From the Stands
|TEXAS VS. RICE|
|Here. We. Go.
No more talk about what could happen, or what might happen, or 7-on-7, or summer conditioning, or who might play, etc. Now we talk about the here and the now because the 2010 college football season is HERE and it starts right NOW.
Will the offensive line be better? Will the running game succeed? Will Garrett Gilbert play well? Will the talent of this incoming class see the field? No more speculation. We will see it all with our own eyes on Saturday. I’m bursting, Jerry! Bursting!
I am going to be fairly useless after about 3 on Thursday as I anticipate the start of the season. The pre-game show starts at 6 and then Marshall/Ohio State, Middle Tennessee/Minnesota and South Carolina/Southern Miss all start at 6:30. Pitt/Utah and Iowa State/Northern Illinois (excellent breakdown of that game down below) are next and then the night is capped off with USC at Hawaii starting at 10 pm here in Austin. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, if Christmas was 15 weeks long with several hundred presents.
I’ll be neck deep in all of it, tweeting away so you don’t have to watch every game- I’ll do it for you. Or you can watch. Come on over. Seriously, just pick up some snacks on the way.
Texas rolls into Reliant with some questions to answer. Let’s get to it.
No.4 Texas vs. Rice Owls
The disdain I have for the Rice baseball team does not carry over to their football team for one simple reason- I love David Bailiff. He nearly took the Texas State Bobcats to the National Championship in 2005 and he left his alma mater in better shape then it was when he took over. Coach B struggled in his first season at Rice, but in year two he won 10 games and the Texas Bowl; however, the bottom dropped out in 2009 as the Owls went 2-10. The good news is that’s sort of how it goes for Bailiff. A great year followed by a lousy, and then another great one. That means 2010 could be a good year for the Owls. The good news is they have top shelf D I talent on the roster with transfers from Michigan, Miami and Alabama. The bad news two of those transfers play the same position and none of them will be on the defense. Even still, I expect the Owls to better this year. It just won’t happen in week one against Texas. Let’s see how the Texas vs. Rice game matches up.
The Owls were awful offensively last season. They were dead last in Conference USA in total offense averaging 304 yards a game, which was 111th in the nation. They were 110th in scoring offense and 104th in rushing offense, but skyrocket up to 84th in passing offense. Suffice it to say “awful” might not do them justice. The good news is nine starters return. The bad news is the nine were all starters for Rice last year. The Owls run the spread offense, which is a shotgun, one-back set with three or four wide outs. That means a lot of zone read in the running game and a lot of timing routes in the passing game. Last year no one respected the running aspect of the offense, obviously, and it affected the passing game, obviously. The Owls threw more interceptions (17) than touchdown passes (14) and this is the stronger part of the offense we are talking about. It was, anyway, because that is going to change in 2010. Welcome home Sam McGuffie. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore out of Cy-Fair was an electric running back coming out of high school in 2008. He was a YouTube sensation that could have gone pretty much anywhere and chose Michigan where he played as a true freshman; but then he decided to come back home, ending up at Rice where he redshirted last year. Now he’s eligible and ready to go. He is the best athlete in the Rice backfield and a home run hitter at the running back spot. He has good size, great athleticism and is tailor-made for the spread. His 4.3 speed make him a threat to take it to the house from anywhere on the field, be it on a run outside or on a pass in the flat. His abilities will only help starting quarterback Nick Fanuzzi. Or whoever it may be. Fanuzzi, a junior transfer from Alabama, hit on 60% passes last year for Rice, but far too often he was throwing it to the defense as well as the offense. On the year he was 162-270 for 1,598 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight picks. Those numbers aren’t exactly “WOW” are they? He is very good athlete himself and big kid at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and has a good skill set- otherwise Alabama doesn’t offer him a scholarship in 2007. He is the most experienced but is getting pushed by another transfer, Miami ex Taylor Cook. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Cook has a much bigger arm than Fanuzzi and is a solid athlete himself. He isn’t the runner that Fanuzzi is, but he can make all the throws on the field. The problem with both of them, in my opinion, is this is entirely the wrong system for them to be playing in. With a pourous line last year, Fanuzzi struggled. He doesn’t have the mobility to overcome their flaws and there is no way a monster like Cook will be any better when the play breaks down. I think the guy you will see is going to be is redshirt freshman Tyler McHargue. The Vista Ridge grad is the best athlete of the trio, proving to be a good running threat in the spring. He doesn’t have the great size of the other two at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, but he can pressure defenses on the edge, has a good enough arm to be successful in the scheme and will be a nice compliment to McGuffie in the backfield. He seems to be the best suited to run this offense considering the trouble they had up front last season.
