Let's look at the match-ups anyway.
Rice Passing Game vs. Texas Secondary
The Rice Offense had a very atypical second half against Vanderbilt; because they've usually been a very good second half team in the past 3 years. The Owls never could get into synch last Saturday night, plagued by dropped balls as much or more than any adjustments Vanderbilt made at the half, the Owls were kept out of the end zone for the final 2 quarters. The Owls know they must score in fairly high numbers to give themselves a chance to win most games. The Owls have weapons on offense, they must execute routine plays in order to gain any benefit from them though.
Speaking of weapons, its not surprising that Rice has a receiver near the top of the current NCAA standings. But its not All American Jarett Dillard. Its actually James Casey. Probably no coincidence, the other Receiver at the top of the national statistics is, like Casey, also a former QB – Kansas' Kerry Meier. Chase is of course the spark that makes the Owls Offense go, and JD and Casey are only part of what has become a talented receiving unit. Toren Dixon, Corbin Smiter, Patrick Randolph and Tommy Henderson round out the deep group that has been a consistent part of the Owl passing attack. They need to execute Saturday night - make the throws, make the catches.
In charge of shutting the Owl Receivers down is a fast Longhorn Secondary. Cornerback Ryan Palmer ran a 10.5 100 meters in high school while at Arlington Bowie. He also ran the first leg on the Horns' 4x100 Relay Team that competed in the 2008 Big 12 Championships, advancing to the NCAA Midwest Regionals as well. The other CB is local product Chykie Brown, who is tall and rangy at 6-1 190 pounds. He was an All-State selection at powerhouse North Shore High School. Brown was also a Receiver in high school; he's also on the Texas kickoff return unit and has excellent ball and running skills.
Texas uses a "Left" and "Right" Safety alignment in its 4-3 Defensive alignment. Starting at Right Safety for the Horns is West Orange Stark product Earl Thomas. Thomas is a compact 5-10 195 pounds and like Brown also played Cornerback and Receiver in high school where he was a 3 year starter. He was the District 21-3A MVP as a senior. The "Left" Safety is doing something a lot of players don't do - starting as a true freshman at Texas. Blake Gideon is the son of Leander HS Head Coach Steve Gideon. Blake graduated in December of 2007 and enrolled at Texas in January. As a senior he tallied 142 tackles and 8 interceptions on his way to 1st Team All-State honors. He's big, fast, and physical. Smart too – he was offered a scholarship from Rice before eventually committing to Mack Brown.
Edge : Even
The Rice Receiving Corps is the Owls' most talented unit, still the Horns are at least equal in terms of their overall Secondary talent.
Owl Running Game vs. Texas Defensive Front
Running the football is something the Owls would really like to be able to do. They worked hard to improve this aspect of their offense in the off-season. While results against SMU and Memphis were encouraging, they struggled against the Commodore defense. They managed only 3.2 yards a carry against Vanderbilt after averaging over 4.5 ypc in the two games prior. While the Owl run game is better, it will be hard to duplicate good numbers against UT. They are big and talented.
One of the things Mack Brown has done best while at Texas is recruiting linemen. An example of one of those is Texans' rookie DL Frank Okam, who was a 4 year starter for the Horns. It seems that as soon as one NFL caliber lineman leaves, another steps in to replace him. Evident in the fact that the Horns finished 6th in the country in rushing defense last year, holding opponents to just 94 yards a game.
Starting at Defensive End this year for the Horns are two extremely explosive, strong, and agile players. Brian Orakpo hails from right here in Houston where he attended Lamar High. Orakpo was named a 2008 preseason Playboy All-American. He's also made preseason watchlists for the Hendricks Award, Lott Trophy and Nagurski Trophy. He's one of the strongest members of the Longhorn team, and was named the nation's top workout warrior by ESPN - he bench presses 515 lbs., squats 600 lbs. and power cleans 380 lbs. The 5th year senior has gained 50 lbs. of muscle in Austin while maintaining only 8% body fat. The other starting End is former Running Back Henry Melton. Melton was a 2nd Team All-USA Today selection as senior at Grapevine HS. At 6-3 260, Melton runs a 4.6 forty yard dash.
Inside this year UT starts 6-2 300 Noseguard Roy Miller. The talented senior from Killeen Shoemaker is on the Bednarik Award watch list. Miller was a 2 time All-State player and also played in the US Army All-American Bowl in 2005. He is agile enough to also play Fullback for the Horns in short yardage situations. He was a 1st Team All Texas selection by Dave Campbell's this year and is one of the strongest Longhorns with a 500 pound bench press. At Defensive Tackle Texas rotates two players from Western states. Aaron Lewis is a 6-4 270 pound senior from Albuquerque, NM who has played both Tackle and End for Texas. Like Miller, Lewis was highly touted coming out of La Cueva High School, he was a Parade All American. He also won a State Title in track throwing the shot put. He also played in the 2005 US Army All American Bowl and had 49 sacks in his high school career. The other Defensive Tackle in the Longhorn rotation is Colorado Springs' Lamarr Houston. Though he's made headlines recently for a DUI arrest, Houston is also a very talented football player. Another former Parade All American, Houston was a standout Linebacker and Running Back at Doherty High School. He rushed for 3,325 yards there but was also named the Denver Rocky Mountain News' Defensive Player of the Year as a Linebacker. At 6-2 275 pounds he's outgrown that position obviously, but still retains enough quickness and agility to be a real handful for opposing Offensive Linemen.
Though he arrived at Texas as a Linebacker, Houston switched position groups quickly. Partially because he grew out of being a Linebacker, but also because the 'Horns have exceptional talent there. Starting with the very exceptional athleticism of Strongside Linebacker Sergio Kindle. At 6-4 240 pounds Kindle has been referred to as a "freak" of an athlete. Kindle was also a Running Back in high school at Dallas Woodrow Wilson. Kimble's high school accolades are lengthy, almost ridiculous – Parade All American, Parade National Player of the Year Finalist, Parade AFL Iron Award (for best 2 way player), Old Spice Red zone National Player of the Year, and USA Today 1st Team All American. He rushed for 5,632 yards in his high school career and amassed 411 tackles. He was All State on Offense and Defense. In track Kimble ran the 400M and performed in the Long Jump. He was the Center on his high school basketball team. Okay, you get the point – he's got an "S" on his chest. Middle Linebacker Rashad Bobino didn't get as much national attention as some of the other Texas Longhorn recruits, but got plenty here in his home state. The LaMarque product was a 3-time 1st team All District selection. His senior year he was named the 4A Defensive Player of the Year and also 1st Team All-State by the TSWA. He was also named the All Greater Houston Defensive MVP as a senior. At 5-11 235, he's excellent against the run. Weakside Linebacker Roddrick Muckleroy is big and fast like Kindle, at 6-2 235 pounds. The Hallsville junior was tabbed 1st Team All-State by the AP and TSWA as a senior. All the starters are obviously impressive, but their backups aren't far behind and bring many of the same honors. The Longhorn Linebacking Unit may be the most athletic in the Big 12.
Edge : Texas
The Longhorns have recruited so well they usually just "out-athlete" opposing offenses. The have a big edge in overall athleticism.
Tomorrow we look at the Rice Defense and how they match up to the also athletically gifted Horn Offense.