2010 Rice Preview – Offense

Posted Jul 30, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Rice Owl Offense

Rice Owls

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Potential comes from places, like Tuscaloosa, Ann Arbor, and Miami. The task ahead for new coordinator David Beaty is to make sure the Owls start to realize it. In the first year without star QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard, Rice was horrible on offense, averaging just 18 points and a league-low 304 yards a game. Provided the line can start consistently putting a helmet on someone, better days should be on the horizon. Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi returns at quarterback, where he's getting competition from Miami transfer Taylor Cook and redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue. The best gem, however, comes from Michigan. RB Sam McGuffie was on everyone's wish list two years ago. Now he's an Owl, and he's posturing to take the rest of Conference USA by storm.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Nick Fanuzzi
162-270, 1,598 yds, 11 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Charles Ross
97 carries, 491 yds, 11 TDs
Receiving: Patrick Randolph
39 catches, 356 yds, 4 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior LT Scott Mitchell
Player who has to step up and become a star: The quarterback—Junior Nick Fanuzzi, sophomore Taylor Cook, or redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Vance McDonald
Best pro prospect: Mitchell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mitchell, 2) Sophomore RB Sam McGuffie, 3) Junior G Jake Hicks
Strength of the offense: Backfield potential
Weakness of the offense: The running game, consistency in the passing game, line play, lack of big plays, turnovers, third down conversions


Projected Starter: Unlike a year ago, Rice is expected to have better depth at quarterback—and a possible controversy. Although 6-3, 220-pound junior Nick Fanuzzi is the incumbent and the favorite, he was in a tight race coming out of spring that could extend deep into the summer. The former Alabama transfer played in 10 games in his debut, finishing 162-of-270 for 1,598 yards, 11 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. A good athlete, with an accurate and strong arm, he returns with a much better grasp of the offense and his role within it.

Projected Top Reserves: The Owls went the transfer route once again to provide competition for Fanuzzi, plucking 6-7, 240-pound sophomore Taylor Cook away from Miami. Looking for a chance at more playing time, the Texas native returned back home with a new lease on his career. As expected, he gets maximum RPMs on his throws, but is surprisingly nimble and light on his feet for such a big player.

While Fanuzzi and Cook were supposed to duke it out in the spring, the surprise was 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue, who injected himself into the race. The best athlete of the trio, he has a gunslingers mentality, which could actually work in this system. The wild card in the race, he'll remind Rice fans of Chase Clement for his ability to make plays without the pedigree or gaudy physical attributes.

Watch Out For .... the competition to make everyone better. Fanuzzi was going to have a positive trajectory no matter what, but the arrival of Cook and presence of McHargue will hasten that process. Instead of solidifying his starting job in March, he was dragged into an alley fight that'll force him to stay on top of his game.
Strength: Athleticism. While it's not as if the Owl quarterbacks have limitations through the air—they don't—their ability to escape pressure and provide a dual-threat is an important weapon. Rice favors athletic hurlers, and has three of them capable of making opposing defenses their feet.
Weakness: Aerial consistency. Potential? Yes. Proven? Not quite. The Owls were last in Conference USA passing efficiency in 2009, throwing more picks than touchdowns and ranking a miserable 117th nationally in yards per pass attempt. Whoever gets the ball needs to do a much better job of moving this offense through the air.
Outlook: With options and a season in the system come hope. The first year after Clement's graduation was going to be an impossible chore for any quarterback. Now that Fanuzzi is a year older and Cook and McHargue are eligible for action, Rice is capable of rebounding in a hurry at this position.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: The Owls are bringing back last year's top two rushers and a high-profile former Michigan Wolverine to the backfield. Junior Tyler Smith exited spring as the starter, keeping the momentum he had at the end of 2009. He closed with back-to-back 100-yard games to finish with 428 yards and a touchdown on 101 carries. It was an impressive statement for the 5-8, 195-pound back, who had missed well over a year to a knee injury. While undersized, he has a good burst and the vision to dance in and out of holes.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Sam McGuffie began his career in Ann Arbor, rushing for 486 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries, while catching 19 passes for 175 yards and another score. He was homesick, however, which could be a boon to the Owls for the next three years. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's a fantastic all-around athlete, with the balance and bounce in his step to electrify in the open field.