They are going to be better up front. Everyone is back and they all have a year of playing together under their belt. They aren’t very big, but you don’t need to be big in this scheme. You need to athletic, able to reach and get outside on blocks and stretch defenders laterally as the backs look for cut back lanes. At times their lack of size was an issue in pass blocking as they allowed 2.5 sacks per game, but a mobile quarterback can compensate for that problem and a strong running game keeps defenses from pinning their ears back. I see no stars up front and I don’t think they are going to be the mid-90’s Denver Broncos or anything, but I expect them to be better. Not this week, but down the line.
If you are wondering if I forgot about the receivers, I didn’t. I see absolutely nothing scary outside. Their most productive receiver from last year doesn’t start and their starters (three wide outs and a tight end) had 15, 12, two and zero catches last season, respectively. They have some size, but they haven’t been able to use it so far. We’ll see if that changes. It has to, I would imagine.
If I am Rice I start McHargue and McGuffie and run the McZone Read until Texas makes me stop. I think he gives Rice a better chance to succeed as a running threat. If Rice can have any success running the ball it keeps Texas’ offense off the field and opens up the passing lanes for McHargue and 15-12-two-zero to make some plays through the air. Look for them to move McGuffie around and try and get him matched up with a linebacker in the passing game and look for plenty of quarterback draws as the defense focuses on McGuffie. I don’t see any of it working well enough against this Texas defense.
Horrificker. That’s a word I made up. It means “when something is worse than horrific.” For example- “Rice’s offense was horrific last season. Rice’s defense was horrificker.” The Owls allowed an NCAA worst 43 points per game. Out of 120 teams in the Division I-A, Rice was 119th in pass defense, 117th in total defense, 107th in turnover margin and 102nd in rush defense. Ugh. Obviously everyone was fired and they are starting over. They run the 4-2-5 scheme and are trying anything to get their best athletes and players on the field. Second Team All C-USA defensive end Scott Solomon moves inside to tackle, all 270 pounds of him, to get more speed on the field. I don’t see any great size on the defensive line, but I see a lot of bodies they can roll out to keep people fresh. I think Solomon will make some plays inside, a lot like the smallish tackle from Wyoming last year, but Rice doesn’t have the personnel up front to control the line of scrimmage this week.
Honestly I don’t know why they don’t just call this a 4-0-7 scheme. The linebackers are both about 220 pounds and about 6-feet tall, meaning they are more similar to big safeties than traditional linebackers. They maybe cat-quick, but it is hard to make tackles from your back. I like the idea of smallish, athletic linebackers when there is a big defensive line, but without that I’d be more comfortable with a pair of 245-pound Jared Norton types addressing the run. I see a lot of trouble for these guys this week.
And a lot of tackling opportunities from the secondary. I’ve said this a thousand times- if your secondary leads the team in tackles, that means trouble. It means passes are getting completed and running backs are getting to the second and third levels far too often. I like the secondary at Rice. They have three safeties that can hit and two corners that can cover well enough, but they are going to asked to do way too much this week in dealing with the Texas offense.
