2012 Rice Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Rice Owl Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Whenever the Owls have had a resurgence in their history, it’s been fueled by the play of the offense. The D is rarely good enough to fuel a rally. A year ago, though, the team ranked 91st nationally in total offense, which just isn’t going to cut it. The big news during the offseason was the relocation of playmaker Sam McGuffie from running back to wide receiver, an attempt to get him in space, where matchup problems are more likely to occur. The success of the unit, however, will hinge on the play of quarterback Taylor McHargue, who has held off young Driphus Jackson for now, but needs to rebound from a disappointing 2011. He can help his cause by looking for Luke Willson and Vance McDonald, Conference USA’s best tight end tandem. The biggest concern in Houston surrounds an O-line that’s painfully short on experience or proven talent.
Star of the offense: Senior WR Sam McGuffie
Passing: Taylor McHargue
100-174, 1,072 yds, 8 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Turner Petersen
102 carries, 485 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Vance McDonald
44 catches, 541 yds, 5 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Taylor McHargue
Unsung star on the rise: Junior RB Turner Petersen
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Luke Willson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McGuffie, 2) Willson, 3) Senior TE Vance McDonald
Strength of the offense: Athleticism behind center, power backs, tight ends
Weakness of the offense: Inconsistency of the passers, playmakers at receiver, the offensive line, third down conversions
There’s a heated battled taking place at quarterback, one that junior Taylor McHargue will lead when summer camp opens in August. The 6-1, 205-pounder enjoys a considerable edge in experience, but also looked crisp and confident throughout the spring. The veteran of 13 starts will be looking to rebound from a disappointing campaign in which he went 100-of-174 for 1,072 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s careful with his throws, and looks an awful lot like a running back when the pocket collapses, motoring for 336 pre-sack yards in 2011. However, he needs to start making more plays through the air in order to fend off the competition.
McHargue will continue to get pushed hard by 6-0, 200-pound Driphus Jackson . The redshirt freshman did not back down in March, flashing the kind of dual-threat skills that made him such a coveted recruit coming out of Cedar Hill (Tex.) High School. A dynamite open field runner, he still needs work as a pocket passer and game manager. Jackson has the raw talent to be special for the Owls, but will need more time and reps to flatten the learning curve.
Watch Out For .... Jackson to be employed on a situational basis. While McHargue probably holds on to the top spot in the summer, the coaching staff will have a difficult time keeping their electrifying rookie on the sidelines. It’ll look for well-timed opportunities to get No. 6 behind center so that he can stretch defenses with a set of blazing wheels that are conjuring up memories of former Owl Bert Emanuel.
Strength: Athleticism. In McHargue and Jackson, Rice is home to a pair of playmakers who just happen to operate from under center and throw passes. The former is a quality runner, with great feet in and out of the pocket. The latter is one of the fastest players on the roster. Both will present unique challenges for opposing defensive coordinators.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. Not since the days of Chase Clement four years ago has Rice been able to threaten opponents through the air on a week-in, week-out basis. Last year’s squad, which still had veteran Nick Fanuzzi at its disposal, ranked 92nd nationally in passing efficiency, and threw just 15 touchdown passes.
Outlook: Hope is being somewhat overshadowed by concern at the quarterback position in Houston. McHargue and Jackson, who’ll continue their competition in August, can wow with their legs, but disappoint with their throws. It’ll be incumbent upon McHargue, the probable opening day starter, to truly perform like a multi-dimensional player, with his passing catching up to his running.
A shortage of options in the backfield will not be a problem for the coaching staff. Keeping everyone happy just might be. Three of last season’s top four rushers return, led by uber-versatile junior Turner Petersen. He was a defensive back before moving to wide receiver, and has been listed as the team’s backup punter and kicker. In high school, he played quarterback and was an All-American swimmer. These days, he’s at the pivot when Rice runs its “Wild Owl” offense, rushing for 485 yards and five scores, while completing 7-of-11 passes for 74 yards. For a 6-2, 220-pounder, he’s a surprisingly quick athlete.
After peaking with 11 touchdowns as a freshman in 2009, Charles Ross has been unable to recapture his old form. He plans to alter that trend as a senior, moving to the top of the depth chart at the conclusion of spring. The 6-1, 230-pound was lost in the shuffle in 2010, and then was lost to a season-ending injury after just four games of 2011. Despite his size and power, he shows excellent acceleration for such a big back.
The program really likes the potential of junior Jeremy Eddington, a 6-2, 230-pounder who’s tough to get to the ground once he a head of steam. His production dipped to 25 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns following a breakthrough rookie debut, but coaches expect him to be a much bigger factor on offense this fall.
Watch Out For .... Sam McGuffie to be gone but not forgotten. The senior playmaker has made the offseason move from running back to wide receiver, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be carrying the ball this fall. The coaches want to feed him liberally, which could mean McGuffie is used on sweeps, end-arounds or whatever it takes to get him in space.
Strength: Powerful runners. At 220 pounds, Petersen is the lightest of the Owls primary backs. With he, Eddington and Ross working between the tackles, Rice should have success softening defenses, and keeping the chains moving in short yardage situations.
Weakness: Big-play options. Sure, McGuffie can be an exception, but he wasn’t moved to slot receiver so he can carry the ball 15 times a game. The Owls lack the kind of running back who can consistently get outside of the tackles, forcing a defense to commit resources to the perimeter of the field.
Outlook: While Rice will be effective at pounding the ball on the ground, the running game promises to be more methodical than meteoric. The “Wild Owl” will once again be employed, and the athleticism of the quarterbacks will give defenses one more option with which to contend. With proper support from a shaky line, the Owls will be an effective running team.
