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2007 Rice Owls

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 21, 2008


2007 Rice Owls Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 Rice Owls

Recap: Whatever magic the Owls had in 2006 never quite reached the surface for the 2007 edition, which managed just three wins in David Bailiff’s debut on the sidelines.  While the offense was setting a school record for points in a season, the defense was allowing more than 42 points and 510 yards a game, impossible numbers for any attack to overcome.  To Rice’s credit, it was competitive in every league game, putting up a fight long after bowl eligibility was out of reach.         

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Chase Clement

Defensive Player of the Year: S Andrew Sendejo

Biggest Surprise: After starting the season 0-4, absolutely no one expected the Owls to beat league favorite Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, but that’s precisely what they did on Oct. 3.  Rice jumped all over the Golden Eagles, hanging on for a 31-29 upset, and giving faint hope that like last season, the program would rally for a postseason game.   

Biggest Disappointment: It didn’t take the Owls very long to realize that they weren’t in Kansas anymore.  In the opener with Nicholls State, Rice turned the ball over five times, and could only muster 218 yards versus an FCS defense in a tone-setting, 16-14 loss.

Looking Ahead: With Clement and his top four receivers, including Jarett Dillard, back for another season, Rice should have few problems putting points on the board next season.  If, however, the Owls have any hope of making it back to a bowl game, Bailiff will need to coax a dramatic turn around out of his defense and special teams units as well.

- 2007 Rice Preview
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2006 Rice Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2-10
2007 Record: 3-9

Sept. 1 Nicholls State L 16-14
Sept. 8 at Baylor L 42-14
Sept. 15 Texas Tech L 59-24
Sept. 22 at Texas L 58-14
Oct. 3 at So Miss W 31-29
Oct. 13 at Houston L 56-48
Oct. 20 Memphis L 38-35
Oct. 27 at Marshall L 34-21
Nov. 3 UTEP W 56-48
Nov. 10 at SMU W 43-42
Nov. 17
Tulane L 45-31
Nov. 24 Tulsa L 48-43

Nov. 24
Tulsa 48 ... Rice 43
Rice cranked out 700 yards of total offense with QB Chase Clement setting a Conference USA record with 601 yards of total offense, and lost. Tulsa clinched the West title helped by five touchdown passes from Paul Smith with strikes to Brennan Marion from 49 and 31 yards out in the first quarter and a 19-yard play to Trae Johnson midway through the fourth for a little breathing room. After a Clement pass to Chance Talbert for a 24-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game, Rice never led the rest of the way.
Player of the game: Tulsa QB Paul Smith completed 22 of 39 passes for 441 yards and five touchdowns with an interception, and ran six times for four yards and a score, and Rice QB Chase Clement completed 40 of 66 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns with an interception and ran 17 times for 60 yards
Stat Leaders: Tulsa - Passing: Paul Smith, 22-39, 441 yds, 5 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Tarrion Adams, 24-146. Receiving: Brennan Marion, 7-244, 2 TD
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 40-66, 541 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Chase Clement, 17-60. Receiving: James Casey, 11-110
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Rice might have closed out its season with two straight losses, but it sure was a fun ride. Chase Clement has perfect command of the offense, spreading the ball around well on Tulsa and bombing away at will. The defense didn't have a prayer of slowing down the Tulsa offense, but the offseason will have to be focused around coming up with more defensive stops. With Clement back, it'll be shootout, shootout, shootout.

Nov. 17
Tulane 45 ... Rice 31
Matt Forte ran for 194 yards with touchdown runs from 4,6, one, five, one and 13 yards out on the way to 2,000 yards The Owls rallied back with Jarett Dillard catching two scoring passes and James Casey scoring from 61 yards out and in the final minutes, from six yards away, but the last score came with just 25 seconds left. The Green Wave outgained Rice 455 yards to 376.
Player of the game: Tulane RB Matt Forte ran 39 times for 194 yards and five touchdowns, and caught a pass for 51 yards
Stat Leaders: Tulane - Passing: Kevin Moore, 6-10, 125 yds
Rushing: Matt Forte, 39-194, 5 TD. Receiving: Jeremy Williams, 4-11
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 35-55, 353 yds, 4 TD
Rushing:
Chase Clement, 8-26. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 9-87, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The bombings continue on with the defense giving them up faster than the offense canes score them. It's all about Chase Clement and hot he's rolling, while Jarett Dillard has been on fire with two touchdown catches in each of the last three games. Now the offense has to be more effective early, but it's productive enough to blow up on Tulsa's awful secondary next week. Getting more than 23 yards rushing, which the Owls got this week, would be nice.

