Today, we look at what North Texas will try do with its Offense against the Owls.
Rice Secondary vs. North Texas Passing Game
One of the things everyone around Rice kept talking about before the season started was how we needed to stay healthy on Defense to improve. With game 5 approaching tomorrow, Rice is already without two of its best defenders. The reality of football is that guys are going to get banged up – it's a violent sport. So the Owls are exercising their only option, they are simply moving forward with "the next guy". Unfortunately, Rice has already lost what may have been their best CB in Brandon King – and as a result they have moved on to their "next guys" at Corner. One of those is true freshman Chris Jammer, who became a starter before King's injury and gets better with each practice. He has the potential to become the type of big, physical, lockdown Cornerback that Rice has long been searching for. At 6-1 and 185 pounds already, Jammer is still a very fluid player. He has a solid overall game and made a big splash against Memphis with the game winning interception and TD return. Manning the other Corner is Christopher Douglas. He will have to elevate his game as the season progresses. Douglas has the speed and mindset to be effective – but he must play more consistently in order for Rice to shut down the passing of its opponents. JaCorey Shepherd backs up both and will see plenty of playing time rotating into the lineup. He's the best tackler of the Owl Cornerbacks.
One thing opposing teams have tried to do against the Rice Secondary has been to exploit size mis-matches. North Texas may perhaps try the same thing. They have a pair of big Receivers, both"Sams" - "Sam" Dibrell and "Sam" Roberson. Dibrell is 6-2, Roberson 6-4. Though they aren't as big, or athletic as the Memphis Receivers, they do possess a size advantage obviously, which the Owl CBs will have to overcome. Rice must be as equally focused on All Sun Belt receiver Casey Fitzgerald though. He was an Honorable Mention All American last year and leads the team in receiving with 24 catches for 188 yards.
Calling the plays for the Mean Green is Giovanni Vizza, who like Chase Clement is a former Alamo Heights Mule. The 6-1 204 sophomore has been efficient thus far against the Mean Green's tough early season opponents. He's completing 60% of his passes and his strongest asset may be his quick release, making getting pressure on him difficult. Throwing motion aside, the North Texas O-Line has done a good job of protecting Vizza as well, he's only been sacked 6 times this year, playing against the likes of Kansas State, Tulsa, and LSU. Rice's starting Defensive Ends are due for a big game – both are returning to health and are explosive enough to get to Vizza.
Edge : Even
Hard to call this anything but even right now. Tomorrow's game results should help define both teams' ability level going forward though. With Vizza's quick release, Rice will need to get creative in pressuring him.
Owl Defensive Front Against Mean Green Rushing Attack
I saw a great vision while at practice the other day – one of Rice's team leaders was running again. His absence has been noticeable and the thought of his return surely must lift the spirits of the defense. Junior Terrance Garmon has taken over as the leading tackler in the Owl Linebacking Corps. They will need a strong effort from Garmon as they will surely be tested tomorrow against an Eagle squad that's had surprising success running the ball this year.
Chris Ptaszek has been a solid starter for the Owls and leads Rice interior linemen with 10 tackles. He has a size and strength and advantage on most opponents and has taken advantage of both. Chance Talbert has also been active, with 9 tackles, 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He also shares the team lead for sacks with 1.5. Behind the starters, Rice has continued to develop (and use) depth in their interior line positions. Will Moss, Todd Mohr, and newcomers Michael Smith and John Gioffre give the Owls a whole slew of near 300 pounders up front.
As mentioned, DE's Scott Solomon and Cheta Ozougwu are both healthy again. Good news for the Owls, and they need to get pressure on Giovanni Vizza. North Texas looks as if they have achieved a nice balance offensively however. The Mean Green rushing attack is led by The Woodlands product Cam Montgomery. He lead's the team in rushing with 150 yards on the season, on only 25 carries. The 210 juco transfer breaks a lot of tackles with his 6-1 220 pound frame and the Owls will not stop him with "arm" tackles.
The North Texas Offensive Line doesn't have a lot of stars in the lineup but they've done an adequate job of pass protection, and an even better job of run blocking. The Mean Green is averaging 4.7 yards per carry on the season. Again, very respectable considering the level of competition they've played. Left Guard Gabe Hollivay is a load at 6-3 360, however the rest of the lineup doesn't present many physical mis-matches for Rice.
Both teams have played powerful teams early on. As a result, it's difficult to declare which might have the upper hand in this match-up. Again, call it a draw.
It seems Rice has been working since Game 1 to improve its erratic Special Teams play. One thing's for sure, the process has been a group effort. The entire staff has dissected the Units' play – breaking down every single snap from every practice and game. The result has been a re-confirmation of scheme, but a finding that execution has been most of the issue. The result has been an increased emphasis on game performance, for performing at practice hasn't been a problem for any of the Owl Specialists. The Owls seemed to make strides against Texas; but need much more progress before Coach Rick LaFavers will be anywhere near content.
Mean Green kicker Jeremy Knott has connected on all 3 of his field goal attempts this year, including one from 47 yards out against Tulsa. However, he's missed a couple of PAT's and his kickoff average is only 61.9 yards. Punter Truman Spencer has fared a little better with his performances – he's averaging 42.4 yards per punt on 26 attempts. North Texas kick returners are averaging only 12.9 yards per return; punt returners 14.0. Neither of which is overly impressive.
Edge : Even
The weather should be perfect tomorrow for football at Rice Stadium. Positives are that the Owls are returning home and the city is on the rebound after Hurricane Ike. If Rice executes the way they have at times this year they could leave little question as to how this one will turn out. Then again, they've had a ton of distractions over the past couple of weeks and have battled against injuries at key positions. No one is taking this one lightly.
The Owls need to remember 4 words tomorrow: "Take..Care..Of..Business"