R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Preview - Rice vs. Troy
Resilient Rice travels to "Big Easy" looking for eighth win
The Owls are making their first bowl appearance since 1961
Time: 8:00 (EST)
Records: Rice (7-5 overall, 6-2 CUSA); Troy (7-5 overall, 6-1 Sun Belt)
Last Bowl Game:
All-Time Series Record: First Meeting
Rice vs. Troy – Series History and General Overview
When Rice and Troy meet in the Louisiana Superdome in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, it will mark the first meeting between the schools. After suffering poor first halves to their seasons, the Owls and Trojans finished strong and secured bowl spots.
Rice started 1-5 under first-year head coach Todd Graham, but pulled it together to secure it's first bowl berth since 1961. Following a 0-4 start that included losses to Houston, UCLA, Texas and Florida State, the Owls suffered the tragic loss of freshman defensive back Dale Lloyd. From that point on, Rice won seven of its last eight games, including six straight to close the season. The Owls showed tremendous character in those wins, as they were by a combined 26 points and two were by a single point.
The Owls and Trojans played two common opponents, Florida State and UAB. Both Rice and Troy traveled to Tallahassee early in the season. The Trojans led the Seminoles 17-10 early in the fourth quarter before falling 24-17. Rice played FSU without quarterback Chase Clement and were tomahawked, 55-7. The Owls defeated the Blazers, 34-33, in Houston while Troy was beaten soundly by UAB in Birmingham, 21-3.
The Trojans won six of their last seven and captured the Sun Belt title. They were required to win three consecutive road games during that successful stretch to close the season.
Offensively, both teams incorporate spread schemes and they like to attack defenses vertically and horizontally. Each possesses the ability to move the ball through the air and on the ground.
The Owls and Trojans haven't been as successful on the defensive side of the ball, but they're better than their statistics would indicate.
While Rice and Troy aren't your household names in college football and this match-up will likely get overlooked by many, it has all the makings of being one of the more entertaining bowl games of the season.
Rice Offense vs. Troy Defense
The Owls' offense underwent a major transformation since last season. Prior to Todd Graham's arrival in Houston, Rice attempted to overcome their talent deficiency by utilizing Ken Hatfield's triple option scheme as an equalizer. Graham opted to go in a different direction and brought in former star quarterback at the University of Texas, Major Applewhite, as his offensive coordinator.
The move has been successful and Rice isn't one-dimensional as they were during the Hatfield era. The Owls are posting 27.8 points and 345 yards per contest. They possess a trio of playmakers in quarterback Chase Clement, wide receiver Jarett Dillard and tailback Quinton Smith. They won't intimidate you getting off the bus, but they are very quick and athletic.
After missing the first four games, Chase Clement compiled some impressive numbers over the last eight games. He completed 57.7 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,707 yards and 21 scores. Clement protected the ball nicely, as he only threw five picks on the season. He possesses good speed and is also effective as a runner. His 481 yards and four touchdowns ranked him second on the team behind Quinton Smith.
Clement has had the luxury of throwing to one of the nation's most talented, yet least known receivers in Jarett Dillard. The Associated Press and Walter Camp Foundation selected the explosive wideout to be on their second-team All-American squads. Dillard is deserving of all the accolades that he receives, and he would probably have been named a first-team All-American had he not played for Rice. He leads the nation with 20 touchdown receptions and has hauled in 82 passes for 1,176 yards. His streak of 14 straight games with a touchdown reception is the second longest in NCAA history.
Joel Armstrong, Mike Falco and Tom Henderson complement Dillard well and are good enough to prevent the opposition from turning their attention solely to stopping him. Quinton Smith is Rice's second-leading receiver with 32 receptions for 335 yards.
On the ground, Quinton Smith rushed for nearly 1,100 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He reached paydirt ten times this year. The 5'11", 195-pound senior is extremely quick and ranks second all-time amongst Rice's career rushing leaders.
The Owls will have their work cut out for them in the running game, as they will be facing off against a talented Troy front. The Trojans defensive line is very physical while their linebackers are very athletic and can run. They are good against the run, but have struggled when trying to defend the pass.
Troy is allowing 22.7 points and 344 yards per game. Only 137 of those yards are on the ground, and opponents are averaging 3.8 yards per attempt. It has forced 20 turnovers, nine of which were interceptions. The Trojans have sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times.
Senior strong safety Brannon Condren leads the team in tackles with 91, 79 of which are solo. Sophomore strong safety Terence Moore and freshman linebacker Boris Lee are tied for the team lead with two picks apiece. Senior nose guard Franklin Lloyd has posted 12.5 tackles for loss while defensive ends Kenny Mainor and Shawn Todd seem to headline the Trojans' pass rush. The duo has combined for ten sacks and 33 quarterback hurries.
Troy Offense vs. Rice Defense
Troy is more explosive than their offensive numbers of 21 points and 315 yards per game would lead you to believe. The Trojans have been their own worst enemy, as they've been plagued by 29 turnovers. They possess strong players at the skill positions and feature an offensive line that has improved as the season has progressed. This is also their first season utilizing their current spread offense.
Junior college transfer quarterback Omar Haugabook has had a roller coaster season in his first year under center on the Division I-A level. He has thrown for nearly 2,200 yards while completing 62 percent of his passes for 17 touchdowns. However, he has also thrown 16 to the other team. This inconsistency has prevented the Trojans from attaining their potential. Haugabook has also rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns.