So Texas wants to run the ball. Everyone everywhere in the nation has heard that. Rice included. Expect to see everyone close to the line of scrimmage. With a size mismatch like the Rice front seven has against the Texas o-line, watch for a ton of movement. There will be stunts, twists, shades… You name it, they will do it. They want to be on the move as the ball is snapped, trying to out-quick the offensive line and get in the backfield. Rice wants to get inside the head of the Texas ol and frustrate them as they chase smaller, quicker players on defense. They want the ol doubting themselves and they want to harass and limit the Texas running game and make the Horns one-dimensional. If they can do that it means Texas’ new quarterback will have to throw into the strength of their defense. Can they do that? Absolutely not, but I explained well, didn’t I?
Rice is actually very good punting the ball. Kyle Martens ranked 16th nationally last season and is a Ray Guy candidate this year. Shane Turner is a very good kick returner, averaging nearly 24 yards per return and can spark the offense with a good return.
Here is the problem, especially this week- they were 100th in kick coverage last year. That means that their first crack at fixing that will be against Marquis Goodwin and DJ Monroe. “Yikes” isn’t a strong enough word. Yikesicker?
You have heard me say this before- the fastest way for an underdog to get the crowd and themselves into a game is through special teams. A block, a return, a trick play- all could spark it. They need something great to happen to them.
Texas wants to run the ball. Everyone everywhere knows this. It isn’t a secret. You know what- who cares? Run it. Doesn’t matter if they put 11 on the line of scrimmage. Run it. Doesn’t matter if they know its coming. Run it. Heck, tell them its coming, Lyle Sendlein style. We are running right over you, and when I say “we” I mean all of us. If the o-line truly has the swagger I keep hearing they do, Rice is in for a world of hurt. No more reaching outside, no more chasing defensive backs in space, now its fire off and hit someone in the mouth, move the pile and move the chains. I want to see the confidence I keep hearing about.
If the running game clicks like I think it will, you’ll see the play-action pass from GG to the wide outs picking up big, big yards down the field. I expect to see a great day from Malcolm Williams, who has had his starting status questioned. I think it’s an intentional fire the staff lit to ignite him and I think it works.
You are going to see a brand new Texas Longhorn offense this weekend and, at least for one week, it will look mighty impressive. Cody Johnson goes for 100 yards in game one as the starter. That’s my offensive call.
Mack Brown has said that is the best defense he’s had in his 14 years at Texas. I can’t argue with him. I like the athletes Rice has in the backfield, but Texas has those athletes at every position on the defense. Kheeston Randall is going to blow up the middle of that line and EAcho and Keenan Robinson will be keying on McGuffie. I know what Rice is probably going to try, but outside of a broken play or two I don’t see anything really successful coming from it.
Look for a ton freshmen to see the field. Watch for Reggie Wilson and Jackson Jeffcoat to come in very early and start their careers with a bang.
Christian Scott forces a fumble. That’s my defensive call.
John Gold will punt and Justin Tucker will kick off and handle field goals. I expect to see Will Russ get time at kickoffs as well and if he is solid they give him the job. Gold will also be the holder on field goals and P.A.T.’s. That means the rugby punt is officially dead, which is a good thing.
DJ Monroe takes one back for six, making that my special teams call. Which freshmen will be stars on the specials?
A huge, huge advantage for Texas that will pay off in spectacular fashion.
The only thing “home” about this game for Rice is the color of their jerseys. The crowd is going to be all burnt orange and the game is going to be all road white with burnt orange. Texas has too much talent and too many athletes for this to be anything less than a blowout. I expect it and I think the team and staff expects it. From the coaches to the walk-ons, this is as confident a Texas team as I can ever remember seeing. You’ll see why Saturday afternoon.
A strong ground game, a stifling defense and an efficient quarterback will be the highlights of the day. Oh yeah, and a kickoff returned for a touchdown. Texas rolls.
