2005 Tulane Football Opponents: Rice

Right off, let's demolish the old urban legend that the original name of the school was the Sam Houston Institute of Technology. Ain't so

Rice joins Conference USA with the kickoff of the Owls October 1 date with UAB at Legion Field in Birmingham. Tulane and Rice will meet Nov. 12 for the first time since 1997.

Rice University. Right off, let's demolish the old urban legend that the original name of the school was the Sam Houston Institute of Technology. Ain't so, early days it was called the Rice Institute. And no Chinaman jokes either.

Rice and Temple are probably the two 1A programs that have struggled the most over the past half century. I believe that as a youth I saw Rice play Ole Miss in the 1960 Sugar Bowl, the Owl's last postseason appearance.

But there's something nearly unique abour Rice football, and it's something about as rare nowadays on the football field as the buffalo on western plains: the spread option offense.

The spread option is a variation of both the double wing and the triple option. During head coach Ken Hatfield's tenure, what the Owls have been running is very similiar to Navy's option attack.

The spread option is, in this era, arcane enough that it can present preparation problems for schools unused to seeing option offenses. And did I mention that it's difficult to stop? It can also be a high risk offense, but Rice has kept it's nose above water on turnovers, although that can sometimes be a cyclical phenomenon. Ordinarily, Rice is among the nation's leaders in rushing yardage every season, but this year the rushing attack may suffer because the Owls will field a very young offensive line and, in theory at least, will be deemphasizing the spread option for some other offensive schemes, including the shotgun and concocting plans to pass the ball more. Of course, they say something like this every season, but with only 4 starters and 14 lettermen returning, this might be an opportune time for a change.

The option would seem perfectly suited for a chronically undermanned program because it essentially neutralizes the physical advantage that programs with better athletes inherently have. Defending the option requires discipline and perfect execution of assignments. It's hard to see Rice abandoning this to try and go head-to-head on the football field with programs with better talent and not subject to the admissions standards of a university of Rice's quality.

Of course, new offenses require new blocking schemes, as well as the more conspicious position and assignment changes for skill position players. And the Owl offense will feature a very young offensive line.

Rice Offense

Only two starters return on the offensive line, leaving the Owls with a very young group of starters. Altogether the Rice starting o'line has totalled 19 starts in their combined careers, with junior guard Cory Laxen having made 11 of those starts. Of course, by the time Rice plays Tulane next November, the young bloods of the o'line will have nearly a season of game experience under their belts.

Still, the first year of a new offense is usually a struggle. A team changing offensive systems is very likely to be prone to create more turnovers than one with en established offensive system. So the book on Rice throughout 2005 will still be the same - 'Get a lead and make them play catch up.'

And Rice had some very poor play from spcial teams cover and protection units last year.

To sum up, most people think the Owls will still run the spread option in 2005 and any hopes for post-season activity revolve around drastic special teams improvement, rapid maturation of the young offensive line, and solid defense.

QB
Joel Armstrong 6-1 180 R-So.
Injuries to a veteran starter led the very athletic Armstrong into the game rotation at quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2004. Played in 9 games and started 5. A major threat running the option, Joel is reportedly not as comfortable in the passing game as redshirt freshman Chase Clement, who is expected to press for the starting job. Netted 608 yards last season and scored 5 touchdowns on 114 carries. Was only 26-of-56 passing the ball, for 341 yards and 2 touchdowns. Three passes were intercepted. If Rice coach Ken Hatfield is serious about using the option less and throwing the ball more, than Armstrong's chances of holding on as the starter are very weak. BUT he might also be the most athletic player on the team.

Chase Clement 6-1 185 R-Fr.
A better passer than usual for a Rice quarterback, how much he plays depends on how much Rice wants to throw the ball or has to throw the ball.

A Back
Quinton Smith 5-11 200 Jr.
Talented running back made 5 starts last season and 7 in his career. Gained 300 yards on 50 carries, and scored 2 touchdowns in 2004 and has averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 76 carries over the past two years.

Marcus Rucker 6-0 215 Jr.
311 yards and 2 touchdowns on 43 carries last season.

Bio Bilaye-Benibo 6-0 195 So.
127 yards on 14 carries in 2004.

FB
Andrew Cates 5-11 220 Jr.
Mostly a blocker and not as much a running threat as the Owls have deployed in past seasons. Has gained 49 yards rushing in 16 games in a reserve role during his career.