Sophomore Charles Ross became the first rookie since 1989 to lead the Owls in rushing, going for 491 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 16 catches for 130 yards. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he's the biggest and most physical of the backs, giving the team an excellent option in short yardage and near the goal line. He looked too good at times last fall not to be a part of the rotation.

Watch Out For .... McGuffie to become the focal point of the offense before too long. He has unquestioned talent, which bubble to the surface throughout the spring. The Owls are going to use him in a multitude of different ways, realizing that getting him in space is the fastest way to ignite a moribund offense.
Strength: Depth. Where did this come from? This was a program that was struggling to replace C.J. Ugokwe just last summer. Today, the Owls have their top two rushers from 2009 and a former can't-miss recruit, who was deciding among the likes of USC, Notre Dame, and Florida just two years ago.
Weakness: A proven workhorse. Sure, Smith, Ross, and McGuffie have had moments in the last two seasons, but none has been asked to be an every-down guy for an entire year. Or rushed for more than 500 yards in a season. Rice still doesn't know for sure if it has a bona fide leading man or a bunch of spare parts.
Outlook: McGuffie has completely changed the dynamic of the Owl backfield, if not the entire offense. He's a game-changer, especially against lesser defensive competition, who turned a lot of heads in the spring. Add in the steadiness of Smith and the power of Ross, and Rice appears set here for the next three years.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Leading receiver Toren Dixon has graduated, leaving the Owls on an offseason quest for a go-to receiver. Replacing him at "X" receiver, which is typically reserved for the team's best pass-catcher, might be 6-2, 185-pound sophomore Derek Clark. After catching just two balls for 28 yards, he's primed for a much bigger role in the passing game. Long and lean, he has the speed and elevation to be the deep threat this offense is after.

At the other outside position, "Z" receiver, 6-2, 200-pound Corbin Smiter is making his way back after a sports hernia forced him to seek a medical redshirt in 2009. Injuries have been an issue for him throughout his career, limiting him to 44 receptions for 659 yards and three touchdowns. When healthy, he's proven to be a heady receiver, who runs sharp routes and has the sticky hands to be a sensible third down option.

On the inside, there's hope that "A" receiver Pierre Beasley can put it all together in his final season on campus. The 6-3, 215-pound senior, who was a quarterback in high school, has always had the measurables and big mitts, but has lacked consistency and has had too many drops. He took over as a starter in the second half of 2009, yet only finished with 15 catches for 113 yards and a score.

At tight end, 6-5, 250-pound sophomore Vance McDonald is a player who has the coaching staff very excited. He's benefited from some of the offseason changes to the offense, and had one of the best springs among the offensive players. A big target, with soft hands and a long stride, he's capable of tripling last year's dozen catches for 118 yards.

Projected Top Reserves: Trying to keep Clark from cruising to a starting job at "X" receiver is 5-11, 170-pound senior Patrick Randolph, the veteran and most accomplished member of this unit. One of the fastest members of the team, he was second on the team with 39 catches for 356 yards and four touchdowns. However, he also missed the spring with an injury, and has some ground to make up in the summer.

Behind Beasley at "A" receiver, 6-3, 215-pound junior Randy Kitchens is trying to carve out more playing time after catching just a couple of passes in eight games. A converted safety, he's surprisingly fast for his size, has gotten consistently more confident at the new position, and does a nice job of blocking on the perimeter.