This Week in the Big 12
A note: I don’t preview anyone playing a I-AA team. It isn’t right that they play, it shouldn’t be allowed and it makes me angry. So, no preview of I-AA match up, even if it involves the Longhorns, but you will see the game time/score listed at the very top.
Thursday, September 2nd
Northern Illinois Huskies @ IOWA STATE 7 pm FSN
I’ll go with the Cyclones just because. If you are going to the game you’ll be happy it is on Thursday, because Friday night the Wheatsfield Cooperative is having a wine and cheese tasting and the Iowa Street Rod Association is hosting the All American Weekend Car show Saturday downtown. I think the Cyclones win to set you up for a rockin’ good weekend.
Saturday, September 4th
Sam Houston State (I-AA team) @ BAYLOR 6 pm
COLORADO vs. Colorado State Rams 1 pm The Mtn
What in the world is “The Mtn”? I guess that’s the Mountain West Network? The unfortunate thing is that a big network will not show the nation just how much these two schools hate each other. The are playing in Denver at the Broncos’ place because neither school wants the other on its campus and neither fan base wants to travel to said campus. For a while the stopped selling beer in the stands and there were riot police on hand, European soccer style. Why is this game not on a TV channel I’ve heard of? Boooooo! Boooooo! See what I did there? I am acting like one of the CU/CSU kids. Buffs win? Sure.
UCLA Bruins @ KANSAS STATE 2:30 pm ABC
Kansas State should win this game. If they don’t something has gone very, very wrong. The UCLA Bruins come to town missing four starters lost to injury this summer including three starting offensive linemen. You have to win this, purple. At full strength these two should be fairly evenly matched, but this game is in Manhattan and UCLA is depleted. I see Daniel Thomas taking advantage of the gifts UCLA’s offense will give the Wildcats and K-State winning by a touchdown.
MISSOURI vs. Illinois Illini 11:30 am FSN
The Tigers suffered a blow when Derrick Washington was suspended indefinitely due to some pretty serious allegations over the summer. Add to it that Mizzou had to totally shuffle their wide out corps because no one could win the job and you have a mess on offense. Even still, they should have enough to win this game. This is when Blaine Gabbert can take over this team. Will he? Yes. At least this week.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers @ No. 9 NEBRASKA 6 pm FSN PPV
Western Kentucky is in their first year of being a Division 1-A team. Yikes. Huskers roll big and talk tough about how awesome their offense is after this blowout. Anything less than a blowout will be the fault of Texas.
Utah State Aggies @ No. 8 oklahoma 6 pm FSN PPV
So check this out. I was talking about bees vs. sharks a few weeks ago, right? I was on the Santa Monica pier two weeks ago, right after I wrote that, right after Shark Week aired. This is also the time the internets had the video of the surfer filming the two Great White sharks circling his board just of the Orange County coast, right down the road from where we were. I saw dolphins off the beach swimming earlier that day and sharks were a big of discussion as we cruised the pier. Then the pier had to shut down most of the rides and close off a large portion of it unexpectedly, shooing people away quickly. Why? A bee infestation. Thousands of bees had taken over a huge area under the roller coaster and something had upset them. They had to call in professional bee keepers in the suits, complete with those masks and the smoke guns. I couldn’t make that up. Okay, I could, but I didn’t.
Washington State Cougars @ OKLAHOMA STATE 6 pm FSN
Despite all of the personnel losses for OSU, they should win this game for two reasons: First, it is at home and the travel is going to be brutal on Washington State. Secondly, Washington State is horrible. Absolutely. Horrible. You can’t lose this game, pokes.
Sunday, September 5th
SMU Mustangs @ TEXAS TECH 2:30 pm ESPN
I can’t wait to see the new look Red Raiders and their fast break offense. SMU can move the ball and will not be intimidated or scared going in there. Expect to see some growing pains from Tech on defense, but Baron Batch will be the difference as Tech pulls away in a closer-than-expected game.
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