Joe Don Wood 6-2, 235 R-Sr.
Former tight end moved to fullback and the intention seems to be to provide an additional lead blocker.

20 career starts, 5 career receptions.

John Wall 5-10 210 So.-Sq.

Made 1 start in 2204 and suffered a season-ending knee injury.

"H"
Mike Falco 5-11 220 Jr.
Another talented back from the Owl stable of running backs, Falco as averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 29 carries. Has also caught 7 passes for 163 yards. Has seen action as a return man for both punts and kick offs. Has played in 17 career games and started 3. All 3 starts came at the end of the 2004 season.

Tommy Henderson 5-10 185 R-Fr.
Converted option quarterback.

Thomas Lott 5-7 180 Sr.

Returning veteran who missed most of last year after a knee injury. Has made 12 career starts. Gained 143 yards on 33 carries in only 5 games in 2004.

Bubba Heard 6-0 185 So.

SE
Jared Dillard 6-0 175 Fr.
Reportedly a more talented receiver prospect than Rice usually entertains.

Andy Hall 6-4 215 Jr.
Big target who should be an effective perimeter blocker.

Nick Aranda 6-0 195 Sr.
Gary Anderson 6-0 175 So.
Rick Campbell 6-1 195 So.

LT
David Carter 6-6 300 Jr.
3 career starts.

Nathan Miller 6-3 285 R-Fr.
Shaun Rainey 6-5 300 Fr.

LG
Cory Laxen 6-3 290 Jr.
Most experienced Owl o'lineman, also reported to be the most talented. Has11 career starts.

Robby Heos 6-3 300 R-So.
1 career start.

Braxton Evans 6-2 275 Jr.

C
David Perkins 6-3 275 So.
Reported to be a very talented prospect.

Scott Austin 6-3 265 So.

RG

David Berken 6-3 280 R-Fr.
Austin Wilkinson 6-1 275 R-Fr.
Jake Sutton 6-2 280 Fr.

RT
Rolf Krueger 6-4 290 R-Jr.
4 career starts.

Lute Barber 6-7 300 R-So.
Nathan Enos 6-3 285 So.

TE
Matt Bolding 6-3 245 Jr.
Mostly a blocker, and not considered much of a threat as a receiver. Made only career start last year.

Will Moss 6-4 255 R-Fr.
Second tight end, also not considered a threat as a receiver.

Rice Defense
Rice usually suffers from a lack of size at most positions, but in 2005 a lack of size in the secondary may be the most serious handicap for the Owls, when the smaller DB's are matched up against the 6-2, 6-3, 200-pound receivers that they will be seeing a lot more of in C-USA.

The Owls run a 4-2-5 defense similiar to TCU's. One variation or another of the 4-2-5 is the most common defense in the WAC and Mountain West conferences. This defense is essentially a nickle, but with a second strong safety in place of one of the outside linebackers.

Because the defense presents only a six-man front to the offense, the linebackers and strong safetys are the key to defending the run. The basic strategy seems to be to use the two down tackles to choke the middle and force opposing offenses to run plays outside.

The 4-2-5 features shifting fronts and aggressive blitzing to create confusion for the offense and gives more flexibility in defending three and four wide receiver spread offenses, as well as in defending the option.

The Owl defense is experienced, it has more talented players than usual and some size. This side of the ball will probably be the strength of the Owl ball club in the early going while the offense grows, matures and adjusts and, possibly, the defense will have to carry the load the entire season. Rice's defense, unless riddled by injuries, looks to be a hard nut to crack.

DE
John Spytak 6-2 255 Sr.
Top dog of the Rice defense and probably the best player on the team. Ultraquick defensive end brings real heat from the edge. Named 1st team All-WAC after the 2004 season and will probably earn the same honor from C-USA after this season. Has played in 31 games in his career, starting 23. Has made 169 tackles in his career, including 29 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Has also forced 4 fumbles and made 5 recoveries in his career.

Dietrich Davis 6-3 245 R-Fr.
Derek Bingham 6-2 230 So.

DT
DeJaun Cooper 6-2 305 R-Jr.

Is expected to dominate most offensive linemen. Has made 13 career starts. Ledger balance looks like this:

Jonathan Cary 6-3 285 So.
Addison Hopkins 6-5 270 So.