In an effort to inject more electricity into a receiving corps that produced just three catches of more than 50 yards in 2011, the team has moved former running back and Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie to the slot, or “A” receiver. Arguably the most dynamic and explosive all-around athlete on the roster, he’ll be looking to rebound from an injury-marred junior year that limited him to 260 yards from scrimmage and a pair of scores. Owls’ fans remember that the 5-10, 200-pounder, with the track speed, is the same player who rushed for 883 yards and six touchdowns on 197 carries, and caught 39 passes for 384 yards and three more scores. The staff wants to put McGuffie in a position to create mismatches as much as it can this season.
Caddying for McGuffie at “A” is 6-1, 195-pound junior Klein Kubiak , the son of Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. He’s been a steady performer off the bench, making 17 catches for 178 yards the last two seasons.
Over at “Y” receiver, Rice’s version of a tight end, the program has an embarrassment of riches. A couple of three-time letterwinners are knotted in the quest for playing time. Both are going to play plenty. Senior Luke Willson is a unique all-around athlete, with the 6-5, 250-pound frame to beat linebackers over the top. The Canadian, who could have a future as an NFL H-back, is a former hockey player and current member of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system. He shows big-play potential in the passing game, catching 29 balls for 313 yards and three scores a year ago.
Going neck-and-neck with Willson is fellow senior Vance McDonald, who hauled in a team-high 43 passes for 532 yards and five scores in 2011. A well-built tight end at 6-5 and 260 pounds, he has great hands to go along with a surprisingly good burst of speed. He’ll often seal off opposing defenders, like a power forward, getting good position on routes. He also has a nose for the end zone, scoring 13 times over the last two years to move up to sixth all-time in the school’s record books. If a shoulder problem doesn’t hinder his blocking ability, McDonald is going to continue his career in the NFL.
Bringing the jets to “F” receiver is junior Donte Moore, one of the fastest players on the roster. The 6-0, 180-pounder is still somewhat slight, but his size becomes less of a factor when he’s flying through the secondary. After catching 13 passes for 109 yards and a score, the team needs to do a better job of getting him into space. Moore’s backup, 6-0, 195-pound Andre Gautreaux was actually more productive in 2011, making 14 grabs for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Rounding out the starting unit will be 6-5, 210-pound sophomore Jordan Taylor, the projected starter at “B” receiver. In seven games as a rookie, he caught 10 balls for 72 yards and a pair of scores, showcasing the long stride and big catch radius that have locals excited about his future.
Watch Out For .... the coaches to find ways to get Willson and McDonald on the field at the same time. Yeah, the two seniors play the same position, but particularly near the end zone, Rice might want to keep one at “Y” and the other at “B”. As two of the three best pass-catchers on the roster, it’s going to be hard to keep one of them idle on the sidelines.
Strength: Big, physical receivers. The Owls feature tremendous size at wide receiver, with three members of the rotation measuring out at 6-5. The trio is going to make Taylor McHargue’s life a whole lot easier on third down and in the red zone, giving the quarterback considerable targets to streaking over the middle of the field.
Weakness: Consistency on the outside. While Rice houses one of the most underrated collections of tight ends in America, its talent on the perimeter is still somewhat raw. McGuffie should help when he moves out from the slot, but it’ll be up to a handful of relatively inexperienced Owls to stretch the defense on a steadier basis.
Outlook: Rice is going to take a step forward at the wide receiver position this season. Not only is just about everyone back from a year ago, but a healthy McGuffie could be a transformational import from the backfield, and Moore figures to be better with an added year of experience. Willson and McDonald make it a diverse group of targets that’s going to surprise some teams this fall.
Just how much of a concern is the offensive line this year? Sophomore RG Drew Carroll is the most seasoned member of the front wall. The 6-4, 280-pounder from Abilene, Tex. started 10 games for the program in his debut, earning Conference USA All-Freshman honors by league coaches.
Carroll’s partner at left guard is going to be the enormous Ian Gray , a pile-driving 6-8, 340-pounder. The sophomore played in eight games a year ago, starting against SMU, but needs to improve his technique and fundamentals in order to fully leverage his imposing size.
At the pivot, the staff is poised to tab 6-4, 305-pound newcomer Nate Richards . Tough and physical at the point of attack, the junior spent two seasons at Central Arkansas before earning All-American recognition while at Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College in 2011.
The veteran of the tackles will be 6-7, 300-pound junior Jon Hodde who’ll man the left side of the line. While he’s been injury prone with the Owls, he bounced to lay a solid foundation with four consecutive starts last fall.
There’ll be a little less certainty at right tackle, where 6-3, 275-pound redshirt freshman Caleb Williams has held off 6-7, 300-pound classmate Matt Wofford for the time being. Williams has quick, getting out of his stance and into the second level in a hurry.
Watch Out For .... the health of Hodde. He’s missed time in each of the last two seasons, a particular concern since he’s slated to be the left tackle of a very raw offensive line. If he goes on the shelf, the Owls might need to shift players around, or turn to newbie, such as undersized redshirt freshman John Poehlmann .
Strength: The interior of the line. Relatively speaking, the strength of this unit will be on the inside. Richards has played a lot of football since leaving high school, Carroll is arguably the best of the bunch and Gray has a high ceiling that the staff hopes he’ll begin to approach this fall.
Weakness: Inexperience. There are two worrisome angles to the O-line heading into this season. First, only one full-timer is back from 2011. Second, none of the backups have earned a letter at this level. Even if the starters develop and mature ahead of pace, just an injury or two is capable of derailing the progress since the reserves are so green.
Outlook: It’s rebuilding time for an offensive line that played better than expected in 2011. There’s no anchor for the unit to lean upon, and the overall experience quotient is painfully low. Because of the pervasive youth, the Owls should be better in November than September, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement for the weak link of this offense.
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