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2013 Rice Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 15, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Rice Owl Offense


Rice Owls

Preview 2013 - Offense

- 2013 Rice Preview | 2013 Rice Offense
- 2013 Rice Defense | 2013 Rice Depth Chart

What You Need To Know:  In 2008, Rice authored a historically good season on the shoulders of the offense. The 2013 squad possesses the potential to approach the program’s level of production from five years ago. All of the pieces are in place for the Owls to be dynamite with the ball this fall. Just about everyone is back from a group that scored at least 33 points in six of last year’s final seven games. The quarterbacks, starter Taylor McHargue and successor Driphus Jackson, are athletic dual-threats. Last season’s top eight rushers and leading receiver Jordan Taylor return to support the passers. And all five starters up front are set to reprise their 2012 roles in the trenches. Rice is going to run the ball about as well as anyone in Conference USA. If the passing game can produce a few more big plays than it did a season ago, look out.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Taylor McHargue
194-325, 2,209 yds, 12 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Charles Ross
147 carries, 800 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Jordan Taylor
57 catches, 826 yds, 3 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior QB Taylor McHargue
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LT Jon Hodde
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Donte Moore
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Jordan Taylor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McHargue, 2) Taylor, 3) Senior RB Charles Ross
Strength of the offense: Depth and athleticism behind center, depth and power at running back, veteran line, third-down conversions
Weakness of the offense: Inconsistency of the passers, pass protection, fumbles, red-zone conversions, proven pass-catchers

Quarterbacks

When senior Taylor McHargue is healthy, he's dangerous. He was healthy a year ago. McHargue was the catalyst Rice desperately needed on offense, connecting on 194-of-325 passes for 2,209 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. However, it's as a runner that the 6-1, 220-pounder really excelled as a playmaker. McHargue operates like a fullback coming out of the backfield, at times to his physical detriment. In 2012, he powered his way to 667 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 164 carries, including four runs of at least 40 yards. With a few more big plays through the air, he has a shot to elevate above last year's honorable mention All-Conference USA.

The Owls are in good hands at quarterback today. Tomorrow doesn’t look so bad either. After pushing McHargue for playing time in the offseason, sophomore Driphus Jackson showed he was ready for primetime when his number was called. The 6-0, 200-pound dual-threat, with the soft touch, started the Houston game, and was sharp in the Armed Forces Bowl after McHargue was hurt. Jackson finished the year 39-of-69 for 672 yards, six touchdowns and no picks, leaving no doubt who’ll the starter will be in 2014.

Watch Out For .... Jackson to get snaps no matter what the situation might be with McHargue. The second-year quarterback—and potential second-coming of former Owl Bert Emanuel—has clearly earned the confidence of the coaching staff, and for good reason. Plus, whatever field time No. 6 gets in 2013 is certainly going to aid his development for 2014 and 2015.
Strength: Depth. It’s nice to have one capable dual-threat on the roster. For a coach, two such players is Christmas. McHargue is a rising senior, with the leadership skills and the running ability to lead the Owls to a Conference USA crown. Jackson is young, but he probably has an even higher ceiling than his teammate.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. As long as McHargue is under center, Rice will be no better than average in the passing game. The team was 63rd in the country in passing efficiency last season, struggling at times with accuracy. Turnovers were limited, which was great, but a few more long connections are desired in 2013.
Outlook: The Owls are about to enjoy their best situation at quarterback since Chase Clement graduated five years ago. A team can win a bunch of games with McHargue in the saddle. And if the starter goes on the shelf, as is occasionally the case, few people around Houston feel there’ll be a falloff with Jackson at the controls.
Rating: 6
Running Backs

Yeah, the Owls plan to once again employ a deep rotation on the ground, but senior Charles Ross is working hard this offseason to become the closest thing to a workhorse in 2013. He's coming off an impressive rebound campaign that followed two non-existent years out of the backfield. Just as expectations were fading for the 6-1, 230-pound battering ram, he went ahead and ran for a Rice-high 800 yards and five touchdowns on 147 carries. Ross is hard-nosed between the tackles and in short-yardage situations, but can also accelerate through a hole once he gets a chance to build a little head of steam.

