Though it would seem the Owls would have an easy time with 0-3 North Texas, Rice knows they cannot afford to take Todd Dodge's Mean Green lightly.
Though North Texas hasn't won a game this year, they've played 3 very tough opponents – Kansas State, Tulsa, and defending National Champion LSU. Add to that, they will have 2 weeks to get healthy, and prepare for the Owls. You have all the makings of a "trap" game for Rice.
Rice is saying all the right things about this one though, so I fully expect them to be prepared for a tough game. Let's look at the match-ups.
Rice Passing Game vs. North Texas Secondary
Though Rice would love to run the football more effectively, its no secret that Chase must get into a rhythm with his Owl Receivers early to make the Rice Offense effective. Statistically, he had a decent game against Texas, going 25-37 for 254 yards. But Chase was also sacked 6 times against the Horns. The main problem for the Owls was that while they moved the ball, they couldn't score points against UT. A real encouraging development in the game however was that Chase and Jarett Dillard looked totally in synch, for the first time this year.
And this came just at the right time. After a couple of uncharacteristic drops against Vandy, JD came back strong with 9 catches for 158 yards in Austin, and the Owls showed they can throw a multidimensional attack at teams with JD and James Casey both on the field at the same time. While the Horns didn't completely shut Casey down, they chose to focus more heavily on the national receptions leader. They didn't shut him down, but they did limit him, which obviously left Dillard more single coverage opportunities. North Texas doesn't have near the talent that Texas does in its Secondary, and is very young in the defensive backfield to boot. Kansas State threw for 306 yards, Tulsa for 420 – assume Rice will also have its share of Offensive opportunities.
Freshman Cornerback Royce Hill was very nearly a Rice Owl. Too bad because he's started from Game 1 this season for North Texas and has shown why the Owls would have loved to sign the talented Cy-Ridge product. In his first game as a college player against KSU he had 7 solo tackles, 1 pass break-up, and a fumble recovery. Antoine Bush is the other Cornerback, a junior from Tyler. He's one of the most experienced players on the Mean Green Defense. Overall they are a fairly young group. At the Safety positions, North Texas has shuffled its lineup. In the opener, 6-3 Kartey Agbottah and Kylie Hill, a newcomer to the Mean Green lineup from Northeast Oklahoma JC were the starters. After Agbottah was injured against Kansas State, freshman Darien Williams came in to replace him against Tulsa and has been the starter ever since. Williams was the MVP of his high school district at Vernon HS. Another freshman, Lake Highlands' John Shorter has also played quite a bit. North Texas is giving up an average of 312 yards a game passing, a number that might be much more if LSU didn't rely so heavily on an effective running game against them. They are very, very young obviously.
Edge : Rice
You have to think Rice's strong passing game will be able to move the ball against the almost all freshman Secondary of North Texas.
Owl Running Game Against Mean Green Defensive Front
This game will be an excellent measure for the Owls Running Game, because as Rice has faced increasingly better Defenses their rushing numbers have dwindled considerably. Against a very strong Texas Defensive front the Owls only managed a net 17 yards of rushing. The Owls started with an encouraging effort against SMU, but then again the Ponies are 1-3 in 2008. So I'm not sure anyone knows just how good (or bad) the Owls are at running the football. A performance of 150 yards or more against North Texas would perhaps go along way towards answering questions about the Owls' ability to run the football.
North Texas is not particularly physical across their defensive front 4. The Ends are sophomore Marquis Sykes, a former Linebacker, and senior Ryan Davenport. Davenport was a backup at DE in 2007 and also played Tight End last year. Both weigh 250-260. The interior starters are 6-3 275 pound Joseph Miller, who may be the best of the 4 up front; and 5-11 300 pound Isaac Thomas. Miller led all Mean Green Defensive linemen last year in tackles with 48. He and Thomas are both seniors. The North Texas Linebacking Unit is perhaps the strength of the Defense. You would expect a 4-3 Middle Linebacker to lead his team in tackles, and Tobe Nwigbe in fact does with 31 on the year. The junior is a local Houston product having attended Alief Elsik High School. At 6-0 251 he's a classic run stuffer, and started for North Texas as a RS-Fr. Another Houston area product lines up at the Weakside Linebacker position for the Mean Green. Craig Robertson of Stafford, is a tad on the small side at 6-0 225, but led the team in tackles against Kansas State. He was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All American last year after starting for the Mean Green. Keeping with the theme of athletic defenders, the other Outside Linebacker is A.J. Penson of Lufkin. Penson was recruited by Rice and was a State Top 100 Linebacker according to some sources. Scout.com listed him as the 40th best MLB in the country his senior year at Lufkin. He will be a sophomore this year after playing as a true freshman in 2007. North Texas has yielded 172 yards a game in rushing – but has played two very good running teams in Kansas State and LSU. Again, hard to judge.
I'd love to say Rice will run the football on North Texas, but I'll need to see it before I'm convinced they can. Call it even for now.
Looking at stats, Rice would seem to have an overall advantage Offensively against North Texas. They should be able to move the ball and score Saturday. Tomorrow, a look at the road tested Owl Defense against Todd Dodge's high powered passing attack…