Nov. 10
Rice 43 ... SMU 42
Rice got a 31-yard Clark Fangmeier field goal as time ran out to cap a wild game with 1,030 yards of total offense and 21 penalties. SMU went on a 28 point run with a Justin Willis touchdown run, two scoring passes, and a one-yard Chris Butler run for a 42-27 lead going into the fourth quarter. And then Chase Clement took over, running for scores from eight and six yards out and leading the offense 60 yards in nine plays to put Fanmeier in a position to win the game. Jarett Dillard was unstoppable for the Owls with 13 catches for 128 yards and touchdown catches from 13 and 25 yards out, while Brandon King and Andrew Sendejo each returned interceptions for touchdowns. Zack Sledge caught scoring passes from 21, 15 and six yards out for the Mustangs.
Player of the game: Rice QB Chase Clement completed 35 of 52 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns and one interception, and ran 12 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 35-52, 364 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chase Clement, 12-124, 2 TD. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 13-128, 2 TD
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 13-31, 165 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
DeMyron Martin, 16-137. Receiving: Zack Sledge, 5-68, 3 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Rice might not be very good, but its games sure are exciting. SMU had the Owls dead, but Chase Clemens once again overcame adversity to lead the team back to a shocking win. With two straight victories, the offense is humming thanks to Clement. Now if the defense can come up with a stop or two against Tulane or Tulsa, the team can end the year on a major high note with plenty to get pumped up about going into 2008.

Nov. 3
Rice 56 ... UTEP 48
Rice overcame seven turnovers and a 20-point fourth quarter deficit with Chase Clement throwing three touchdown passes in the final frame, and giving the Owls the lead for good with a nine-yard touchdown run with 3:38 to play. UTEP had one final chance, but the drive stalled. Clement accounted for eight touchdowns, connecting with Jarett Dillard, Toren Dixon and Tommy Henderson for two touchdowns each, while UTEP bombed away with Trevor Vittatoe throwing five touchdown passes to five different receivers, highlighted by a 76-yard play to Fred Rouse early in the third quarter to give the Miners the lead and spark a 28-7 run. Rice outgained the Miners 558 yards to 422.
Player of the game: Rice QB Chase Clement completed 32 of 58 passes for 395 yards and six touchdowns, and ran 14 times for 103 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 30-57, 373 yds, 5 TD
Rushing: Marcus Thomas, 19-51, 1 TD. Receiving: Lorne Sam, 9-86
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 32-58, 395 yds, 6 TD, 3 INT
Rushing:
Chars Clement, 14-103, 2 TD. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 11-168, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... If Rice didn't beat UTEP in one of the most exciting, improbable games in the school's history, it has to be a close second as far as comebacks. The offense couldn't stop screwing up with drive after drive killed by a turnover early on, but the offense couldn't be slowed down outside of the mistakes. Chase Clement put together an all-timer of a performance, spreading the ball around well while running enough to keep the chains moving. Now the team has to figure out how to win a shootout when it doesn't make so many mistakes.

Oct. 27
Marshall 34 ... Rice 21
Marshall jumped out to a 17-0 first half lead with Bernard Morris and Kelvin Turner each running for short touchdowns, and then Morris put it away midway though the third with a 26-yard scoring run. Rice fought back with a Chase Clement 20-yard touchdown run and two scoring passes, with a two-yarder to Toren Dixon pulling the Owls within six with 3:12 to play, but the Herd answered with Kelvin Turner's second touchdown run of the day to close things out.
Player of the game: Marshall QB Bernard Morris completed 15 of 33 passes for 227 yards, and ran 13 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 29-48, 281 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chase Clement, 11-76, 1 TD. Receiving: James Casey, 7-101, 1 TD
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 15-33, 227 yds
Rushing:
Bernard Morris, 13-120, 2 TD. Receiving: Cody Slate, 3-41

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Rice got into too big a hole early against Marshall and couldn't climb back. Chase Clement had a nice day in the rally, but the defense didn't do enough to stop the Herd running game, especially QB Bernard Morris taking off, and was awful at getting the Herd offense off the field. Now at 1-7 with UTEP up next, the Owls have to figure out some way to slow down the run, and have to do even more to force turnovers to overcome the various problems.

