This week both football teams are coming off highly emotional games. Vanderbilt upset #24 South Carolina last Thursday night on national television. Rice of course pulled off an incredible come from behind victory over Memphis Saturday night in the Liberty Bowl. Both are no doubt still on an emotional high. But make no mistake, Rice Coach David Bailiff didn't allow his team to linger too long on the victory. In the locker room afterwards he was already talking about preparation for the Owls' game with the undefeated Commodores.
Vanderbilt, under Coach Bobby Johnson will no doubt be ready for Rice as well and will be a tough team to beat. One fact is known - a team will be 3-0 after Saturday night's contest. Let's look closer at what each team offers in this week's preview of the C-USA-SEC match-up.
Rice Passing Offense vs. Vandy Secondary
This appears to be a battle of strengths for the two teams. Just about everyone in the country knows that Rice has has thrived off of its passing prowess in winning its first 2 games. An exciting perspective to consider is that though Chase Clement and his Receivers had trouble getting started in the first half, the silver lining to their win Saturday night was that they did most of the necessary damage in one half of football – the second half. When the Rice Offense hits on all cylinders - which it hasn't done consistently yet in the early goings of the season - it can be a powerful and efficient scoring machine.
Just 3 years removed from an Option Attack, Rice has developed a solid group of Receivers for its Spread Attack. All bring something special to the position. Junior Corbin Smiter is a big target at 6-2, as is Toren Dixon, Patrick Randolph brings speed to stretch defenses, Tommy Henderson is dangerous in short routes, and James Casey and Jarett Dillard are making a case to be classified in a league of their own. H-Back Taylor Wardlow is another big receiver that at 6-6 240 pounds, is a matchup problem for defenses.
The Owl Offense has put up 576 yards through the air this year, actually less than their opponents through two games – but the end result has been a 49 point scoring average and subsequently a 2-0 record. The fact that a Rice football player, Chase Clement and James Casey, has been the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week the first two weeks of the season surely will have the Commodore Defense's attention.
While Clement and Casey have been gaining recognition for their offensive prowess, Vanderbilt has had players of its own recognized for outstanding play. Junior Linebacker Patrick Benoist was named the SEC Player of the Week last week for his stellar effort against South Carolina, which included 15 tackles and a sack. The Southlake Carroll product has been added to the Bronko Nagurski Award watchlist. QB Chris Nickson was named Offensive Player of the Week after Vandy's opening win over Miami (OH) University.
In looking at the match-ups, one has to be impressed by the job Head Coach Bobby Johnson has done in Nashville. He's built a solid program, and the Vandy Defensive backfield in particular has been called the best in the SEC by some. They are particularly strong at the Cornerback position.
Headlining the group is Cornerback D.J. Moore. The Junior from Spartanburg, South Carolina was an All-SEC player last year after swiping 6 interceptions and he's also a dangerous return man that will likely handle kickoff and punt returns. Moore already has one interception this year, and a handful of pass breakups. Moore has company in other talented Vandy secondary players. Playing opposite of Moore is CB Myron Lewis. He's off to a great start this season as well, leading the team in tackles against Miami with 8, 6 of them solo stops. At 6-3 202, Lewis is obviously strong against the run. The pair are arguably the best CB tandem in the conference. Behind them, Free Safety Ryan Hamilton is another talented Commodore. He had 8 tackles against South Carolina and the 6-2 210 pound Junior pairs with Senior SS Reshard Langford to form another great tandem for the ‘Dores. Langford also possesses great size at 6-2 212 and is a playmaker - his interception and 33 yard return against South Carolina helped keep the game close for Vandy, who obviously later came back to win. In summary, the Commodores could easily have the best Secondary we'll see all season.
And as if a strong Secondary weren't challenging enough for opposing Offenses, the Commodore Defensive Line really gives them a boost with a strong pass rush up front. Defensive End Steven Stone is a standout and registered a sack against South Carolina. Broderick Stewart is tall and lean at the other End, but cat-quick. The Commodores are good at pressuring QBs form the edge. But also get help inside from Defensive Tackle Greg Billinger, who logged 2 sacks against the Gamecocks.
Edge : Vanderbilt
Rice Rushing Attack vs. Vanderbilt Run Defense
While the stats from last week don't necessarily show it, Rice has made great strides in its running game. The Offensive Line has improved greatly under Coach Blake Miller's tutelage. Incorporating a solid rotation, the Owls are now able to keep the OL fresh, which is critical in sustaining a consistent push up front with its Zone Blocking scheme.
While Chase has the best numbers statistically, Owl RB C.J. Ugokwe has shown flashes of solid running ability. Marcus Knox has been a standout on Special Teams, and has also shown an affinity for punishing opposing defenders. The Owl backs need to become a little more consistent in their reads to be truly effective – but the ability to move the chains is there.
Quite solid against the pass, the Commodores are stout against the run as well. They held South Carolina to just 92 yards rushing on 29 attempts, for a paltry 3.2 yards per carry average. As mentioned above, the Commodore Linebackers behind the efforts of Patrick Benoist, are an active, sure tackling unit. RS-Fr. Linebacker Chris Marve was named Tennessee Mr. Football his senior year. He's been consistent early on this season, making 6 tackles in each of the ‘Dores' 2 games this year. A telling statistic is that against a solid Gamecock team coached by Steve Spurrier, the Vanderbilt Defense had 7.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Previously mentioned Defensive Tackle Greg Billinger is a big part of the Vandy Run Defense, and at 6-3 290 is a very solid interior player. In addition to providing a strong inside pass rush, he also logged 6 tackles last week – 2 for a loss.
Edge : Even
The Commodores are great in the Secondary and solid up front. They will be a real challenge for the Rice Offense. Tomorrow we look at the Vandy Offense, led by QB Chris Nickson.