2008 Texas Bowl Preview - WMU vs. Rice
Rice's Jarett Dillard & WMU's Branden Ledbetter
Rice's Jarett Dillard & WMU's Branden Ledbetter
Posted Dec 29, 2008

Western Michigan vs. Rice - The 2008 Texas Bowl Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Texas Bowl

Western Michigan (9-3) vs. Rice (9-3)

Dec. 30, 8:00 p.m. ET, NFL Network

Payout: $1.25 million   Location: Reliant Stadium, Houston TX

2008 Texas Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

National Rankings
Western Mich Rice
Total Offense
24th  422.67 ypg  10th  327.83 ypg
Total Defense
83rd  390.33 ypg 114th  466.75 ypg
Scoring Offense
37th   29.83 ppg  8th  41-58 ppg
Scoring Defense
61st  140.92 ppg 107th  34.92 ppg
Run Offense
92nd  121.5 ypg 62nd  144.42 ypg
Run Defense
61st  140.92 ypg 102nd  192.92 ypg
Pass Offense
10th  301.17 ypg 5th  327.83 ypg
Pass Defense
96th  249.42 ypg 112th  273.83 ypg
Turnover Margin
76th  -0.25 9th  1.08
Western Mich
at Nebraska L 47-24
No Illinois W 29-26
at Idaho W 51-28
Tenn Tech W 41-7
at Temple W 7-3
Ohio W 41-20
at Buff W 34-28 OT
at CMU L 38-28
EMU W 31-10
Illinois W 23-17
Toledo W 27-17
at Ball St L 45-22
SMU W 56-27
at Memphis W 42-35
at Vanderbilt L 38-21
at Texas L 52-10
No Texas W 77-20
at Tulsa L 63-28
So Miss W 45-40
at Tulane W 42-17
at UTEP W 49-44
Army W 38-31
Marshall W 35-10
Houston W 56-42
Position Ratings
relative to each other
WMU 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 5
2.5 RBs 3
5 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 3
3 D Line 2.5
3.5 Linebackers 3
2 Secondary 1.5
3 Spec Teams 2
3.5 Coaching 4

Yeah, you’re probably going to be keeping a keener eye on the Oklahoma State – Oregon Holiday Bowl, that’ll be a strong one, but DVR the 2008 Texas Bowl or get ready to do some flipping. 

If you’re going to have a minor bowl between two teams with limited fan bases and almost nothing in the way of name recognition, then you’d better have a fun matchup. This is will be fun with Rice coming in with the most exciting offense you’ve never seen, ranking eighth in the nation in scoring and 10th in total offense,
and Western Michigan cranking out an average of 301 passing yards per game with the talent to keep pace in a shootout.

However, the Texas Bowl has never really gone as planned. The 2003 version with the Texas Tech passing game vs. the Navy running game became a boring Red Raider blowout. Kansas State didn’t show up in 2006 and got blasted by Rutgers. There haven’t been many great games in the eight years, but this one has the potential to be special.       
Western Michigan lost three games this year to Nebraska in Lincoln, Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant, and Ball State in Muncie. While those were three acceptable defeats, none of them turned out to be all that close with the Broncos losing by double digits in all of them. However, they’re 4-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less including an overtime win against eventual MAC champion Buffalo and a breakthrough victory over Illinois. This is a veteran team with a better defense than the stats show and a strong offense with experienced players in key places.
Rice is also full of experience and it came through with a tremendous six-game winning streak to close out the season. Like Western Michigan, all the losses came on the road going down at Vanderbilt, Texas, and Tulsa by a combined score of 153 to 59, but that’s it. It was the Owls that did most of the bombing away, and while the defense stunk all year long, the offense more than made up for it.
This is a special game for Rice as it’s the second bowl game in three years, losing to Troy 41-17 in the 2006 New Orleans Bowl, with the previous bowl before that against Kansas in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl. The Owls get the equivalent of a home game, and while that might not make anyone too excited when the players might like the trip to a more exotic locale, for a program that hasn’t won a bowl game since 1953, motivation won’t be a problem.

