Coach Greg Schiano guided Rutgers to a 26 wins and three straight bowl games during that stretch, as Rice ran for nearly 5,000 yards.
Don't expect a similar offensive game plan when No. 17 Pittsburgh (5-1, 2-0) plays host to Rutgers (2-5, 1-2) in a Big East Conference matchup Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
"They'll still hand it off to (Kordell) Young 40 times if we let them,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "It still comes down to stopping the run. I know Greg Schiano's mentality, and he's going to try to play defense, eliminate turnovers and run the football.
"That's how he's been successful (the past three years), so I'm sure they'll try to establish the run. We have to make sure, regardless of how they're running the ball, that stopping the run is still a priority.''
Kordell Young is just a redshirt sophomore, while backup Jourdan Brooks is a redshirt freshman. Brooks leads Rutgers with 305 yards rushing (4.6 per carry) and five touchdowns in six games, while Young has 252 yards and two scores in just three games. Mason Robinson is next with 115 yards and one TD in six games. The Knights have 10 rushing touchdowns and three passing.
They average less than 17 points per game and about 108 yards rushing per game, approximately half of last season's numbers, and it hasn't helped that 6-foot-4, 220-pound fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Teel has been extremely inconsistent. He has completed just 55.6 percent of his passes for nearly 1,400 yards, but has thrown seven interceptions to go with the three touchdowns.
Teel's top target is 6-4, 215-pound junior Kenny Britt, who leads the Big East with 46 catches for 571 yards. However, he has yet to reach the end zone.
"Teel's a very capable quarterback with good receivers,'' defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "I think with Young in the backfield, it's very obvious that he gave them a dimension the past two weeks that wasn't there earlier this year.
"So, he's really helped their offense, and we expect to see a lot of him. ... The margin for victory and defeat is very narrow. They're coming here feeling good about beating a good Connecticut team, so we're going to have our hands full.''
Bennett also pointed out that Britt and running mate Tiquan Underwood have both surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in the past, and Teel had 20 touchdown tosses last season. Sure, he struggled early, but has played better lately thanks to changes on the offensive line three games ago.
So, Pitt will mix its defenses against Rutgers, but could utilize one with extra defensive backs to counteract the Knights' passing attack.
"It's just going to depend how the game goes,'' Bennett said. "Right now, they're a big play-action team, and they're trying to get Young involved in the game. Like every week, we want to make a team predictable.
"So, we'll see where that goes. I think they're still a work in progress trying to get back to where they think they need to be in the running game. They're still relatively young on the offensive line, but they're getting better every game.''
Still, Rutgers has allowed 11 sacks. Pitt leads the Big East with 18 quarterback drops, so this is an area where the Panthers can gain control. Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard believes that plays right into his team's plans.
"We compete against each other to try to get each other better,'' Sheard said. "We look at sacks and things like that and in practice, small things like getting off the ball. We have a lot of fun in practice like that.
"We keep a tally for the sacks, and I think G-Rome's (Greg Romeus) probably has the most. Mick Williams might have fallen behind a bit after missing that Navy game, but I'm sure he'll catch up pretty quick.''
And with Rutgers likely going to an aerial attack more often than not this year, every Pitt lineman has a chance to pad their stats.
Rutgers Offense Takes Flight
Panther Digest Top Stories
Penn State Is Big Offer For In-State OTBelle Vernon (Pa.) High offensive tackle Blake Zubovic visited Penn State on Saturday, and he left campus with an offer.
Scout FootballYesterday at 4:19 PM
Finding Broncos: Examining The TE Class Pt. 2MHH Senior Draft Analyst Erick Trickel continues to break down the 2017 tight end class. It is a really deep class, and with a need at tight end, the Broncos should be keeping an…
Mile High HuddleYesterday at 12:28 PM
The Opening Atlanta: Offensive PreviewA look at the top offensive prospects expect to compete in The Opening Atlanta on Sunday at Buford High School.
Scout FootballYesterday at 7:43 AM
2018 WR Mershawn Rice Holds One OfferOne of the top all around athletes in Ohio for the class of 2019 is Reynoldsburg's Mershawn Rice. He holds one offer at this time.
Scout FootballYesterday at 6:21 AM