Oct. 20
Memphis 38 ... Rice 35
Martin Hankins threw three touchdown passes, including a 45-yarder to Maurice Jones with just under six minutes to go, to get by the Owls. Rice marched back with a 20-yard James Casey touchdown catch, but down three, never got the ball back. Jarett Dillard caught touchdown passes from five, nine, and 42 yards out in the see-saw battle, while Hankins connected with Brett Russell from ten yards out and Greg Hinds from six yards out, and Joe Doss added a 15-yard touchdown run for the Tigers. Memphis cranked out 571 yards to Rice's 418.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Martin Hankins completed 21 of 32 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 21-32, 306 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Joseph Doss, 24-175, 1 TD. Receiving: Steven Black, 6-61
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 28-44, 289 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Chase Clement, 6-41, 1 TD. Receiving: Joel Armstrong, 8-71

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Owls had no prayer of slowing down the Memphis offense, couldn't get the running game going at all, and struggled at times to keep pace, but they were in the shootout until the end with a big day from Chase Clement and a monster three touchdown day from Jarett Dillard. Unfortunately, for the second straight week, the Owls lost in a wind shootout, and now it's going to have to figure out how to come up with a defensive stop in the fourth quarter. With a date against winless Marshall next week, a win is a must.

Oct. 13
Houston 56 ... Rice 48
Houston rolled up 748 yards of total offense and got a record-setting day from Donnie Avery, who caught 13 passes for 346 yards and scores from 77 and 67 yards out as part of a wild 28-point first quarter. Anthony Alridge added a seven-yard touchdown run, but he'd make his biggest impact in the second half with scoring runs from eight, 33 and 50 yards out to overcome a Rice midgame 26-point run. The Cougars turned it over five times, and the Owls took advantage with short scoring drives from five, 14, and 31 yards out to take a 40-28 lead, and then Houston's offense caught fire.
Player of the game: Houston WR Donnie Avery caught 13 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns, and RB Anthony Alridge ran 24 times for 205 yards and four scores.
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 24-44, 355 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chase Clement, 11-36. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 7-133, 1 TD
Houston - Passing: Blake Joseph, 11-18, 318 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Anthony Alridge, 24-205, 4 TD. Receiving: Donnie Avery, 13-346, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The defense might have given up 748 yards and 56 points to Houston, but Rice was still in the game until the very end. While Chase Clemens had a great day throwing it, and the offense showed its explosion, for the second straight week, the D collapsed late. After escaping from Southern Miss with a win, lightning didn't strike twice this week, but there's hope. With Memphis and Marshall ahead, if the offense can keep taking advantage of every opportunity, the Owls will come away with wins.

Oct. 3
Rice 31 ... Southern Miss 29
Rice forced seven Southern Miss turnovers was up 31-7 in the fourth quarter, but needed to bat down a late two-point conversion attempt to preserve the win. Jarrett Dillard caught two seven yard touchdown passes, and Justin Hill ran for a 54-yard score on the way to the big lead, but the Owls were held to just 236 yards of total offense and couldn't stop USM late. The Golden Eagles scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, getting two, two point conversions after short touchdown runs, but they couldn't convert on a third after an eight-yard Shawn Nelson scoring grab. They got the ball one more time with 1:21 to play, but lost a fumble.
Player of the game: Rice S Andrew Sandejo made 5.5 tackles, forced a fumble, broke up a pass, and picked off two others.
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 9-20, 67 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Justin Hill 12-100, 1 TD.  Receiving: James Casey, 2-16
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 24-33, 231 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT
Rushing:
Damion Fletcher, 23-142, 2 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 7-51

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It doesn't matter if it wasn't pretty. It doesn't matter if the offense couldn't move the ball outside of one big run. It doesn't matter how it happened. Rice beat Southern Miss for the first win in the David Bailiff era, and while it wasn't the type of game that'll suddenly turn the team and the program into a Conference USA player, it does allow everyone to exhale. The defense is going to have to come up with big plays game after game after game until the offense finds something that works. But for now, Rice can hang its hat on beating one of the league's favorites.