NG

William Wood 6-3 300 Jr.
5 career starts, 43 career tackles in 2 seasons.

George Chukwu 6-1 305 So.
Todd Mohr 6-1 290 Fr.

DE
Rob Daniel 6-4 245 Sr.
5 career starts, 58 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles-for-losses, 2 passes broken up.

Courtney Gordon 6-4 250 Jr.
Has played in 22 games over the past two seasons and made 4 starts. Has totalled 36 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.

Eric Sweetser 6-2 240 So.
Trey Macaluso 6-2 230 Jr.

SLB
Buck Casson 6-1 215 R-So.
Talented youngster played in all 11 games and started 4 as a freshman in 2004. Made 35 tackles, inlcluding 5 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks.

Omeke Alikor 6-0 210 Jr.
Vernon James 6-0 215 R-Fr.
Jared Gilbert 6-0 230 So.
Gilbert made 1 start last season.

WLB
Adam Herrin 6-0 225 R-SR
Talented 5th-year senior has been a big contributor the past two seasons. Altogether Adam's played in 34 games in his career, starting 16. Has a total of 153 career tackles, 12 tackles for losses and 2 sacks.

Stephen Wood 5-11 205 Jr.
Lance Luedeker 6-0 225 So.
Garrett Dornon 6-2 230 So.

ROV
Matt Ginn 5-9 180 Jr.
Has made 2 career starts and totalled 32 tackles.

Aubrey White 6-1 195 R-Fr.

CB
Jon Turner 5-9 185 So.

Should be considered one of the brightest prospects on the team but has yet to prove he's a top flight DB. Of course, the option is not a receiver-magnet type offense and few high quality 1A receivers lineup at Rice's practices, which is a disadvantage for a DB trying to improve his cover skills.

Ja'Corey Shepherd 5-11 175 Fr.

CB
Lance Byrd 5-11 185 R-Jr.
Has the reputation of being a quality college athlete but also suffers from the dearth of quality receivers to work against in practice. has made 12 starts in his career. Production totals look like this: 48 tackles, 2 INT's and 6 passes defended.

Brandon King 5-9 175 R-Fr.

Dustin Haynes 5-10 190 Sr.
Made 9 starts in 2003 but tore an ACL and was lost for the entire season in 2004.

BAN
Chad Price 6-0 205 Jr.
Another talented Owl defender. Price has made 18 career starts, rung up 149 tackles, 5 tackles-for-losses, 2 INT's and 10 passes defended.

Justin Abt 6-0 205 R-So.

FS
Andray Downs 5-9 185 R-Jr.
Starting free safety is one of the leaders of the Owls secondary. Talented DB but unusually small for a safety, Downs depends upon exceptional speed and quickness to cover centerfield. Is also a dangerous kickoff return man. Has two years as the starter under his belt, making 14 career starts, and has played in a total of 23 games. Has made 132 career tackles, including one tackle for loss. Has one career interception.

Bencil Smith 5-11 185 R-Fr.

SPECIALISTS
PK
Luke Juist 6-0 200 So.
4-7 on field goal conversions in 2004. Also the backup punter.

Brennan Landry 5-9 185 Sr.
4-9 on field goal conversions in 2004.

Neither Juist or Landry has much leg, and neither made a field goal of more than 39 yards. 2 blocked field goals (1 apiece) and 4 missed extrapoints indicate the depth of the Owls special teams woes. Landry handled most of the kickoffs (like 55 of 56!) and averaged about 56 yards per kick, which gets the ball to about the 9 yard line, which is a bit short.

Kickoff coverage was decent, Rice opponents averaging 21.8 yards per carry, although the Owls did surrender an 83 yard return for a touchdown.

It was the punt coverage that was horrendus, the Rice punt coverage unit allowing opponents to score 3 touchdowns in yielding 340 yards and a 21.2 yards per punt return average.

PNT
Jared Scruggs 6-2 190 Jr.
Shake it up, RIGHT NOW! Rice had 3 punts blocked last season! Scruggs reportedly improved in the spring, and he needed to. Had 3 punts blocked, and his net punting average was only 28 yards a kick. BUT he also averaged 45 yards+ per punt in 2003 and was the all-conference punter. A return to 2003 form will be a big boost for the Rice defense.

If the problems aren't straightened out, special teams could be the real achilles heel of the 2005 Rice team.


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