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2008 Rice Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 13, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Rice Owl Offense

Rice Owls

Preview 2
008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Rice Preview | 2008 Rice Offense
-
2008 Rice Defense | 2008 Rice Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Rice Preview | 2006 CFN Rice Preview

What you need to know: QB Chase Clement is the catalyst of an offense that’s broken a slew of school records over the last two seasons. A year ago, he led the Owls in rushing as well as passing, accounting for 3,912 yards and 37 touchdowns, showing a knack for elevating his play late in games. The receiving corps will again give overmatched league secondaries fits. Jarett Dillard was a Biletnikoff Award finalist two years ago, and James Casey is a 23-year old former professional baseball player who debuted with 46 receptions. Bailiff’s quest to run the ball with more authority is a direct challenge to a line that got routinely abused and is revamping the left side.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Chase Clement
300-508, 3,377 yds, 29 TD, 16 INT
Rushing: Chase Clement
144 carries, 535 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Jarett Dillard
79 catches, 1,057 yds, 14 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Jarett Dillard
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Scott Mitchell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR James Casey
Best pro prospect: Dillard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dillard 2) Senior QB Chase Clement 3) Casey
Strength of the offense: The passing game, depth at receiver
Weakness of the offense: The running game, line play

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Senior Chase Clement won’t be high on any NFL draft boards next April. The Owls could care less. They’re ecstatic to have him back in Houston for one final season. He continued his demolition of the school record books, going 300-of-508 for 3,377 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, while adding another 535 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he may lack the ideal size and arm strength to make pro scouts gush, but he’s a genuine dual-threat playmaker with a flare for the dramatic and a knack for coming through in the clutch. Fewer forced passes and turnovers are on his to-do list this fall.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior John Thomas Shepherd will be Clement’s insurance policy for a second straight season. In brief action a year ago, he appeared in two games, completing 8-of-9 passes for 91 yards. A weaker facsimile of Clement at 6-1 and 192 pounds, he, too, has limited arm strength and moves well outside the pocket. He’ll use this season as an audition for the 2009 job, holding off the true freshmen from this year’s recruiting class.

Watch Out For…the Rice athletic department to spend a few dollars on an ad hoc Heisman campaign as Clement piles up numbers through the air and on the ground. The outlay won’t bring back the hardware, naturally, but it will get the senior some well-deserved national attention.
Strength: Clement. He can beat a defense a number of different ways and is chock full of intangibles, like moxie, leadership, and poise under pressure. In the new era of Owl quarterbacks, he’ll be the standard by which future players are judged.
Weakness: Turnovers. As bad as the Owl defense is, the last thing it needs is to be off the sidelines too often or trying to defend a short field. It’s up to Clement to protect the ball, improve his reads, and cut down on last year’s 16 interceptions.
Outlook: Ever since Rice ditched the wishbone in favor of the spread, Clement has flourished as the offensive triggerman. He’ll rack up the numbers for a third straight year, making good use of his quick feet and terrific corps of receivers.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Although the Owls are a pass-first team, moving the ball through the air would get a whole lot easier if there was some semblance of a running game. Rice averaged just 110 yards a game on the ground last year, which was good for 103rd in the country. The challenge of changing that trend falls on a quartet of runners headed by 5-11, 213-pound junior C.J. Ugokwe. A physical, north-south back, he ran for 263 yards and three scores on 64 carries and caught 16 passes before going down with an injury. Healthy again, he was hitting the hole with authority in the spring.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Justin Hill missed most of spring recovering from a shoulder injury, but will get right back in the thick of the competition as soon as he’s ready to go. The school’s leading returning running back, he rushed for 321 yards and three touchdowns on 88 carries as a true freshman. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, he’s a power back who can slash in and out of tight spaces.

Lagging behind Ugokwe and Hill, but still in the picture, is 5-10, 202-pound Marcus Knox, who ran for 43 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while contributing on special teams. A former receiver, he has the breakaway ability and explosiveness that the other contenders lack.

Watch Out For… junior Jeramy Goodson. The wild card in the picture, Goodson made a smooth transition from wide receiver in the spring. While only 5-9 and 180 pounds, he showed the burst and wiggle the running game has been lacking for years.
Strength: Power backs. If the Owls need to move the pile in short yardage or near the goal line, they’ve got three strong runners capable of delivering. Ugokwe, Hill, and Knox are all at least 200 pounds, with the toughness to lower their shoulder and drive for extra yards.
Weakness: Production. In their first opportunity to replace former Owl Quinton Smith, the backs stumbled miserably, failing to average more than four yards a carry or produce a 400-yard rusher. If Rice needed a big run, it usually kept the ball in the hands of QB Chase Clement.
Outlook: While the backs aren’t as bad their numbers, they’re also not dynamic enough to overcome an offensive line that struggles badly in run blocking. No one stands out in the group, raising the likelihood that a committee will be utilized and no one back will rush for more than 500 yards for the season.
Rating: 4.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: When Chase Clement drops back to pass, he’ll recognize plenty of familiar faces that comprise a dynamite corps of receivers. The ringleader for a third and final year will be 5-11, 190-pound senior Jarett Dillard, one of the most explosive playmakers in the country. An All-American and perennial contender for the Biletnikoff Award, he has deep speed and the leaping ability to sky well above most defenders. He’s developed quite a rapport with Clement over the last two seasons, catching 170 passes for 2,304 yards and 35 touchdowns.

