The Army Black Knights (1-0) will meet the Rice Owls (0-1) at Michie Stadium this Saturday in the home opener for the West Point team. Army will be full of confidence that they can move to 2-0 on the season after upsetting Temple with a potentially program-changing victory last weekend. Rice, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back after a demoralizing conference loss at the hands of Western Kentucky. Here is a look at the head to head.
ARMY PASSING OFFENSE
RICE PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Army doesn't like to throw the ball, especially when Ahmad Bradshaw is in the game. The coaching staff just doesn't have that level of trust yet in Bradshaw's ability and would much rather he keep the ball on the ground. That is why last week Bradshaw only threw the ball four times (and only completed one of those) despite playing all but one series of the game. Rice, on the other hand, cannot defend the pass at all. Western Kentucky quarterbacks combined to pass for 552 yards against the Owls. If Army could pass the ball they would be able to move it through the air. as they won't, it's an even matchup.
ARMY RUSHING OFFENSE
RICE RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The Western Kentuck rushing offense wasn't spectacular against the Rice defense, but they were throwing the ball so well that it didn't matter. Rice held the Hilltoppers to under 100 yards on 30 carries, but you get the feeling that this performance is inflated and that when tested the run defense might be in trouble. Army will most definitely test said run defense after rolling for 329 yards at almost five yards per carry against a far superior Temple defensive front. Look for Andy Davidson and Bradshaw to do work, opening up the edges for the slotbacks as the game wears on.
RICE PASSING OFFENSE
ARMY PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Rice quarterback Tyler Stehling threw the ball all over the field last weekend, but the Owls still weren't very effective through the air. Stehling was 23 for 38 passing, for just 186 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. That equates to just 4.9 yards per passing attempt. Mike White of Western Kentucky, by comparison, was at 16.7 yards per attempt. Rice does at least like to spread the ball around as 10 different players had receptions in week 1. Army though has a back seven on defense that is very capable of shutting this pedestrian passing attack down.
RICE RUSHING OFFENSE
ARMY RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Rice faces the problem of not being able to run the ball either. Against the Hilltoppers, who are far from an Alabama level defense, Rice backs combined to rush the ball 33 times for 105 yards. If you take quarterback Stehling and his 85 yards out of the equation, the remaining four backs managed 44 yards on 21 carries at an average of barely two yards per carry. That is a stunningly bad return for a team that tried to establish the run hard early in the game. It has been said before here, but the Amry linebackers are one of the most underrated groups in the country. They will feast on this running game.
REMARKS: The one area of the field where Rice does have an advantage is on special teams, though that is more to do with Army's capitulation in week 1 than anything the Owls do particularly well. Army had a punt blocked (on a bad snap) and kicker Mitchell Howard missed both his field goals, one of which was from very makeable range. This should not be a game where field goals are the difference, but it would be nice to see Howard make a couple to get his confidence back.
REMARKS: The best decision Army head coach Jeff Monken made last week was abandoning the quarterback rotation early and sticking with the hot hand. This week should be more of the same as Ahmad Bradshaw is more than good enough to run the option against an opponent that looks overmatched on paper. If Bradshaw struggles though how long will it take for Monken to use Chris Carter. Its a delicate balancing act and we need to see more evidence than just one week to know Monken can balance effectively.
David Baliff of Rice is a good coach with a (currently) bad program. He will have to use all his coaching tricks to keep Rice in this one and the amount of work the Owls have done on stopping the option will be obvious immediately. If he can coach some life into his defense then Rice will be in the game.
REMARKS: After their respective performances on the opening weekend the Black Knights have all the momentum here. Add in the fact that Army is playing at home for the first time this season and the team will be looking to make a statement in front of their fans and their peers. You better believe that the historical significance of this game will have been drilled into the players all week, while it feels like Rice has little more to play for than their pride given what happened in the conference opener.
PREDICTION: Army 31, Rice 10. I just don't see how Rice can slow the Army option down. The Owls are limited both on offense and defense and this is a real chance for Army to get to 2-0 and make the wider world of college football take notice.