Sept. 22
Texas 58 ... Rice 14
Texas exploded on Rice with 560 yards of total offense, outgaining the Owls 227 yards to -11 on the ground, in what quickly turned into a laugher. The Longhorn offense cranked out the first 41 points of the game, helped by Limas Sweed touchdown catches from 52 and 24 yards out, and two of Jamaal Charles' three short touchdown runs. Rice didn't get on the board until the final minute of the second half, with Toren Dixon scoring on an 18-yard catch, but the game had gotten well out of hand.
Player of the game: Texas QB Colt McCoy threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing, and ran three times for four yards.
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 18-32, 220 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: Bio Benibo, 2-9.  Receiving: Toren Dixon, 5-61, 1 TD
Texas - Passing: Colt McCoy, 20-29, 333 yds, 3 TDs
Rushing:
Vondrell McGee, 8-80, 1 TD. Receiving: Limas Sweed, 5-139, 2 TDs

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It's hard to get a gauge on just how good the Owls are, or aren't, based on losses to Texas Tech and Texas, but at the moment, nothing is working. The defensive front wasn't in the same stadium as the Longhorn offensive line, failing to generate any pressure, while the offense sputtered and coughed yet again. The game got out of hand so quickly that the offense had to start bombing, and had to ditch the running game. It didn't work. The lines have to play far better for the Owls to have any hope against Southern Miss and Houston over the next few weeks.

Sept. 15
Texas Tech 59 ... Rice 24
Graham Harrell threw six touchdown passes including three to Michael Crabtree in a rout. Rice hung tough for about 20 minutes, helped by a 47-yard Jarett Dillard touchdown and a 13-yard Toren Dixon scoring grab. Crabtree took over with a 74-yard touchdown to give the Red Raiders all the points they'd need, and he scored from nine and 25 yards out in the second half as part of a 35-point run. Tech outgained Rice 592 yards to 311.
Player of the game ... Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell completed 48 of 64 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Texas Tech - Passing: Graham Harrell, 28-37, 414 yds, 6 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Shannon Woods, 9-75, 1 TD  Receiving: Michael Crabtree, 11-244, 3 TD
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 20-37, 212 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
C.J. Ugokwe, 15-63, 1 TD   Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 6-90, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Even in the ugly blowout against Texas Tech, there were some signs of life with a decent offensive showing in the first half. Once the floodgates opened up, the defense was helpless, and the offense wasn't able to generate and sustained drives to stop the momentum. Next week against Texas, the running game finally has to start working to have any chance of keeping it respectable. Everyone's running on the Longhorns, and Rice has to do it early on. Jarett Dillard got his first touchdown catch of the year, but the passing game has hardly been dangerous.

Sept. 8
Baylor 42 ... Rice 17
Baylor QB Blake Szymanski set a school record with four first half touchdown passes, and then set another record with 412 passing yards and six scores in the blowout win. Justin Akers caught the first two scoring passes of the day, and then Szymanski hit four different receivers for scores. Rice got a 14-yard Chase Clement touchdown run along with a three-yard James Casey dash to get close, but the BU passing game proved to be too much to overcome.
Player of the game: Baylor QB Blake Szymanski went 29-of-46 for 412 yards and six touchdown passes.
Stat Leaders: Rice
- Passing
: Chase Clement, 20-25, 207 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: C.J. Ugokwe, 11-30. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 5-93
Baylor
- Passing: Blake Szymanski, 29-46, 412 yds, 6 TDs
Rushing: Brandon Whitaker, 8-34. Receiving: Brandon Whitaker, 6-27, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... This is going to be a long season if big adjustments aren't made in a big hurry. Rice isn't getting all the same breaks it got last year under head coach Todd Graham, the offense isn't nearly as crisp, and the defense was non-existent against Baylor. The big problems are the lack of a pass rush on defense, and the lack of a push from the offense front in the ground game. The secondary is in big, big trouble next week against Texas Tech, and it'll be a 50-point blowout unless the offense can control the clock for extended stretches.

Sept. 1
Nicholls State 16 ... Rice 14
In rainy conditions with a delay due to lightning, Nicholls State got three interceptions from Ladarius Webb with one going 32 yards to a second quarter touchdown and Grant Thorne caught a 30-yard scoring pass in the upset. Rice scored on a two-yard Casey James run in the first quarter and a ten-yard Chase Clement run in the third to tie it at 14, but NSU got the winning points on a blocked punt for a safety.
Player of the game: Nicholls State DB Ladarius Webb made seven tackles and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Nicholls State - Passing: Vin Montgomery, 3-7, 87 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Broderick Cole, 12-55. Receiving: Isa Hines, 1-43
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 11-28, 101 yds, 3 INT
Rushing:
C.J. Ugokwe, 13-64. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 5-41
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Five turnovers and next to no offensive production from anyone helped contribute to the loss to Nicholls State in an embarrassing start to the David Bailiff era. NSU had two turnovers of its own, and 12 penalties, but that didn't matter against an Owl attack that couldn't get anything going in the rain and a defense that couldn't deal with the NSU running attack. This was a day when the old Rice, with the option running game, would've done far better. Jarett Dillard's touchdown streak ended at 15 games.

