Army Opponent Preview: at Rice

Army may well be the only country without a bye over the first eight weeks of the season. The Black Knights eighth game in as many weeks sees them travel to Houston, Texas to take on the Rice Owls. With the players body’s almost certainly needing the week off that is upcoming, can Army finish out this opening season gambit with a win?

2014 Record: 8-5 (5-3 in the C-USA – Second in C-USA West). Beat Fresno State 30-6 in Hawaii Bowl.

Series Record: Rice leads the series against Army 3-1-1 in a game which has been played more recently than it was in the past. The Black Knights won the series opener 14-7 in 1958, with a 21-21 tie being the only other meeting last century. Since the next meeting in 2006 it has been all Rice, with the Owls winning all three games.

Last Meeting: The last meeting between these two schools took place just last fall at West Point. It was a game in which the Army offensive line was less cohesive than normal and, as a result, Rice made 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and held Army to just 250 yards rushing in a 41-21 Owls win.

Head Coach: David Bailiff is entering his ninth season as the Rice head coach with a 48-53 (.475) win/loss record. Bailiff is in the middle of a surge of success with the south Texas school, having been to bowl games in each of the last three seasons.

Spring News: Rice held a low key spring game in early April, omitting a number of veteran starters who had been kept out of action all spring. By protecting starting quarterback Driphus Jackson (photo above) and his three top receivers, the focus turned to developing their understudies and giving the Owls a glimpse of their future. With these, plus a number of offensive linemen, sitting out of the Blue-Grey Game it will be no surprise to hear that the defense dominated the day.

Projected Strengths: Any team starting a fifth-year senior at quarterback should be happy with their situation and this is definitely true for Rice. The aforementioned Driphus Jackson has improved year after year in the system and last season, his first as a starter, he threw for almost 3,000 yards and connected for 24 touchdowns. He is a dual threat of a high caliber and don’t be put off by the off-season shoulder surgery as it occurred on his non-throwing shoulder.

The Owls also have a couple of very talented running backs for Jackson to hand the ball of to. Jowan Davis (956 yards) and Darik Dillard (11 total touchdowns) are arguably the best pair of complimentary backs in the league and they will cause problems for any defense they face. Rice also likes to use a Wild Owl package where former high school quarterback Luke Turner enters the game with both running backs to give endless options out of the backfield.

Projected Weaknesses: The Rice defensive line, which was expected to be the best in the league, was blown up a little in the offseason. The Owls expected to have defensive tackle Christian Covington back after he missed all of 2014 with a knee injury, but he surprised everyone by declaring for the NFL Draft. Around the same time All-C-USA first-teamer Brian Nordstrom took his 7.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss to a Houston area oil and gas industry job (and a six-figure salary). The combined losses turned a huge strength into a potential weakness.

The Rice secondary also looks to be a problem area as the Owls try to bed in four new starters with questionable talent. Defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond has molded diamonds in the past and he may have to do so here again. If the secondary cannot hold up on its own then it will be a smoke and mirrors situation with Thurmond needing to find ways to cover for the back end of his defense all year long.

Prediction: This Rice team has been lifted under Bailiff to not be the easy win on the schedule they used to be. With this has come growth with the program, and with the facilities, and Rice are fortunate to be in a state where even the fourth and fifth level recruits can still play at a high level. To win this game Army will have to find a way to shut down Jackson and his running backs, while picking on a defense which isn’t as strong as expected a few months ago. Even with this being said it will be a close game with a touchdown separating the teams one way or the other.

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