At the other outside receiver position will be junior Toren Dixon, who took advantage of all the attention Dillard received, finishing with 46 catches for 448 yards and five touchdowns in his first full season of action. A physical 6-2, 208-pounder who uses his size as an advantage, he needs to increase his production and start picking up more yards after the catch.

The slot receivers in Rice’s four-wide sets will be 6-4, 245-pound sophomore James Casey at Y and 5-9, 185-pound Tommy Henderson at the F position. Casey was one of the program’s best stories of 2007, going from a minor league baseball pitcher to one of the most versatile offensive weapons on the roster. An outstanding all-around athlete, he did a little bit of everything, eventually settling in at receiver and catching 46 passes for 585 yards and four scores. Not to be type-casted, he also ran for 121 yards and five touchdowns, threw seven passes, and played some defensive end.

A reliable, scrappy option on dump-offs and short patterns, Henderson is the least dangerous of the starting receivers. Entering his fourth season as a starter, the converted quarterback was fourth on the team a year ago with 36 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns.

Projected Top Reserves: Behind Casey at the Y is Taylor Wardlow, a 6-6, 230-pound junior receiver with the body of a tight end. He has good hands and considerable upside, catching a career-high 13 passes last year for 156 yards and a touchdown.

The Owls are intrigued by the potential of sophomore Pierre Beasley, a terrific all-around athlete at 6-3 and 217 pounds with the big hands needed to pull in tough catches. He learn from Henderson in the slot for one more year before making a serious challenge for a starting job in 2009. Rice has had success converting quarterbacks to receiver, a trend that’ll continue with this raw project.

The heir apparent to Dillard on the outside is 5-11, 170-pound sophomore Patrick Randolph, a former defensive back still adjusting to the offensive side of the ball. While he only caught three pass for 51 yards, he has the game-breaking speed to be a downfield threat once he gets more comfortable at the position.

Watch Out For…this group to dominate Conference USA secondaries on a weekly basis. Finally more than just Dillard, the Owls can stretch defenses vertically and horizontally with a deep and diverse ensemble of receivers.
Strength: Depth. While Dillard is the obvious star, he now has a supporting cast that’ll make defenses rethink doubling the All-American. Four returners caught at least 36 passes in 2007, and a third year removed from Ken Hatfield’s wishbone has allowed the program to bolster the position through recruiting.
Weakness: Consistency. Dillard aside, this group will still flash signs of inexperience, running the wrong routes, missing a block downfield, or dropping passes at inopportune times. It’s not a glaring weakness, but it is something the Owls would like to address this fall.
Outlook: With Clement pitching darts and Dillard getting help from the likes of Dixon and Casey, Rice will be home to one of the strongest receiving corps among non-BCS programs. Casey, in particular, will be a monster in support, eating up opposing linebackers on the underneath stuff.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: With three starters returning, Rice is trying to patch together a line after struggling in all facets a year ago. At center, the Owls welcome back 6-2, 275-pound senior Austin Wilkinson, who missed the latter half of last season with mononucleosis. A fixture in the middle over the last three seasons, he’s a heady blocker with a very strong base, helping overcome modest size for an interior blocker.

If Wilkinson isn’t the team’s best blocker, the honor goes to 6-4, 295-pound senior RG David Berken, a fourth-year starter who graded out tops among the linemen in 2007. One of the unquestioned leaders of the unit, he’ll remain at guard, but has shown the versatility to play anywhere he’s needed throughout his career.

On the other side of Berken at left guard is 6-3, 305-pound senior Jimmy Miller, who slid in at center late last year after Wilkinson went on the shelf. A seasoned veteran with three letters and ample game experience, he won’t cower at the prospect of being a full-time player.

Rice believes it has a building block at left tackle in 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Scott Mitchell. Shortly after arriving, he became a regular, starting five games and earning a spot on the Freshman All-Conference USA squad. Knowing that Clement’s blindside is now his responsibility, he’s worked hard in the offseason to add muscle and improve as a pass blocker.

With a strong showing in the spring, 6-4, 300-pound redshirt freshman Tyler Parish has taken a lead in the race for the right tackle job. One of the program’s top recruits from 2007, he already has the size and strength to compete at this level, needing game reps to take the next step in his maturation.

Projected Top Reserves: Parish’s chief competition at right tackle is coming from 6-6, 290-pound junior Preston Thompson. A seven-game starter last season, he lost ground after sitting out the spring with an ankle injury. Like too many of the Owls, his biggest priority will be to improve drastically in pass protection.

Junior Travis Mason earned his first letter last year, playing as a reserve on the offensive line and on special teams. The 6-4, 280-pound former defensive lineman will back up Miller at right guard, but can also play tackle if needed.

Watch Out For…a more bulked up offensive line. The Owls have had a great offseason in the weight room, looking considerably bigger and stronger than a year ago. The added bulk
Strength: The interior. With Wilkinson at center and Berken and Miller at guard, Rice has three seniors on the inside with the experience and fundamentals to collectively form an asset for the offense. Combined, the trio has nine letters with the program.
Weakness: Run blocking. Pass protection hasn’t been very good either, but the Owls were actually worse in run blocking a year ago, rarely giving the backs any daylight or room to make plays.
Outlook: The play of the offensive line has been an on-going problem for the program that shows no signs of going away, especially with a few new faces being broken in. Clement and the backs will have to do a fair amount of improvising because the support they get up front will again be sporadic and inconsistent.
Rating: 4.5