Rice Preview: Old Friends Meet Again

After spending several days preparing for Arkansas, the Longhorns were forced to suddenly shift gears and begin working on Rice. But it wasn't a difficult transition, as Texas will play on Saturday against a team they're very familiar with...

Texas (2-0) vs. Rice (2-1)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Tex.

We've met before, haven't we?

On last year's Rice Owl team, it was hard to find any seniors on the depth chart. Because of this, Texas will line up on Saturday against almost the exact same personnel they lined up against last season.

Take a look at the production Rice returns from last year's team in every major statistical category:

Rushing Yards - 98.3%
Passing Yards - 99.6%
Receiving Yards - 90.4%
Punt Return Yards - 100%
Kickoff Return Yards - 100%
Interceptions - 83.3%
Scoring - 98.8%
Total Yards - 92.3%
All-Purpose Yards - 92.8%
Field Goals - 100%
Punting Yards - 0%
Tackles - 79.4%
Tackles For Loss - 69.7%
Sacks - 65.8%
Fumble Recoveries - 85.7%

This production came from a 2007 Owl squad that scored a school-record 377 points. Unfortunately for Rice, not many of those 377 were scored against Texas. The Longhorns whipped the visitors from Houston, 58-14, and will look to do the same again, just as they have for the past several seasons.

In many respects, this is actually the same team Texas faced in 2006 and in 2005 as well. The 2005 season was when then-freshman quarterback Chase Clement threw his first pass to then-freshman wide receiver Jarett Dillard. A "pass" itself was almost a foreign concept the Owls at the time, as Rice offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was transitioning the team from an almost purely option run offense to the spread.

In the transition, Rice found Dillard, who the next year became an All-American and a Biletnikoff Award finalist when he led the nation with 21 TD receptions. Dillard has gone on to become Rice's career leader in touchdowns, points, receptions and yards.

Applewhite is now in Austin as the Longhorns' running backs coach, but Clement and Dillard are still there, just as they were in '05 and '06...when the Longhorns beat the Owls 51-10 and 52-7, respectively.

But this is also a Rice team that has shown steady improvement as its once freshman heavy roster is now a senior-laden team. The Owls are 2-1 this season with wins over SMU and Memphis and a loss to Vanderbilt. But keep in mind this isn't the Vanderbilt you're used to. The Commodores have gone undefeated in their first three games, including an upset win over the South Carolina Gamecocks, who were ranked at the time.

So, let's meet the Rice Owls, whom the Texas Longhorns are already quite familiar with...

The Rice offense begins with Clement and Dillard.

The duo is now two touchdowns short of NCAA career TD record for a QB/WR combo (39, Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards of Louisiana Tech, 1995-1998). But it's not as if Dillard is Clement's only option.

Dillard and 6-4, 245-pound WR/TE (Rice refers to his position as the 'Y') James Casey are one of only two pass-catching duos who are both ranked in the top 15 nationally in catches this season. Rice also employs Casey as a power running back. The big man ran for 47 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the Owls' season-opener against SMU and has eight career rushing touchdowns to go with his five receiving touchdowns.

He's also completed a pair of passes.

And returned a punt.

And has three tackles and half a sack working previously as a defensive end. Needless to say, he's a multi-purpose weapon that Rice will make use of against Texas.

The Owls are primarily a spread passing team, ranking 19th overall in the nation in passing yardage (291.67 ypg). When the Owls do hand off the ball, it goes to C.J. Ugokwe. The 5-11, 213-pound running back has 128 rushing yards and he's actually second on the team in rushing behind Clement. Clement is 83rd overall in the nation in rushing and 11th among quarterbacks (194 yards, three TDs).

On the offensive line, all three interior linemen are seniors and both tackles are young, with sophomore Scott Mitchell starting on the left side and RS-freshman Tyler Parish on the right. Rice employs a combination of standard "big" protections and slide protections to keep Clement out of harms way.

As mentioned, the Owls set a school record last season by scoring 377 points on offense...yet they also finished that season with an abysmal 3-9 record.

Why? Because Rice finished 118th out of 119 teams in scoring defense (42.92) and 118th out of 119 teams in total defense (510.83). The Owls' pass defense? Dead last. 119th of 119 Div. I [ok, fine, Football Bowl Subdivision] teams, giving up 312.42 yards per game through the air (and you thought the Horns had problems on pass defense).

Much like the offense, it's very close to the same team, as all of the Owls' top five tacklers are back, but there doesn't appear to be a great deal of improvement. Rice has surrendered 27, 35 and 38 points to SMU, Memphis and Vanderbilt.

Up front in the Owls' 4-2-5 defense there's plenty of size, with 6-6, 280-pound junior Chance Talbert and 6-5, 302-pound senior Chris Ptaszek plugging the middle at DT and 6-2, 240-pound sophomore Cheta Ozougwu and 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Scott Solomon coming off the edge at DE. But in the first three games, the Owls haven't faired much better than the Horns at sacking the QB, putting up only four sacks.

Rice has only a strong and a weak linebacker and no middle, making room for a fifth defensive back, the "KAT" position, which is manned by senior Bencil Smith. Of course, it seems the addition of another defensive back has done little to assist the Owls in pass defense, as they are once again ranked near the bottom, with 256.67 yards per game through the air surrendered (95th, nationally).

The top tackler on the team is free safety Andrew Sendejo. The 6-1, 215-pound junior has compiled 30 tackles in the Owls' three games, putting him at 10th in the nation in that statistic.

Kick-off on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is set for 6:00 p.m.

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