Sept. 1 – Nicholls State

Sept. 8 – at Baylor
Offense: After making the change to a Texas Tech-like passing attack, the Bears threw well, but did absolutely nothing for the running game, finishing dead last in the nation averaging just 40.17 yards per game. There will be more emphasis on running the ball, but this will still be a passing attack. First, BU has to find someone to throw, and someone to catch. It'll be a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job, with former Kent State Golden Flash Michael Machen the leader in the race, while the two star receivers of last season are gone. Several young players have to turn into reliable targets, while Brandon Whitaker has to try to provide some semblance of a rushing attack behind a line that should be a bit better.
Defense:
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. Baylor didn't come up with any last year, and it affected the entire defense. With only 11 sacks and 51 tackles for loss, BU let opposing quarterbacks spend all day to throw, and the secondary struggled. Worse yet, the run defense was awful. Now, there's hope for improvement in the 4-2-5 alignment with promising tackles in Vincent Rhodes and Trey Bryant, along with tackling machine Joe Pawelek at linebacker. The secondary has more raw talent than last year, but not a lot of experience, so it'll be up to veteran ends Jason Lamb and Geoff Nelson to finally produce some sort of pressure on the quarterback.

Sept. 15 - Texas Tech
Offense: On the surface, there might appear to be a world of problems. The quarterback situation is allegedly up for grabs, the star running back practiced like he was too secure and got booted to third string, almost all the top receivers are gone, and four starters have to be replaced on the line. Don't shed too many tears. Graham Harrell had a great spring and will be the staring quarterback once again, Shannon Woods will get back in everyone's good graces this fall and be a top back, and Michael Crabtree might be the best receiver the program has had in several years. Of course, it all goes kaput if the line doesn't come together quickly, but Mike Leach and his coaching staff have dealt with worse. There might be question marks, but there's also a whole bunch of talented prospects. This will be one of the nation's five best passing offenses once again, but it might not be consistent.
Defense: This D will be a major part in several shootouts, and not in a good way. The secondary will be the strength, and it's not even close, with a pair of all-star safeties in Darcel McBath and Joe Garcia, along with star corner Chris Parker. The front seven is a major problem, especially the defensive line, with no depth and only one starter returning. The linebacking corps isn't all that big, but it's fast and should be good in time. Expect good running teams to be able to rumble at will.

Sept. 22 – at Texas
Offense: This might be the best offense yet under head coach Mack Brown, with one bump in the road: the line. The starting five will be fine, but there's absolutely no depth at tackle. While that's the concern, the skill players will be fantastic with a deep, talented receiving corps that welcomes back the top four targets, Jamaal Charles and a speedy backfield, and Colt McCoy to lead the show. Now a seasoned veteran, McCoy will run more than last year while making more plays on the move. Expect plenty of scoring, plenty of explosiveness, and a top five finish in total offense ... as long as the line holds up.
Defense: Duane Akina goes from co-defensive coordinator to the head man in charge, and there will be changes. Last year's defense was all about stopping the run, and the talented secondary got torched. This year's D will focus on doing everything, with an eye towards being more aggressive and generating more pressure. The strength is at tackle and in the linebacking corps, with NFL caliber talent that should keep the Longhorns among the nation's leaders against the run. The ends will be fine, in time, and they'll get to pin their ears back and go to the quarterback. All the pressure should help out a secondary in transition, with only one starter returning from a group that loses Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross and All-American Michael Griffin.

Oct. 3 – at Southern Miss
Offense: While it’s become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year’s league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that’s replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The “Nasty Bunch” defense that’s become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation’s top ranked units in 2007.  It’s fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there’s a weak link on defense it’s in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

Oct. 13 – at Houston
Offense: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn’t mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There’s too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year’s backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He’s got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation’s fastest players.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell’s goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he’ll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA’s stingiest defense.

