2011 Rice Preview – Offense
Rice TE Luke Willson
Rice TE Luke Willson
Posted May 13, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Rice Owl Offense

Rice Owls

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 Rice Preview | 2011 Rice Offense
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What You Need To Know: If Rice can stay healthy, an issue a year ago, the program has a chance to turn the corner in a big way on offense. The Owls showed hints of breaking through down the stretch, averaging more than 40 points over the final four games of 2010. Not coincidentally, the turnaround occurred around the same time that young QB Taylor McHargue returned in November from a shoulder injury. Viewed as the future at the position, the multi-dimensional sophomore outplayed senior Nick Fanuzzi in the spring to take control of the job. He'll be supported by a deep backfield led by versatile RB Sam McGuffie and a receiving corps that's heavy on tight ends and light on quality wideouts. The line is experienced enough to handle average opponents, but lacks the depth and first-rate talent to silence some of the league's better defensive lines.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Nick Fanuzzi
151-241, 1,681 yds, 11 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Sam McGuffie
197 carries, 883 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: Sam McGuffie
39 catches, 384 yds, 3 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior RB Sam McGuffie
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore WR Donte Moore
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore QB Taylor McHargue
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Vance McDonald
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Junior TE Luke Willson, 2) McGuffie, 3) Senior LT Jake Hicks
Strength of the offense: Backfield depth, tight ends, veteran line, third down conversions, red zone conversions
Weakness of the offense: Wide receivers, pass protection


State of the Unit: While it's taken a couple of years to build back after the graduation of all-timer Chase Clement, Rice believes it's back on solid footing at quarterback. After using three different players a year ago, the Owls believe they've got a young hurler to build the offense around and more depth at the position than it's had in a long time.

Sophomore Taylor McHargue didn't just back into the top spot on the depth chart in the spring; he won this job versus stiff competition. Saddled with a shoulder injury for much of 2010, he returned in November to lead the Owls to wins over East Carolina and UAB. The 6-1, 215-pounder finished 33-of-58 for 493 yards, six touchdowns and just one pick, adding 151 yards and a score on the ground. A terrific athlete, with an accurate arm, he handles himself like an underclassman despite being so early in his career.

The most experienced of the quarterbacks is actually now the backup. Senior Nick Fanuzzi took over when McHargue was injured in September, going 151-of-241 for 1,681 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. A 6-4, 220-pound former Alabama transfer, he has a strong arm and more than 500 career attempts, but makes too many mistakes and isn't nearly as elusive. Junior Taylor Cook is still around, but has slipped in the pecking and will continue to be used some at receiver. An imposing 6-7, 240-pound transfer from Miami, he struggled for reps last fall, going 32-of-57 for 409 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.

Watch Out For .... McHargue to begin generating favorable comparisons to Clement. The similarities are unmistakable, undersized, lightly-recruited field generals who can make things happen. While neither would be confused with fast-ballers, both are athletic and terrific leaders.
Strength: Experience. Two players started multiple games in 2010, and the third-stringer began his career as a scholarship athlete with Miami. The Owls have as much quality depth as they've had in years, insulating themselves from getting derailed if McHargue gets injured or is ineffective.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. While Rice has considerable upside under center, it still has a lot to prove in the passing game. There's a reason why the program ranked No. 10 in the conference in passing and No. 7 in efficiency. And now a young, albeit talented, quarterback has taken hold of the reins.
Outlook: Although a few games don't prove much, you get the sense that there's something special about McHargue. It has a lot to do with the way he conducts himself on and away from the field. He has a safety net in Fanuzzi and Cook, but injuries aside, the Owl coaching staff is convinced it won't be needed. The future is now for Rice at the quarterback position.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: The Owl coaching staff is absolutely thrilled about its depth and talent in the running game, not the kind of thing that's overheard much on this campus. Five backs rushed for at least 50 yards last fall, and not one of them has departed, giving the offense a number of suitable options when it keeps the ball on the ground or asks its backs to spread out and impersonate a receiver.

In his first season as a regular, 6-0, 200-pound junior Sam McGuffie began to deliver on the hype. The former Michigan Wolverine and YouTube sensation led the Owls in rushing and receiving, running for 883 yards and six touchdowns on 197 carries, and catching 39 passes for 384 yards and three more scores. Arguably the program's most explosive all-around athlete, he has track speed and can jump out of the building, convincing the staff to get him the ball often.

Rice has a seasoned collection of backups currently headed by 5-8, 195-pound senior Tyler Smith . While not very big, he runs with good acceleration and pad level, picking up 707 yards since suffering a knee injury in 2008. The future star of the backfield is 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Jeremy Eddington, who was impressive in his first year on campus. A big and physical inside runner, he carried 59 times for 365 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns, twice going for more than 100 yards in November. While 6-1, 230-pound junior Charles Ross got lost in the shuffle on offense in 2010, he still showed nice giddy-up for such a big player as a return man. This is the same Owl who led the team in rushing a year earlier, going for 491 yards and 11 scores.

Watch Out For .... Eddington to command more carries. He showed plenty in his debut to be considered an important part of the rotation, even if he plays a secondary role. Whenever a player of his size can snap off long runs, he becomes worthy of an expanded role in the offense.
Strength: Depth and versatility. The Owl coaching staff will have myriad options, from the big-play ability of McGuffie to the power of Eddington. Although there'll be a designated starter when the season begins, as many as four different players can carry the load if asked.
Weakness: Blocking. The Rice backs are so busy carrying the ball and catching passes that they rarely focus on the small stuff, like picking up blitzes and protecting the quarterback. For a team that doesn't always excel in pocket protection, it needs all of the help it can get from other sources.
Outlook: The Owl backfield has so much potential that it might force the coaching staff to reconsider its run-pass distribution this season. In McGuffie, Smith, Eddington, and Ross, the Owls have a complimentary quartet that can do a little bit of everything to help keep the chains moving and defenses on their heels.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: The good news is that the Owls feature a diverse passing attack that'll incorporate the backs and tight ends. The bad news is that a back and a tight end led the team in receiving a year ago. Rice puts a lot of emphasis on the passing attack, but with the issues at wide receiver, it could struggle to move the ball through the air and generate the momentum-shifting plays that it treasures.