Watch Out For .... McDonald to develop into an important element of the passing game. He has the skills and the trajectory to emerge as the quarterback's best friend, especially on third downs, finding the soft spot in the middle of the field and securing whatever is thrown near his body.
Strength: Physicality. The Owls are flush with big, physical receivers, like Beasley, Smiter, and McDonald, who all go at least 6-2 and 200 pounds. Their size allows them to box out defenders and win a lot of battles for balls in the air. They're also assets as downfield blockers in the running game.
Weakness: Yards after the catch. In the first year without Jarett Dillard and James Casey, Rice did an awful job of milking the most out of each reception, averaging a paltry 9.4 yards a grab. New Mexico State was the only team in the country, which averaged less than the Owls.
Outlook: Although last season saw an inevitable drop-off in the passing game, Rice sunk even more than anyone anticipated. Sure, it was a dual effort that included poor play from the quarterbacks, but the receivers did little to help the situation. That has to change this fall, beginning with the emergence of a bona fide go-to guy, a role Clark hopes to fill.
Rating: 5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Everyone is back from a line that was at the crux of a lot of a lot of last year's offensive shortcomings. The undisputed leader of the group continues to be 6-4, 290-pound senior LT Scott Mitchell, a reigning second team all-star and a starter in 30 consecutive games. Since arriving from Canada, he's steadily added muscle, yet remains light on his feet, allowing him to excel in pass protection.

Mitchell's partner at right tackle will once again be 6-4, 280-pound junior Tyler Parish, a returning starter for the Owls. One of the team's top recruits from 2007, he uses his hands well and has good feet, but is probably a better fit at guard. Rice has no such luxury, so he'll continue to add weight and do his best to contain some of the league's better rushers coming off the edge.

A budding fixture at the pivot is 6-3, 285-pound junior Keshawn Carrington, who got a crash course in playing the position in 2009. A terrific all-around athlete, who has diligently packed on the pounds since getting on campus, he's still rather light for an interior lineman, a major concern against bigger and more physical defensive tackles.

The team's veteran at guard will be 6-3, 290-pound junior Jake Hicks, an anchor on the left side. A versatile blocker, his 17 career starts include 10 at right tackle in 2008. He battled through injuries last fall that cost him five games, earning honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition.

The most interesting development up front has 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Eric Ball taking the lead in the battle at right guard. Although he started just one game a year ago, mostly playing a reserve role at guard and center, he's used a strong offseason to command a leading role and leapfrog more experienced teammates.

Projected Top Reserves: Despite starting all 12 games and earning honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2009, 6-2, 325-pound Davon Allen is currently looking up at Ball on the depth chart. He's one of the most powerful of the linemen, especially on running plays, but his technique can be spotty and he's vulnerable as a pass protector. Still, even if he can't win the job in the summer, he'll make an experienced option on the second unit.

Junior Kody Emmert is the Owls' best tackle coming off the bench, starting four games on the left side last fall, when injuries created an opening. Viewed as the successor to Mitchell, he's light on his feet and is the kind of athlete that this staff is constantly trying to attract. However, at 6-5 and 265 pounds, he has to add more weight in order to hold up when the other guy bull rushes.

Watch Out For .... Ball. Can he hold on to the right guard through the summer? Allen has the edge in size, strength, and experience, but Ball's footwork and ability to get to the second level in a hurry have not gone unnoticed by the staff.
Strength: The left side. With Mitchell and Hicks to the left of center, Rice has a pair of returning starters, who'll encourage the offense to run the majority of plays behind them. Mitchell is the anchor of the line and Hicks overcame an ankle injury and lost time to pick up some all-star consideration.
Weakness: Size. Sure, the coaching staff is trying to sign smaller, more athletic blockers, but there's a price to pay for that approach. One of the few lines in America that might not feature a 300-pounder, Rice struggles to hold the line of scrimmage and has serious problems creating space for the backs.
Outlook: While this remains, at best, a mediocre offensive line, it will benefit from the return of so many familiar faces. Another year together will help overall chemistry, which should trickle down to the skill players. Still, until proven otherwise, this group has a tendency to be a liability, especially in the face of aggressive fronts.
Rating: 4.5

- 2010 Rice Preview | 2010 Rice Offense
- 2010 Rice Defense | 2010 Rice Depth Chart
- Rice Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006