Rice Preview: One Last Chance

One game left before Big 12 play, one game left and so many questions still to answer. But Texas' Saturday showdown with old Southwest Conference foe Rice may be the Longhorns' best chance to answer those questions and get some much-needed experience for their young players.

With eight offensive starters returning to one of the nation's most effective offenses and only five returning starters to a very thin defense, the 2007 Rice Owls were expected to score a lot and get scored on a lot.

Well, at least the second part occurred.

The Owls are 102nd in the country in scoring and also in the 100s in total offense (105th), total defense (104th) and points allowed (108th). That's bad, almost Notre Dame bad. This ain't your daddy's Rice. Actually, this ain't even your brother's Rice.

Don't confuse the team that will come to Austin on Saturday with the bowl team Texas played last year in Houston. True, last season the Owls started 0-4 and then went 7-2 over the last nine games, but the same sort of turnaround, led by then-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite's spread attack, is very unlikely to occur in 2007. Gone to Tulsa is head coach Todd Graham, gone to Alabama is Applewhite and gone with them is the spark. Rice began the season with a loss to 1-AA Nicholls State, which, unlike the defending two-time National Champion Appalachian State Mountaineers who knocked off Michigan on the same day, finished 4-7 last year. The Owls were then blown out by the spread passing attacks of Baylor and Texas Tech by scores of 42-17 and 59-24, respectively.

Make no mistake: This may be the worst team in the history of Rice football.

Texas should not only win, it shouldn't be close. It better not be, anyway, because with too-close-for-comfort wins to start this season, this game represents Texas' last and best chance to get the young back-ups any real playing time before conference play begins. After all, it's only one more week until Kansas State and, more importantly only two more weeks until Oklahoma.

This may be a much less effective Owl offense than last year, but the primary weapon is still there. A Biletnikoff Award finalist last season, receiver Jarrett Dillard is still a force to be reckoned with. Through the first three games, Dillard has been limited by a lack of weapons around him, but has still managed to put up 224 yards on 16 receptions and one TD. He's a long ways from catching last year's impressive totals of 91 receptions for 1247 yards and 21 touchdowns, best in the nation, but getting the ball to Dillard will be the primary focus of the Owl offense.

Getting him the ball has not been easy. Quarterback Chase Clement has throw five interceptions already, equaling his total from all of last season when he threw 21 touchdowns and only five INTs. That's not good, but by comparison that's the same number of picks that Colt McCoy has this season as well. Of course, McCoy is also completing 66.9 percent of his passes, compared to Clement's completion percentage of 56.7.

On the ground, C.J. Ugokwe and Justin Hill, along with Clement, carry the load, but the ground attack has been largely ineffective, putting up only 326 yards on 119 carries (average of 2.7 ypc) in the first three games.

The top Rice defender to watch is junior linebacker Brian Raines, who far and away leads the team with 26 tackles. He's been one of very few bright spots on a defense that's struggling with a transition to the 4-2-5. Sending five defensive backs into the game hasn't helped, especially given how thin the Owls are at DB. The numbers tell the story.

Rice is 110th in the nation against the pass this year and each of its last two opponents, Baylor and Tech, have thrown for over 400 yards. That doesn't bode well for the Owls, who face a Texas team that has relied even more this year on quick passes, isolating receivers and defensive backs in space, much like the Texas Tech and Baylor offenses.

The Owls have also sacked the quarterback only four times this season and have given up 12 to opponents. The Rice D-line should provide a nice, light workout for Texas' freshmen linemen who should get into the game.

Rice hasn't beaten Texas in 13 years. The last time Rice won in Austin was 1965. Expect more of the same at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

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