Tulane's offense is led by one of the most statistically prolific backs in the country – Matt Forte. The senior from Slidell, La. is a big and powerful back at 6-2 and 223 pounds. He currently leads the nation in rushing, averaging 181.3 yards a game. He's got 1813 yards rushing through 10 games. He's a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, awarded annually to the best college football player in the country. He's also on the Doak Walker Award watch list. The Doak Walker Award is given to the nation's top running back each year. Forte is no doubt worthy of the recognition he's receiving. Although his rushing average per game is impressive, against Tulane's tougher opponents - Mississippi State, Houston, LSU, and Tulsa - Forte averaged a little more pedestrian number of 81 yards per game. The Owl run defense, led by linebackers Brian Raines and Vernon James, will face perhaps its toughest test of the season in trying to stop Forte. Tulane can throw the ball too – they had 21 pass attempts against UTEP.
Tulane has used a 2-quarterback system recently alternating big Texan red shirt freshman Kevin Moore (6-4 232) with Tulane baseball player Chris Scelfo. The two passed for 277 yards against UTEP. Scelfo has started the last 7 games and is a gritty player given his atypical size for a Division I quarterback, 5-10 190. Scelfo's dad is the Offensive Coordinator at Louisiana Tech so what he lacks in size he compensates with a coach's understanding of the game. As impressive as Tulane's rushing attack is – their pass rushing attack is quite formidable too.
Tulane's defense is ranked 2nd in C-USA in run defense, but they are particularly good at getting to the QB. The Green Wave's 27 sacks rank 1st in Conference USA. Senior defensive tackle Antonio Harris leads the team with 5 sacks. 4 other defenders are tied with 4 apiece. One of those is Houston Lamar product Avery Williams, a senior defensive tackle that was also recruited by Rice. Rice returned the favor when Cheta Ozougwu switched his commitment to the Owls last January, opting to stay home in Houston so family and friends could see him play. Junior linebacker Evan Lee leads the Green Wave in tackles with 88 on the season. Free safety David Skehan paces the secondary with 4 interceptions.
The Owls will have a tough match up on their hands Saturday. They would love to take this game at home after losing last's year's game in New Orleans. Must be something about the Super Dome – the Owls didn't play well in either of their two games there last year. The Owls strength against Tulane will likely come through the air, as it has done so many times over the past several games. Tulane is 112th in pass defense in the country and 8th in the same category in C-USA.
The key to this game is simple – if Rice can slow down Matt Forte somewhat and click on offense they stand a good chance of gaining the victory. We know by now that with the ball in Chase's hands a positive outcome is always within reach. The Owl offensive line will have a stiff challenge in protecting him though. The Owls have done well in games where they've created turnovers – Tulane didn't have a single turnover last week against UTEP. This is shaping up to be another battle – but the Owls are used to that scenario, it happens every week.
Several Texans dot the Tulane roster – an amazing total of 33 in fact. In particular 19 players that hail from Greater Houston will be coming home for the weekend. Jersey Village has 3 players on the Tulane roster – Joe Goosby, Ade Tuyo, and Gabe Ratcliff. This is a very telling statistic for the lack of attention paid to area players by previous Rice staffs. In contrast, The Owls currently have 6 commitments from Houston area players.
Scott Solomon had a strained abdominal muscle last week against SMU. Defensive Line Coach DJ Eliot has limited the number of reps Solomon and Cheta Ozougwu got in practice this week. He feels that they are playing too many snaps right now – which are physically taking a toll on the 18 year olds. Unfortunately, they've got too much talent to take off the field which is contributing to the problem. Also, Will Shoppa and Kramer Lucio being out with injury forced the coaches to move freshman linebacker Aaron Williams to defensive end. Shoppa returned to action last week against SMU though.
The Owls will have several recruits in visiting for Saturday's game. Scheduling for the weekend has been a little difficult because of Texas High School playoffs beginning this weekend. Eric Ball and the #1 team in Texas 5A – the Katy Tigers – actually play at the future Owl lineman's home for the next 4-5 years on Friday night – Rice Stadium.
As amazing as Jarett Dillard has been this season, he's not first in the conference in receiving. That honor belongs to Houston's Donnie Avery. Dillard was double covered in virtually every game to begin the season. The return of Joel Armstrong really freed JD up and forced teams to single cover him more. Dillard may yet end up surpassing Avery for the C-USA lead in receiving though – Avery suffered an unfortunate knee injury in Houston's 56-7 loss to Tulsa.
Speaking of the Coogs – they are rooting for their cross-town rivals as much as anyone is these days. If Rice can win its remaining games, and Houston wins against Marshall, it puts the Cougars in position to win the Western Division of C-USA. Tulsa already has 2 losses in C-USA play.