Kenny Cattouse (5'10", 207) has spearheaded the Trojans' rushing attack. Cattouse, whose nickname is "The Moose", ran for 774 yards and averaged five yards per carry in his second season as a starter for Troy.
Junior Gary Banks (6'1", 196) is Troy's leading receiver. He has 66 receptions for 595 yards and team-high seven touchdowns. Toris Rutledge, Mykeal Terry and Smokey Hampton give Haugabook and the Trojans three more legitimate threats. Each member of the trio has caught at least 24 passes and has shown the potential to make big plays. All four of these top targets have posted receptions of 58 yards or more.
Defensively, you take a look at Rice's numbers and you wonder how they've won seven games. They are 110 th in the nation in scoring defense (32.6 ppg), 113 th in total defense (417.7 ypg), 114 th in rushing defense (191.2 ypg) and 109 th in pass efficiency defense.
They're strength is that they've been very opportunistic, having forced a Conference USA-leading 28 turnovers. Their transition to an attacking 3-3-5 defense makes better use of their personnel and has allowed them to pressure opposing quarterbacks well, as they've also registered a CUSA-high 31 sacks.
Undersized sophomore linebacker Brian Raines (5'11", 190) leads the Owls' defense with 110 tackles, which includes 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Another leader on the defensive side of the ball is senior free safety Andray Downs. He is a tough playmaker and has registered 84 tackles while being tied for the team-high in interceptions with two.
The Trojans better make sure they block Courtney Gordon. The 6'3", 255-pound senior defensive lineman has 43 tackles, but 23 have been behind the line of scrimmage. He leads the team in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (8).
The Trojans get the slight edge in special teams due to having an outstanding punt returner in junior Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin has returned 27 punts for an average of 11.3 yards and has taken one to the house.
The Owls punt return game is also solid, as Brandon King and Ja'Corey Shepherd have shared the duties. King has returned 11 punts for a 10.0 average while Shepherd has a solid 5.7 mark.
McKelvin also handles the majority of the kickoff returns, having brought back 26 of the team's 45 attempts for 23.5 per.
Mike Falco and Chris Douglas bring back kickoffs for the Owls. Falco has returned 18 for a 22.5-yard average while Douglas has brought back 15 for a 19.3 average.
Troy's coverage teams are very good because of their excellent team speed. The Owls have covered kickoffs well, but are allowing over ten yards per punt return. This is an area to keep an eye on since Troy has a weapon like McKelvin in its arsenal.
The Trojans' Jason Wright is the better punter. He has a 39.7-yard average, but more importantly has good hang time. Wright has forced 19 fair catches and has also pinned opponents inside their own 20 on 13 occasions.
Rice's Jared Scruggs has averaged 39.1, but has lacked his past consistency. He has only forced opponents to start inside their 20-yard line nine times.
Rice has the more consistent place kicker. Luke Juist and Clar Fangmeier have shared the duties, but the latter has emerged as a clutch kicker. He only has a long of 40 yards, but that was the game-winner as time expired against East Carolina. He is 7-of-10 on the year.
Troy's Greg Whibbs has converted on nine of his 17 tries, but is only 6-of-14 from over 30 yards. He has a long of 47. He is more consistent with his kickoffs, as he has averaged kicking inside the three-yard line while producing 17 touchbacks. He has only kicked three out-of-bounds.
The Owls' kickoffs have been an adventure with an inconsistent Scruggs. He has kicked nearly as many out-of-bounds as he has touchbacks.
Many of the prognosticators are giving Troy the edge in this area due to the presence of long-time coach Larry Blakeney. He has been at Troy for 16 seasons now and has seen the Trojans transitions from Division II to I-AA and then I-AA to I-A. The veteran coach has also already led Troy to a bowl game and a few landmark wins since becoming I-A. The Trojans have beaten the likes of Mississippi State, Marshall and Missouri (when it was ranked with quarterback Brad Smith).
While he certainly has the edge on Rice's Todd Graham in the experience department, it is very difficult to go against the first-year coach with what he has done in such a short time at a perennial loser. He has produced a winner at a place where it has been extremely difficult to win. Graham has cultivated a winning attitude and work ethic that helps propels the Owls to victory.
Troy does have the edge in postseason experience, as they attended the 2004 Silicon Valley Bowl.
Both teams have won their share of close games. However, Rice has won six games by a combined 26 points, which included multiple come-from-behind wins.
Graham's club does the little things it takes to win. They play disciplined football and don't commit turnovers. Rice has done a superb job of capitalizing on their opportunities.
Their team chemistry, heart and character are second to none. The Owls have really united since the tragic death of their teammate Dale Lloyd.
This will be an entertaining game to watch. There should be plenty of points scored, but Rice will cap its tremendous turnaround with a win in its first bowl game in 45 years.
The playmaking ability of Rice's Jarett Dillard and the Owls' ability to win the close games will be the difference. Dillard will post 150 or more yards receiving and make the most of his opportunity to showcase himself to the nation.
For Troy to win, they must prevent the turnovers that have led to their struggles this season and find a way to get some pressure on quarterback Chase Clement or whoever is taking the snaps for Rice.
It will also help if they can get a strong rushing performance by "The Moose" against an Owls' run defense that is giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground.
Rice 34 - Troy 24