The Owls effort was aided greatly by their pressuring SMU Freshman Bo Levi Mitchell into making 4 turnovers - he threw 3 intereceptions, and fumbled twice, with the Ponies able to recover one of them. The Freshman from Katy looks like he'll be a good one - but Freshmen makes mistakes and the Owls capitalized on his.
The Owl Defensive effort minimized the high powered June Jones Run-and-Shoot to 337 yards. Rice didn't dominate but looked much more consistent in coverages and in defending the run. They held SMU Running Backs to 40 yards rushing. The Pony Offensive Line held the Owl pass rush mostly at bay, but starting Ends Scott Solomon and Cheta Ozougwu each collected a sack a piece.
Inside the game stats, Rice answered some but not all of what have been lingering questions from last year's tough season:
The Owl Rushing Attack - Rice rolled up 208 net yards on the ground behind an improved Rice Offensive Line. Chase Clement led the way, but James Casey, C.J. Ugokwe, and Marcus Knox were effective with their carries as well. Freshman Shane Turner had a couple carries as well. Overall the Owls had a 4.7 yard per carry average (I'll take that all year long!)
Improved Defense - the Owls yielded 337 yards of Total Offense, well below their 2007 season average of 510 yards. Of course we're comparing 1 game game with a first year SMU program, to a season average with much more potent teams averaged into it - but its an encouraging start. Rice has to be able to minimize the teams "it should". The Owls also had a + 2 turnover ratio last night. Winning teams always seem to have this in their favor.
Special Teams - its unfortunate former TCU Defensive Back, now Rice Special Teams Coordinator Rick LaFavers couldn't be on the field himself last night. His game planning and schemes were air tight last night, but on field execution was another story. A poor decision by returners Brandon King led to a fumbled punt, Jeramy Goodson also fumbled a kickoff return, both giving the Mustangs a short field and quick Touchdowns. The Owls also missed 2 Field Goals attempted by Clark Fangmeier. He was wide on kicks of 46 and 43 yards. Freshman Punter Kyle Martens pinned the Ponies inside the 10 with a great punt, but also didn't strike the ball particularly well on his other attempt in route to a 39 yard average. All these things can be improved however.
Throwing Into Coverage - hard to find much fault with Chase's performance last night but the Owls were fortunate when SMU defenders dropped at least 2 Interceptions last night, each hitting them in the numbers. Chase has a tendency to try to force a pass or two in every game into extremely tight spots - usually because with his velocity he can. He got away with it last night but those could have easily turned into scores.
However, what matters most is that the Owls were far better last night than they were in last year's season opener. They'll get better in all phases of the game no doubt before Game 2.
Attendance has been such a hot topic leading up to this game. The official announced attendance of last night's game was 23,154. Many had hoped that in spite of the game being aired nationally on ESPN, a slew of local high school football games, a Friday night Astros game, and travellers heading out of town for Labor Day that the stadium would be respectably full. Rice AD Chris Del Conte had to be pleased.
We need to stay grounded here of course but last night was a big success in many ways. A big win showcasing a high powered offense in front of a respectable crowd - and all on ESPN. America, I hope you were watching; Rice isn't your Homecoming opponent any more.
Owl Digest Offensive Player of the Game - Chase Clement
Stats: 24 / 37, 258 passing yards, 87 rushing yards, 6 Touchdowns.
Owl Digest Defensive Player(s) of the Game - Andrew Sendejo and Brandon King
Sendejo Stats: 4 Tackles, 1 Pass Break Up (saving a sure Touchdown), 1 Fumble Recovery returned 34 yards, 1 Interception returned 55 yards for a Touchdown.
King Stats: 4 Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss; 2 Interceptions returned for total of 56 yards, 1 to the 1 yard line.
Up next, the Owls travel to Memphis next Saturday...