Rice might not have won a post-season game in 55 years, but at least it has a victory. Western Michigan is 0-3 all-time with the last bowl game a 2006 International Bowl loss to Cincinnati. The program has never won ten games in a season, so despite falling short of the stated preseason goal of a MAC title, this could be considered the greatest season in school history with a win.

Both teams will be trying hard and both will consider this a potential stepping-stone game. Watch as the points fly, the defenses struggle, and the quarterback battle turns into one of the best this bowl season outside of the BCS Championship because of …
Players to watch: Rice senior Chase Clement and Western Michigan junior Tim Hiller. The record-setting Clement has thrown for 9,478 yards and 96 touchdowns with just 34 interceptions, and he has rushed for 1,669 yards and 24 scores. He emerged from the fray after Rice made the move from the option to the spread, and he blew up over the last two seasons and is finishing off his career with an All-America caliber season with 41 scoring passes, 11 touchdown runs, and just seven interceptions. He started out hot with six touchdown passes in the win over SMU and he got hot late with 25 scoring strikes and just three interceptions over the six-game winning streak. While he’s not that big and he doesn’t have the biggest arm, he can move and he’s a brilliant decision maker.
Hiller bounced back from a devastating knee injury that cost him all of 2006 to come up with a decent 2007, but he wasn’t consistent. The 6-5, 228-pounder has the size and he has the talent to be one of the nation’s big passing stars next year with a little more publicity, and a big national showing would do wonders for his profile. He threw 34 touchdown passes with just eight interceptions on the year, but four of those picks game in the three losses. While he’s not a runner like Clement, he’s mobile enough to not be a sitting duck. He already has seven 300-yard games this year, and he should have another against the nation’s 112th ranked pass defense.
Hiller’s main weapon is senior Jamarko Simmons, a big, tough receiver who makes plays in bunches with 254 career catches and 98 this year for 1,184 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught six or more passes in every game but the opener and he had four grabs with double-digit grabs. A dream of an H-Back at 6-2 and 240 pounds, he beats up defensive backs for the ball.
Simmons’ all-star counterpart on the other side is senior Jarett Dillard, who will put a close to a phenomenal career with 284 catches for 4,052 yards and 59 touchdowns. With great hands, good enough deep speed to make the big plays, and excellent leaping ability, he’ll be target one of the veteran WMU defense. Rice can win if Dillard doesn’t have a big game, the offense was fine in two of Dillard’s worst games (Tulane and Houston), but don’t expect him to go out with a whimper.

Rice will win if... the takeaways start flowing. One of the keys to the Owl offense was the turnover margin with a mere 16 turnovers and 29 takeaways. The defense might not be all that strong, but it does a good job of forcing the key mistake when it has to. Western Michigan has given the ball away on a consistent basis, but the turnovers haven’t proven to be too costly overall. They will be against Rice, who tends to take advantage of every opportunity. With little pass rush expected to be generated against a Bronco line that doesn’t give up too many sacks, the takeaways will have to come with big hits.
Western Michigan will win if
... the running game gets moving. WMU isn’t a running team, relying mostly on Hiller to bomb away, but that’s not to say the offense doesn’t have the ability to get things moving on the ground if need by. The three Rice losses came in three of the worst days of the year for the run defense. Army rumbled for 461 yards and four touchdowns, but that was an all-run offense. Vanderbilt, Texas and Tulsa all ran wild, and while it’s not like Rice was going to beat the Longhorns, it didn’t have a chance one the Commodores and Golden Hurricane got rolling. Of the 24 rushing touchdowns allowed this season, eight were allowed in the eight games against everyone but Army, Vandy, Texas and Tulsa. Of the 2,315 rushing yards allowed, only 936 were given up against the other eight teams.
What will happen: The two teams will combine for 800 passing yards and about 80 points. While the same thing was expected in some of the other early bowls, like the Motor City Bowl which turned out to be a Florida Atlantic 24-21 defensive win over Central Michigan, this really will be a track meet. Western Michigan has the better defense and the better offensive line, but Rice has been able to make things happen all season long against more talented teams. Clement will outduel Hiller, but Hiller will make a big statement going into next year.

Line: Rice -3.5 ... CFN Prediction: Rice 45 … Western Michigan 38      

2008 Texas Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More