The season previews continue with today's look at the Longhorns third opponent, Rice.
When Rice has the ball
Major Applewhite will be calling the shots in a Texas game once more, only this time as the offensive coordinator of the opponent. The coaching staff has undergone a complete makeover, really, and it will be strange not seeing Ken Hatfield roaming the Owls' sideline. Hatfield, well known for his rush-heavy attack, is out, and Applewhite is in, with all indications that he'll be gunning through the air quite a bit more than his predecessors.
Any chance we'll see Major throw a "Horns down"? Nah...
Applewhite says the offense will feature a spread attack, and it appears that Chase Clement (started one game last year) will be the starting QB over Joel Armstrong (10 games started last year). Armstrong, for his part, will be moving to the "F" inside receiver position, though the Owls' media guide notes that he "will also see some action at QB."
The best thing going for Rice is that they have nine offensive starters returning, losing only their center and fullback to graduation. The problem, of course, is that they're all going to be learning a new system, and it appears to be a complicated one. The post-spring chatter was all about how the team was just starting to dip into the offensive funbag.
For those unfamiliar with the spread offense, the name says it all. Line up as many wide receivers as the rules allow, use your tailback as a receiving option, and get rid of the ball quickly. When you're undersized in the trenches, as Rice will most assuredly be against Texas, it's a better idea than futilely attempting a slow-developing, max-protect scheme that will, despite the effort, fail to protect the quarterback. The downside, of course, is that spread offense quarterbacks are prone to getting thumped repeatedly by incoming defenders. On September 16th, against Texas, Chase Clement will be lucky to stay in all four quarters.
Whereas Rice will -try- to get rid of the ball quickly, even the slightest hesitations will prove costly. The Horns defensive line is apt to terrorize Rice's line, giving Clement even less time than he'd normally have. It's difficult to imagine Rice scoring much, if at all, against the `Horns.
What we are likely to see is a good number of incomplete passes. Which means a long game, and brings us nicely to...
When Texas has the ball
The important point to think about here is that the matchup with Rice follows the Ohio State game. Texas will either be coming off of a heartbreaking defeat or an enormous win; in either case, the Rice game will be seen as an opportunity to work on weaknesses from the fight with the Buckeyes.
As mentioned, one can envision the Texas offense enjoying many, many possessions in this game, which means lots of opportunities for the new quarterbacks to continue their development. Even if neither quarterback is effective, though, it stands to reason that Rice is in for a long afternoon in Houston anyway. The Horns could decide to avoid passing all afternoon and still drop a 50 spot on the Owls (as they did last year, in Jamaal Charles' coming out party). The smart money is on a good number of passes, though, as the rapid development of the young QBs is essential to any conference title hopes the Horns have.
Win or lose against Ohio State, the Rice game will be utilized by the team to get prepped for conference play.
Texas could plausibly lose if: the ceiling tiles in Reliant Stadium fall on the Longhorn sideline, injuring the whole team. That's it, really.
Rice's best chance to win.
Texas could plausibly win if: the team makes it off the bus and dodges any falling ceiling tiles. The outcome of this game is not what's in question, but it's Texas' last chance to prep for conference play, as the Cyclones of Iowa State head to Austin a week later.