Rice certainly won't be able to sneak up on Memphis this weekend in their second straight C-USA contest. Even though Memphis will have seen what to expect, the Owls will need to continue to score points in this fashion if they plan on adding win #2 this weekend.
Here are a few match-up comparisons for when the Owls have the ball.
Rice Ground Game vs. Memphis Defense
The Owls mustered an impressive 208 yards rushing against SMU. A considerable improvement over last year's almost non-existent rushing attack. Though many of those rushing yards were designed rushing plays, Chase Clement had 89 yards alone. Still the Owls will take 200+ yards rushing any way they can get it. Also encouraging was that the Owls were able to pick up yards effectively without last year's leading rusher Justin Hill. He has been cleared to resume practice and will give the Tigers much more to think about as it prepares to defend the improved Owl Rushing Offense. No surprise that the Owls will throw, but with last week's success on the ground they have a growingly diverse attack to throw at defenses this year – a scrambling QB, a big bruiser in James Casey, a slasher with speed in Justin Hill, a shifty back with speed in Marcus Knox , a waterbug type in Shane Turner, and a guy that always seems to get 3 yards in C.J. Ugokwe. The Owl Offensive Line has improved dramatically since last year and should be credited with a big role in the team's success.
The Memphis Defense uses a 4-3 front - the same front SMU ran. With most of their starters back - virtually the same defense gave up over 200 rushing yards a game last year. However, they look to change that this year under new DC Tim Walton's direction. Up front they have a veteran bunch of 4 Seniors coming back. The Tackles are big and athletic – Freddie Barnett is 6-2 300 and was rated the #5 player in Arkansas as a Senior; Clinton McDonald was an Honorable Mention All C-USA player last year. Defensive End Corey Mills was a Super Prep All American and one of the top rated players in Tennessee as a high school Senior; and the other DE Jada Brown originally signed with Ole Miss. They are bolstered even further by MLB Winston Bowens, who at 6-0 250 is the perfect run stopper. As you would conclude, they are very tough to run on inside – Ole Miss managed just 63 yards on 21 carries. But as good as they were at defending plays between the tackles, they were simply awful in defending the perimeter. Ole Miss averaged 11 yards a carry on runs to the outside.
So the real question is, does Rice possess enough speed to exploit the Tiger's weakness outside the tackles? The Owls aren't as fast as Ole Miss so the answer may not necessarily be "yes". And though the Owls have progressed in running the ball, the Memphis "D" will be a far greater test than SMU was. Rice will have to prove that thier success in the SMU game was no fluke, and doing it against a veteran group like Memphis will do just that. Until then, we'll call this match-up even.
Rice Passing Offense vs. Memphis Secondary
This looks to be a favorable situation for the visiting Owls. Chase Clement and Company put up 258 yards passing against SMU, throwing for 6 touchdowns – Memphis gave up 222 against a Freshman Ole Miss QB. Maybe more telling was that the Rebels had a 20.2 yard completion average against the Tigers. Memphis Coach Tommy West basically called out the Tiger Secondary at his press conference Monday saying they played horribly and that they "lost their guts" in man coverage. The Tigers have two players at Cornerback that are first time starters, both as Seniors. Deante Lamar was a Special Teams player last year, so was Michael Grandberry - he's a standout return man but has never started at CB. This unit gave up over 240 yards through the air last year and its hard to say they are any better this year based on their performance against Ole Miss. It would appear that Rice would have a decent edge if only with its best pitch and catch combo of Jarett Dillard and Chase; but the Owls have a deep group of Receivers to add to their duet, and that depth gives them an even greater advantage.
Edge : Rice
Memphis has some extremely talented players on this unit. As mentioned above, they have an excellent return man in Michael Grandberry, who averaged over 20 yards a return against Ole Miss. He holds several Memphis school records for returns, including the record for being the only Tiger to ever amass more than 1,000 return yards in a single season. Punt Returner Ernest Williams was named Honorable Mention All C-USA as a WR but also returns kickoffs - pretty well too, last year he averaged 34.2 yards per return on kickoffs. Kicker Matt Reagan connected on a 39 yard field goal against the Rebels Saturday, picking up where he left off last year. In 2007 was named the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Week twice. As a Freshman in 2006 he earned Freshman All-America recognition by The Sporting News and CollegeFootball News.com and was also on the C-USA Media All-Freshman Team following season in which he led the Tigers in scoring with 61 points. He averaged 60.8 yards on 4 kickoffs against Ole Miss, a skewed average considering one kick went out of bounds. Brent Sutherland is competent punter, but backup QB Will Hudgens can also punt, doing so twice last week for a 41 yard average. His ability to handle punting chores gives the Tigers an extra edge in having to defend Memphis 4th downs.
Edge : Memphis
Tomorrow we look at Owl Defensive match-ups…