Five level, but wide receiver Jake Bailey has been impressed with what he’s seen from McCaffrey so far.

“The complexity of our offense, it's hard to compare to other college offenses, but I’ve been really impressed and they're really happy with his progress,” Bailey said. “He’s been a great guy to kind of, build that chemistry with, get the bond with, and he's going to help us out a lot this season.”

The way Bloomgren formatted Rice’s second scrimmage of fall camp, both quarterbacks had an opportunity to win the job, but neither was able to do it. He said both of them made “wow” plays, but also had throws they’d like back.

Based on everything he’s seen in camp, Bloomgren said he thinks the Owls’ best chance against Arkansas - and the rest of the season - comes with utilizing both of the quarterbacks’ talents.

He has seen similar two-quarterback systems run successfully, so he has faith it will work at Rice in 2021.

“It takes maturity from both kids, both participants in the quarterback competition to continue to build each other up, encourage each other and be positive when they other one goes in the game,” Bloomgren said. “I think we’ve got two guys that love this team and really care about each other and are willing to do that.”

Kickoff between Arkansas and Rice is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. The game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus.

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