Ross will once again get plenty of support out of the backfield from senior Turner Petersen. The well-traveled 6-2, 230-pounder arrived as a defensive back before moving to wide receiver, and has also 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 a valuable cog in the rotation, rushing 128 times for 591 yards and five scores, and catching 11 balls for 155 yards and another score.

Senior Jeremy Eddingtoncontinues to work hard in his quest for more reps in the rotation. He ranked fourth on the team a year ago, carrying the ball 45 times for 201 yards and a score. Though 6-2 and 235 pounds, and difficult to drag down, he has just enough giddy-up to exploit the seams in a defense.

Watch Out For .... Petersen to occasionally take direct snaps from center. The former prep quarterback is comfortable behind center, not only from his high school days, but also when running the Wild Owl while at Rice. More than just a sneaky-good runner, Petersen has also completed 8-of-12 career passing attempts.
Strength: Deep and powerful runners. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, Ross is the smallest of the Owls’ primary three backs. With he, Petersen and Eddington working between the tackles, Rice is going to have plenty of success softening defenses, and keeping the sticks moving in short yardage situations.
Weakness: Big-play options. Much like a season ago, Rice is short on explosive backs, the kind that get around the edge and up the field in a hurry. The Owls don’t plod, but they are pounders who rarely explode through the secondary. The long ball came at a premium in 2012, with Ross authoring the only run of at least 50 yards.
Outlook: The Owls house three senior backs, all of whom have rushed for 100 yards in a game at some point in their careers. That is the definition of depth and experience in a backfield. After ranking 29th nationally on the ground, there’s legitimate reason to believe that Rice will be every bit as assertive between the tackles again this season. The fact that the line returns intact only enhances the likelihood that the running game will motor forward in 2013.
Rating: 6

Receivers

Junior Jordan Taylor lines up at "B" receiver for the Owls. But he was hardly a B team performer last season. After catching nine passes a year earlier, he erupted for a program-best 57 receptions for 826 yards and three touchdowns, all coming in a sensational MVP effort in the Armed Forces Bowl. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, he's always had great size, long arms and a huge catch radius, but it wasn't until last year that he fully learned how to use his natural gifts to their fullest. Taylor is a terrific all-around athlete, with the hops to be virtually unstoppable on jump-balls, especially near the end zone.

The Owls next most accomplished pass-catcher is senior Donte Moore, the starter at “F” receiver. The 6-0, 180-pounder is an underrated blocker as well as one of the program’s fastest players. He’ll begin 2013 looking to build on his best season at Rice, in which he caught 26 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

Unselfish senior Andre Gautreaux has done a little bit of everything for Rice throughout his career. This year, he gets his first good chance to start, with the program looking to replace Sam McGuffie at “A” receiver or slot. Gautreaux had just three catches for 27 yards in 2012, but did make 14 grabs for 177 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore.

Next-level Vance McDonald leaves a big void at “Y” receiver, Rice’s version of a tight end. The Owls like to use the position liberally, potentially good news for 6-3, 235-pound redshirt freshman Connor Cella. He used last year to get bigger and stronger, while learning from one of Conference USA’s premier big targets.

Rice is excited about the return to health of 6-1, 205-pound slot receiver Mario Hull, who has a chance to threaten for a job or become the first receiver off the bench. The junior earned Freshman All-American recognition in 2011 with 17 catches for 181 yards, but sat out all of 2012 with a torn pectoral muscle. The staff is eager to evaluate and begin developing the unique skills of sophomore Derek Brown, Moore’s backup. He’s a 6-3, 225-pound athlete making a position change after collecting seven tackles as a rookie defensive end in 2012. Keeping Taylor from getting complacent at “B” is 6-2, 185-pound sophomore Dennis Parks, one of eight true freshmen to play in 2012. The fluid all-around athlete caught seven balls for 112 yards and a touchdown, while starting the UTEP game.