Oct. 20 - Memphis
Offense: The offense had its moments, but it was consistently mediocre and not nearly explosive enough. The ground game struggled behind a bad offensive line, and now the hope fill be for Joseph Doss to get more room behind a more experienced front five. The passing attack should shine, led by veteran quarterback Martin Hankins and the usual array of tall, athletic Tiger receivers. Duke Calhoun is a rising star touchdown maker, while Earnest Williams is a solid target to keep the chains moving.
Defense: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Oct. 27 – at Marshall
Offense: Not since Byron Leftwich graduated has Marshall been Marshall on offense.  That should begin to change this fall provided erratic senior quarterback Bernard Morris can make the most of a receiving corps that’s brimming with young game-breakers.  All-conference back Ahmad Bradshaw, a 1,500-yard rusher in 2006, left early for the NFL, leaving Chubb Small to shoulder the load.  If he can’t handle the promotion, look for one of three blue-chip freshmen to rise up and accept an expanded role.  While the offensive line has pending issues at tackle, Doug Legursky is a beast at center that could parlay big efforts early versus Miami and West Virginia into post-season awards.
Defense: Disgusted with the play of last year’s defense, head coach Mark Snyder changed course, hiring veteran Steve Dunlap as the coordinator.  While last year’s team sat back, and often paid for the conservative approach, the 2007 edition will attack wherever and whenever it makes sense.  The chief attacker will be junior end Albert McClellan, a sack machine that’ll be in the mix for just about every individual award given to defensive players.  At linebacker, junior Josh Johnson is good enough to consider early entry into the 2008 NFL Draft once the season concludes.  Dunlap’s biggest concerns in his first season on the job surround a pedestrian group of tackles and a beatable secondary that allowed way too many long gainers last season.

Nov. 3 - UTEP
Offense: The offense continued to be one-sided finishing fifth in the nation in passing and 116th in rushing, and now things will make a shift back the other way, although not necessarily for the positive. A battle for the quarterback job will continue until the fall, but the running game should be set with Marcus Thomas ready to break out as on of Conference USA's best backs. However, he needs room to move behind a line that has to be night-and-day better than last year when it struggled to pound away.
Defense:
The Miners melted down over the second half of last season and needs to be far more productive with nine starters returning. Don't expect miracles, but unlike previous years, the D should be better as the season goes on. The defense was miserable last season despite getting a consistent pass rush from the front seven. Now the whole line needs to find replacements while the linebacking corps has to hope for Jeremy Jones to be healthy after a knee injury. The secondary should be a strength after a rough year with safeties Quintin Demps and Braxton Amy potential all-stars, while Josh Ferguson is a solid corner.

Nov. 10 – at SMU
Offense: In sophomore Justin Willis, SMU has a legitimate franchise quarterback with the physical tools to move an offense and the intangibles to lead a program to victories and eventually bowl games.  He’ll be growing alongside classmate Emmanuel Sanders, who ignited a mediocre receiving corps last year with 46 catches and nine touchdown receptions.  Junior back DeMyron Martin is eyeing the kind of rebound year that’ll refocus his career while giving more balance to the offense.  He’ll have the luxury of running behind a seasoned line that returns four starters.  If, as expected, the Mustangs are playing in shootouts this year, they’ve now got the offensive weapons to keep pace.
Defense: The Mustangs will spend the better part of the year trying to replace three starters from the 2006 defensive line, including standouts Justin Rogers and Adrian Haywood.  If they can solve that complex riddle, look out.  The back seven, led by Butkus Award candidate Reggie Carrington, is very fast and very capable of spurring an improvement from last year’s middling results.  The more likely scenario has the line struggling to create a consistent push and the secondary getting burned by opposing hurlers with way too much time to find their targets.

Nov. 17 - Tulane
Offense: New head coach Bob Toledo would like to get vertical get the passing game moving, but it's not going to happen at the expense of the ground attack. With a good back in Matt Forte to work with, the Green Wave will try to run the ball to create some semblance of balance, but the offensive line might not be in place to do it. Scott Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job in a four-man race, and he has some decent young receivers to work with.
Defense: Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.


Nov. 24 - Tulsa
Offense: Can Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense really work at this level … take two.  All the buzz about Malzahn’s fancy playbook fizzled in Fayetteville last year, but unlike at Arkansas, Tulsa coach Tood Graham is on board and prepared to see all of the offense’s bell and whistles.  The system aims to control the tempo, physically and mentally wear out opponents, and sort of run a two-minute offense for four quarters.  Senior quarterback Paul Smith is liable to go berserk running this offense, but a makeshift offensive line and a whole new set of receivers will be two major stumbling blocks.  When the Hurricane runs the ball, it’ll turn to senior Courtney Tennial and junior Tarrion Adams, arguably the best running duo in Conference USA.   
Defense: Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.  The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year’s players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.  Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back to Tulsa.  In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the Hurricane had 36 takeaways.  Without him last year? 14.  The strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation’s best middle linebackers you’ve never seen play.  With so much over pursuing going on in 2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this year as it has in the last two combined.

 

  

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