Rice, Jovoni Johnson

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Neither Wiley Green nor Luke McCaffrey the two Rice Owls quarterbacks listed as the either-or starters in Saturday’s 1 p.m. season-opener against Arkansas at Reynolds Razorback Stadium started Rice’s epic victory of 2020.

An Arkansan, former Conway Wampus Cat JoVoni Johnson, started that shocking 20-0 Dec. 5 Rice rout of then undefeated nationally No. 15 Marshall at the Thundering Herd’s Joan Edwards Stadium in Huntington, West Virginia.

Johnson isn’t even listed third behind the either-or of Green, the third-year sophomore replacing an injured Johnson late against Alabama-Birmingham last year, and McCaffrey, the touted run-pass quarterback transferred from Nebraska.

Luke McCaffrey is the younger brother of former Stanford All-American/current NFL star running back Christian McCaffrey whom fourth-year Rice Head Coach Mike Bloomgren knew well when he coached Stanford’s offensive line (2011-2017).

While asserting both Green and McCaffrey will play against Arkansas, Bloomgren volunteered he hasn’t forgotten the Wampus Cat who started Marshall’s fall from the unbeaten.

“We also have JoVoni Johnson who started our Marshall game,” Bloomgren said unprompted on Rice’s Tuesday Zoom before the Owls practiced. “He’s healthy and he’s doing some good things. There’s so many things that we want to be flexible with and a lot of it truly will come down to how things go this week in practice.”

During the subsequent Q. and A. Bloomgren was asked more about his athletic former late 2020 season starter and if perhaps he might practice at another position like running back, receiver or defensive back?”

“No,” Bloomgren replied. “He has really just practiced at quarterback in camp. He is a talented athlete and would have value at other places, but there’s things that we see with him where we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that could really help us.”

Like what?

“You go back to the things he’s done with his feet throughout his career here,” Bloomgren said. “Whether it’s simple plays like stick draw or just pulling the ball on the backside of the read option. Of course he made throws (10 of 14 for 86 yards) when he had to against Marshall. He has been a big-time player for us in a game that was a big deal to our program. Nobody’s throwing him out by any means.”

However Green and McCaffrey operate ahead with neither at the outset announce to play significantly more than the other.

Some coaches squirm uncomfortably merely thinking of a 2-quarterback system.

So what’s Bloomgren’s comfort level?

“My comfort level is… I guess we should do whatever’s best for the team,” Bloomgren said. “It shouldn’t be about my comfort level. I was going to say my comfort level is to have a starter and have him take every rep in practice. 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 I’ve certainly see it (playing two quarterbacks) successful before.”

Both can run the entire offense, especially Green off his time Rice time spent.

But McCaffrey catches on quickly, Bloomgren and literally runs ahead on the running quarterback part.

“I think the best chance for us to win this game and going forward is for both of them to utilize their talents for our football team,” Bloomgren said.

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