Watch Out For .... the precocious backups to push for reps throughout fall camp. The coaching staff really likes the upside potential and athleticism of Hull, Brown and Parks, which means that a lot of Rice receivers could be interchangeable by the time fall rolls around.
Strength: Athleticism. Above all else, the Owls’ receivers are quality athletes, with the size and speed combo to gain separation on defensive backs. A handful of the team’s weapons are capable of not only getting behind the defense, but also pick up nice chunks of yards after the catch.
Weakness: A true go-to guy. Sure, Taylor is first in line for the job, but he went the entire 2012 regular season before catching his first touchdown pass of the year. Now that McDonald has exhausted his eligibility, the offense no longer has that sure-thing in the passing game when a first down or a touchdown is needed.
Outlook: There is a lot of potential in the receiving corps for Rice, but the key will be to actually fulfill in 2013. The unit is flush with good athletes, and Taylor has the skills and the bowl game momentum to bloom into one of Conference USA’s better targets. If the kids are able to motivate the veterans by performing with consistency, the entire passing game will reap the benefits.
Rating: 5

Offensive Line

The Owls made major improvement in the running game and time of possession largely because of the play of an offensive line that lost no one to graduation. Anchoring the guards once he returns from a kidney injury will be 6-4, 290-pound junior Drew Carroll, a veteran of 20 career starts. He was doing a nice job in the running game, grading between 86%-94% and earning honorable mention All-Conference USA before getting hurt.

The team’s other guard will be 6-3, 275-pound junior Nico Carlson, who has found a home on the O-line. After injuries dictated a shift from the D-line, the junior started the final 12 games of the year. He played well enough to eliminate any thoughts of position changes in the future.

Leading the way at tackle, on the right side, will be 6-3, 275-pound Caleb Williams, who, like Carroll, earned honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2012. He started all but one game up front for the Owls, bringing a healthy dose of athleticism and energy to the pass protection unit. Best of all, he's only one season into a very promising career at Rice.

Back for his second—and final season—as a starter at left tackle is 6-7, 300-pound senior Jon Hodde. Prone to injury in the early stages of his career, he bounced back to start every game of 2012, providing blindside protection for the Owls quarterbacks.

The pivot belongs to 6-4, 300-pound senior Nate Richards, who did a very nice job as the full-timer a year ago. Rugged and physical at the point, he spent two seasons at Central Arkansas before earning JUCO All-American recognition while at Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College in 2011.

The Owls will be very young and unproven on the second unit. The lone exception will be 6-5, 275-pound sophomore G Andrew Reue, who filled in for Carroll in three games last year, and took all of the first-team snaps in the spring.

Watch Out For .... Carroll’s health. The Owls need their physical guard back in the starting lineup once the team reconvenes in the summer. He’s a tone-setter, especially in the running game, and the front wall can ill-afford to dig too deep into a bench that features a dearth of veterans.
Strength: Run blocking. Like undersized, blue-collar lines often do, Rice is at its best when going north-south in order to open holes for the running backs. Last year’s Owls ranked 29th in the country on the ground, and averaged 4.2 yards per carry, thanks in large part to the blocking it received from the front wall.
Weakness: Pass protection. The quarterbacks are agile and athletic, yet Rice still ranked 94th nationally in sacks allowed. The O-line is going to need a collaborative effort in 2013 in order to better protect the pocket, while affording the hurlers an extra tick or two to check down receivers.
Outlook: After rebuilding in 2012, improvement is expected from a Rice offensive line that welcomes back all five of last season’s regulars. Depth is questionable, so any injury will be potentially devastating, and pass protection needs to improve. However, the parts are finally in place on the first team for the Owls to boast one of the more consistent units in Conference USA.
Rating: 5
 
- 2013 Rice Preview | 2013 Rice Offense
- 2013 Rice Defense | 2013 Rice Depth Chart