2023 First Responder Bowl: Texas State vs Rice

The Texas State Bobcats make their first bowl appearance in the 2023 First Responder Bowl against the Rice Owls.

The 2023 First Responder Bowl will feature two teams from Texas for the first time in the bowl’s history. The Texas State Bobcats will make their bowl game debut against the Rice Owls on Tuesday, December 26th. The First Responder Bowl is in its 13th installment. Its first season was in 2010 and became a way to honor first responders in 2014. Despite being played in the Dallas area since its inception, this will be the first year that two Texas teams will face off. Texas State and Rice haven’t played each other since 1987 when Rice left victorious by a score of 38-28. Rice will look to repeat that performance to finish with a winning season while Texas State tries to win its first-ever bowl game.

2023 First Responder Bowl: The Particulars

When: December 26th, 5:30 PM ET

Where: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, TX


Who to Watch for Texas State

Texas State finished the regular season 7-5 in head coach GJ Kinne’s first season at the helm for the Bobcats. The Bobcats finished 4-4 in the Sun Belt Conference after finishing just 4-8 overall in 2022. Kinne’s squad had a major turnaround from last season, matching its most wins in a season since becoming an FBS program. In addition, the Bobcats produced several All-Conference players and an All-American running back in Ismail Mahdi. The sophomore is the player to watch on the offense for the Bobcats in the 2023 First Responder Bowl.

Mahdi transferred to Texas State ahead of the 2023 season after playing his freshman year at the FCS program, Houston Christian University. For a long time this season, he was leading the FBS in rushing yards. Through 12 games in 2023, Mahdi tallied 1,209 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, and one receiving score. The running back averaged just over six yards per carry this season on 199 rushing attempts. Mahdi not only produced out of the backfield for the Bobcats but was a proficient kick returner as well. Rice will need to account for him in several facets of the game. He averaged 26.5 yards per return this season, amassing 529 return yards, and returned one kick for a touchdown. The future is bright for this young running back and he is looking to put on a show in his program’s first bowl appearance.

On a defense for Texas State that has tallied 36 sacks and 102 tackles for loss is linebacker Brian Holloway. Holloway has stopped in three different college programs and gone through two head coaching turnovers in his career but thrived for the Bobcats this season. Holloway started his collegiate journey at JUCO Kilgor College and from there went to SMU. He has played for Texas State the last two seasons and his role has grown. He has become a leader of this defense that will be making its first bowl game appearance. Holloway leads the team in tackles with 98, tackles for loss with 16, and ties the team leader with two interceptions. In addition, the linebacker has three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one-and-a-half sacks.

Who to Watch for Rice

Rice is 7-6 in bowl games, making its 14th bowl appearance this year in the 2023 First Responder Bowl. Last season, the Owls lost to Southern Mississippi in the LendingTree Bowl. Rice hasn’t won a bowl game since 2014 in the Hawai’i Bowl against Fresno State. Head coach Mike Bloomgren’s squad comes into this bowl game 6-6, winning the final two games against Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to become bowl-eligible.

The Owls starting quarterback, JT Daniels missed the last three regular-season games and will not play in the 2023 First Responder Bowl. All eyes will be on backup AJ Padgett. Padgett filled in for Daniels in the last three games this season. The redshirt freshman won two and lost one in his final three games as the starter this season. In those three starts, he threw for six touchdowns, ran for two, and had three interceptions. Further, Padgett amassed 577 passing yards in those three games. He is no stranger to a bowl game either. In his true freshman season in 2022, Padgett was called on to command the LendingTree Bowl. In the bowl loss, he threw three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is hoping for a better ending result in this year’s bowl appearance.

On the defense, there isn’t one player that stands out to focus on in this game. However, the Owls will need the linebackers to step up in a big way against one of the best running backs in the country. The group made up of Myron Morrison and Josh Pearcy needs to play at their best in the First Responder Bowl. Morrison is second on the team in tackles with 71. He adds two-and-a-half tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Pearcy sits at second on the defense in tackles for loss with seven. These two, along with the rest of the defensive front, need to limit the production of Mahdi and force Texas State to throw the football.

In addition, safety Plae Wyatt will likely make himself known in this one. The safety leads the team in solo tackles with 42 and total tackles with 76. He also adds three tackles for loss and one sack from the secondary position.



Photo courtesy of the First Responder Bowl.


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