Know Thy Opponent 2011: Rice Owls

I remember the start of this home-and-home series very well. When we hosted Rice it was my first home game as a student. That takes us all the way back to 1998. Coach Tiller then kept delaying the return game to Houston, year after year. Central Florida, Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Arizona, Hawaii, Toledo, and Oregon have all taken up our bi-annual non-conference, non-Notre Dame road game, but the back half of our home and home with the Owls has still stayed there.

Thirteen years later we will finally complete that contract. It is hard to believe that the true freshmen who will play in this game were first graders when the first half of the contract was complete. That 21-19 victory was also key as it was the first start in Ross-Ade Stadium for Mr. Drew Brees. He was 20 of 31 that day for 250 yards and two scores. He also ran for a third as we survived a late touchdown and denied the two-point conversion for the win.

Rice Owls

2010 Record: 4-8

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Ricefootball.net,

Series with Purdue: Purdue Leads 2-1

Last Purdue Win: 21-19 on 9/12/1998 at Purdue

Last Rice Win: 14-0 on 10/6/1934 at Purdue

Last Season for the Owls:

The 2010 season for Rice was nearly as rough as our own. The Owls started 2-8 ebfore salvaging some pride with a 62-38 win over East Carolina and a 28-23 win over UAB. The other victories came over North Texas (32-31) and crosstown rival Houston (34-31). It is safe to say that the defense was a major liability for the Owls. They surrendered 462 points on the season for a 38.5 per game average. That's good for 114th out of 120 Division I-A teams. They gave up at least 30 points in each of their first 11 games before "holding" UAB to 23 in the season finale.

We did have a common opponent, as Northwestern went to Houston and easily defeated the Owls 30-13. Considering that we later beat the Wildcats, we should be able to have some success.

Rice Offense:

There will be a familiar face on the sideline when we face them on September 10th. Sam McGuffie, former Michigan running back, has resurfaced in Houston where he ran for 883 yards and six touchdowns last season. He last played for the Wolverines in 2008, when he ran for 483 yards and three scores as a freshman. He did not play in their 48-42 loss at Purdue that season. He is now the featured back in a run offense that gained over 1,900 yards on the ground last year. Jeremy Eddington complimented him with 365 yards and 10 touchdowns as a big 6'2" 220 running back. Senior Tyler Smith also saw action with 279 yards and a score. Eddington also plays some wildcat quarterback.

The Rice passing game was fairly balanced with the running game. They averaged nearly 216 yards through the air and 160 on the ground, so this should be a decent test. Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi was effective at moving the offense with 1,681 yards passing and 11 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He is a 5th year senior that originally played at Alabama, but saw action in only one game for the Crimson Tide. Since coming to Rice he has been good, but not great in two years of starting. (Ed. note: According to several Rice posters, Tyler McHargue is expected to be the starter. He was injured in week 2 last year and did not return. he threw for 491 yards and six touchdowns against one interception.)

Among his receivers McGuffie was the top pass catcher with 39 grabs for 384 yards and three more touchdowns. Luke Wilson had 33 catches for 425 yards and three scores as a big 6'5" tight end. Vance McDonald was the most efficient receiver with only 28 catches for 396 yards, but he added eight touchdowns. I am concerned about their offense because they return the majority of their skills players from a season ago. McDonald and Wilson were both tight ends, so their offense is a bit unconventional in that they mostly through to backs and TE's.

Protecting the quarterback could be an issue after Rice gave up 27 sacks a year ago. One senior was lost from last year's line. Eric Bell and Clay Hebert return as experienced starters at the center and guard spots. 

Rice Defense:

I am going to say this right now: If we cannot pass the ball effectively against the Owls we will be unable to do so against anyone else the rest of the year. Calling their pass defense from a year ago awful would imply they had a pass defense. They regularly gave up 300 yards per game through the air and had only six interceptions against 34 passing touchdowns. That is a ration of nearly 3 to 0.5 per game. Travis Bradshaw, as does starting corner Chris Jammer. This defense normally ran out a nickel package with three safeties and they still got routinely burned with the pass.

Safety Corey Frazier returns as their leading tackler with 83 stops last year. He is joined in the defensive backfield by Kevin Gaddis (21 tackles) at one of the corner spots. Trey Briggs is also a returning starter at linebacker, but they must replace Justin Hill. Justin Allen is expected to play again after playing extensively last season.

Generating a pass rush could be difficult, especially if Rob Henry continues to be an elusive quarterback. Two starters along the defensive line are gone from a year ago, and the line generated just 17 quarterback sacks. The defense gave up 1,742 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground and 3,644 yards through the air. Given that there are so few returning starters and the unit struggled mightily last year it is probably hard to call exactly who will be starting at this time.

One player that gives hope is defensive end Scott Solomon, who returns after missing all of last year. He had 6.5 sacks in 2009, and he is expected to be an anchor of the defense. Will he be enough, however? The defense has struggled for so long that we should be very concerned if our offense continues to be anemic in this one.

Rice Special Teams

The Owls have a decent kicker in Chris Boswell who hit 11 of 17 field goals and scored twice from 50 yards. The Owls had just one attempt in their last six games, however. Boswell was an effective kickoff guy too, allowing just over 21 yards per return.

Kyle Martens is one of the best punters in the nation and a Ray Guy candidate after averaging over 46 yards per punt a season ago. He pinned 22 of 52 punts inside the 20 and had 14 punts of more than 50 yards. That should help a beleaguered defense at least a little.

Charles Ross will compete for both kick and punt return duties. Ross can be dangerous on kickoffs as he averaged close to 30 yards per return.

Game Outlook:

As I said with the Middle Tennessee State game, this absolutely needs to be a win if we're going to have any chance to go bowling. We cannot have another Toledo or Northern Illinois slip up. If anything, rice is a worse team than the Blue Raiders and maybe even Southeast Missouri State. Yes, we're on the road, but this could be the weakest team on our schedule. The depth that they do return has not accomplished a lot and there are a ton of questions on the defensive side of the ball.

Rice has the offensive talent to hang around for us, especially if we make some dumb mistakes defensively. McGuffie is a dangerous and versatile running back, the kind that historically give us fits. With the way their defense is I don't see him being enough unless we're just completely inept on offense. This is just about the easiest possible road game we could ask for.

Unfortunately, I have seen way too much Purdue football to consider anything easy. I know about our complete refusal to cover tight ends and they like to throw tight ends. I know about our completely retarded punt protection scheme and how it helps teams block punts. We simply have to use this as a game to get the passing game going, be it Henry, Robert Marve, Caleb TerBush, or anyone else. I think guys like Charles Torwudzo, Gary Bush, and Justin Siller can have a big game.

Prediction:

This should, should be an easy win, but we have learned that nothing is easy these last two seasons. I think McGuffie and the offense can keep them in it for a half, maybe three quarters, but I don't trust their defense at all. I think we gain some confidence with a big offensive game and get our first out of conference road win since 2007. Purdue 37, Rice 17

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