The Owls have an all-conference contender at tight end, 6-5, 250-pound junior Luke Willson , one of last season's breakout offensive stars. A product of Canada, he has good size and better than average athletic ability for the position. He's just getting started in his evolution, debuting as a starter with 33 receptions for 425 yards and three touchdowns.

Of the projected starters at wide receiver, none caught more than 20 passes last season. The leading return of the group is 6-0, 175-pound sophomore Donte Moore, who finished fifth on the team with 16 grabs for 160 yards. Still filling out, the starter at "X" ran track when he arrived and possesses blazing speed. The veteran of the group is 6-3, 210-pound senior Randy Kitchens, the starter at the "A" spot. A safety when his career began, he moved to wide receiver in 2009 and caught a career-high 10 balls for 158 yards and two scores before getting hurt midway through last season. Not flashy, he's a physical receiver with good hands. Rounding at the corps at "Z" is 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Klein Kubiak . The son of Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, he worked his way into the rotation as a rookie, making 13 catches for 143 yards off the bench.

The most experienced and talented backup is 6-5, 260-pound junior Vance McDonald, who's working behind Kitchens at "A". Built like a tight end, with the hands of a wide receiver, he had a breakthrough second year, catching 28 passes for 396 yards and eight touchdowns. He uses his frame well, boxing out defenders and getting in good position to make the play. The next generation at tight end is headed by 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Trevor Gillette. He worked his way into the rotation in his first year on campus, making seven catches for 71 yards and a score.

Watch Out For .... Kitchens to finish his career on a positive note. The former defender was just starting get comfortable on offense when he was lost for the season. The fact that he's ahead of McDonald on the depth chart alone means he could be good for at least 35 catches this year.
Strength: Big, physical receivers. The rotation has three pass-catchers who are at least 210 pounds, Willson, Kitchens, and McDonald. Paying homage to former Owl James Casey, the trio will use their size to fight through traffic and out muscle opposing linebackers for the ball.
Weakness: Outside talent. In terms of gamebreakers or even consistent wide receivers, the passing game is going to be shorthanded. While there are plenty of tight end types on hand, true wide receivers who can beat quality corners on passing routes will be scarce this fall.
Outlook: Will the next Jarett Dillard please stand up? The passing game needs a lot of help at wide receiver, which will limit its ability to stretch defenses and move the ball vertically. While the intermediate and short routes will be available for the Owl quarterbacks, those might be the only two areas that are accessible on a consistent basis.
Rating: 4.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: The Owls lost a quality player to graduation, LT Scott Mitchell, but everyone else returns, lending hope that the offensive line will take another step forward in 2011. The unit did a decent job a year ago, but still has strides to make in pass protection and run blocking.

With Mitchell gone, Rice's top blocker will be 6-4, 290-pound senior Jake Hicks , who's moving from left guard to left tackle to fill the void. A model of versatility, he's earned three letters, starting games at left guard, right tackle, and left tackle last season alone. Named honorable mention All-Conference USA two years running, he could surpass that accolade in his final year.

Over at right tackle will be 6-4, 300-pound senior Tyler Parish, another veteran with three letters on the brag sheet. Another of the versatile and athletic Owl blockers, he uses his hands and feet well, and will play wherever he's needed.

On the interior, 6-3, 275-pound senior Keshawn Carrington will once again set the tone from center. An outstanding all-around athlete, he needs to guard against getting flattened by bigger and stronger opponents. To his right will be 6-4, 270-pound junior Eric Ball , who's also backing up Carrington at the pivot. A spot-starter in 2010, he moves like a tackle, getting out of his stance and into the second level in a hurry. At left guard, massive Ian Gray is bucking for a starting job as a redshirt freshman. While raw, he has the strength and 6-8, 340-pound size that can't be taught. Though not listed on the two-deep coming out of spring, it's hard not to imagine 6-2, 300-pound senior Davon Allen getting into the mix at guard. A fringe all-conference performer and physical blocker, he'll carry 21 starts into his final year of eligibility.

Watch Out For .... Gray's development. Whether or not he can hold on to the starting job, he's going to have a role in the rotation this fall. He's capable of bringing some much-needed physicality to a front wall that's earned a reputation for being a smaller, finesse group.
Strength: Versatility. The guards will play center. The tackles can shift down to guard. This is a highly flexible, intelligent, and unselfish line that affords the coaching staff countless options when injuries strike. While depth is a concern on some level, the Owls help their own cause by playing more than one position.
Weakness: Drive blockers. Although the coaches prefer smaller, athletic offensive linemen, the unit pays the price for averaging below 300 pounds. Rice isn't going to blow anyone off the ball, and are prone to getting bull rushed, ranking 78th nationally last year in sacks allowed.
Outlook: All of the underclassmen that Rice used over the past few years are now grown up, giving the program an experienced group of blockers to navigate behind. While not star-studded is flush with NFL-types, it's a steady group that won't make many mental errors and should do more good than harm in 2011.
Rating: 5

- 2011 Rice Preview | 2011 Rice Offense
- 2011 Rice Defense | 2011 Rice Depth Chart
- Rice Previews  - 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006