Random Observations While Brain Locked (UPDATE!)

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I don't believe in writer's block, per se, but sometimes it is difficult to get features started, especially those about the new 50-meter competition pool at the Gibbs Rec Center. So, while I struggle organizing my thoughts, I figure the time is right to clear room in the old think tank:

Can't quite make out what David Bailiff is pulling from his sleeve with regards to Nick Fanuzzi. He stated authoritatively on Monday night that Fanuzzi would throw on Tuesday and the results of that throwing session would determine his availability for Saturday's C-USA showdown with Tulsa. Well, Fanuzzi threw an actual football, and considering how pained he looked last week while tossing a weighted, grapefruit-sized ball, hurling the pigskin must be considered progress. However, Fanuzzi had zero zip on his passes and still can't throw the deep ball, so considering what Bailiff proclaimed a day earlier it seemed safe to assume that Slick Nick would be sidelined a second consecutive weekend. Not so fast, my friend.

Fanuzzi will be reevaluated this afternoon, putting everyone back on that 'day-to-day' alert. Is Bailiff doing this as a ploy to not tip his hand to the Golden Hurricane? Is he going out of his way to avoid lying about Fanuzzi because he is such a stand-up coach, or did he really change his mind in the span of 24 hours? It appears that we're going to drag the Fanuzzi Watch out for several more days, which I guess serves the Owls' game plan well. ...

Speaking of quarterbacks, I am a big fan of Pat Forde's weekly column, Forde-Yard Dash. This week he outlined Lessons Learned From September, and I couldn't help but to chuckle at the Rice relevance of Lesson Three. Well, that chuckle followed my laughing out loud at the quote delivered by UH sports information director Chris Burkhalter to close Lesson One.

Did John Thomas Shepherd (passer rating: 72.66) and Ryan Lewis (40.98 - Yikes!!!) struggle a tad against Vanderbilt last Saturday? One could say that. Should the knee-jerk reaction be to yank the redshirt off freshman Taylor McHargue? Absolutely not. Hey, I like McHargue's spunk as much as anyone who has watched him practice, but let's not overreact. He won't be any more proficient at the controls than Lewis or Shepherd, and burning a season where he should be watching and learning won't do him any good. Keep the redshirt on the kid. ...

We should learn more about Jake Hicks' availability today, but I like the move Bailiff has made in the interim. On Tuesday he had left tackle Scott Mitchell move to right tackle, replaced Mitchell with Kody Emmert, and bumped Tyler Parish to right guard. This keeps his five best available linemen on the field and preserves the redshirt of skilled-but-green Bobby Janisch while we await word on Hicks, who went from a cast to a walking boot on Tuesday. Eric Ball (high ankle sprain) is out for this weekend, and likely several weekends beyond this one. ...

UPDATE: Fanuzzi (shoulder), Hicks (foot) and defensive tackle Chance Talbert (back) have been declared out for Saturday. Lewis and Shepherd will be your quarterbacks against Tulsa.

I'm keeping a close eye on sophomore safety-turned-receiver Randy Kitchens, who could be a boon to the scuffling offense once he figures out his responsibilities. He wasn't prepared to play last week, but he looked much better on Tuesday. The offensive staff is feeding Kitchens the playbook and terminology in small doses with the aim of hastening his development while not overwhelming him. Could the Owls use an athletic 6-3, 215-pound X-receiver? You bet, but in this time of crisis the last thing they need is another receiver running incorrect routes. ...

And finally, some additional notes from my conversation with The OG: He called freshman catcher Geoff Perrott 'a steal' without prompting, a wonderful compliment from someone notoriously hard on backstops. The Owls are set at catcher with Diego Seastrunk and Craig Manuel, but a third, serviceable backstop helps The OG rest comfortably. Perrott fits the bill. ...

The Owls were timed in the 60 recently, and not only did Michael Fuda impress despite coming off ankle surgery and running in tennis shoes, Daniel Gonzales-Luna, Jeremy Rathjen and Rick 'Hulk' Hague turned in times that caught The OG's eye. Rathjen looks noticeably bigger compared to his string-bean freshman frame, and not just the upper body. The OG called that 'maturing' and is optimistic that Rathjen will be an impact player in 2010. ...

I'll put some chips on Jared Rogers claiming a spot in the weekend rotation. He pitched marvelously in the 2009 NCAA Tournament (13 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks) and has left behind nagging injury concerns. He walks around The Reck with a swagger he didn't possess last season, a significant positive. The OG is blessed with a ridiculously versatile senior class: Rogers, Jimmy 'SAK' Comerota, Mark Haynes, Mike Ojala, GDG and Steven Sultzbaugh.

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Maybe Fanuzzi held back a bit and didn't go all out? I have no idea why Bailiff would do that either unless he believes Nick can show improvement each day. I mean, everyone knew Nick wasn't playing last week purely from the fact he didn't practice at all. I just don't believe DB would be all that big on gamesmanship. Hoping for the best for Nick...but it sounds like the Navy game is more realistic.

d1owls4life: Never known Bailiff to be a gamesmanship coach either - he's always been straight as an arrow. Just found it odd that he changed his mind so quickly. - MK

So did McHargue get any extra work yesterday? I don't understand the 'absolutely not' remark. We're not really in a position right now to hold options off the table. He didn't look ready to contribute in the fall workouts, but I don't see the harm in giving him some extra reps now to see if that's changed. A redshirt is best used during a season where we don't need a youngster to contribute (or when they're not ready to..). This year, we need any contributions we can get from the QB's. Next year, we likely won't, so why not save the redshirt until then.

At Ease: Well, let me amend that statement: McHargue should be behind the emergency glass only. I don't believe that a true freshman who has taken relatively few practice reps (prior to this week) should be thrust into action just because the two upperclassmen ahead of him have struggled. McHargue, at this point, won't be any better and in a couple of weeks, Fanuzzi will be back in the fold anyway. - MK

My sign in finally worked!

MK thanks for all the great coverage. If Fanuzzi is healthy, do you think DB will let him work out what kinks he may have or do you think he'll go back to switching him out with JT Shepherd? I thought it was settled that JT was number 2 and Lewis 3, but after only a couple of drives against Vandy DB was back to switching out QB's. While I don't mine benching a struggling QB, it seems a bit premature to jump ship after only 2 drives. Neither Lewis nor Shepherd ever really got a chance to get in a rhythm and gain any confidence. Seems like the QB depth chart still isn't settled.

Of course the Vandy secondary made it hard for any QB to get in a rhythm given the coverage they were laying on our recievers. But given such tight coverage, and that nothing in our passing game was working, I expected DB to run some play action to pull the coverage away from our receivers some, but I don't think they ran one play action all game. It seemed like Dixon had almost a foot on his cover man, if Dixon is going to be the play maker they hope he can be, the QB is going to have to try to get him the ball high and let him come down with it in tight coverage if nothing else is working. Clement's trust in Dillard to pull in anything relatively close (without the height advantage) was what made them so good. Except for the fade in garbage time, I don't think they threw anything else in his direction.

josef: Welcome aboard. Looking forward to your future comments. - MK

MK, I just went back and watched some video highlights from the Vandy game, and Rice receivers were getting open regularly and easily against Vandy's coverage, both on underneath and deeper routes.

Even on the successful drives (outside of Ross' essentially one play success drive) the one where Lewis moved for the FG and the one where JT got the late TD, multiple receivers came open on virtually every pass play, however, both QBs never looked away from their first read target. On Lewis' successful drive, he locked in on Dixon or Wardlow every time and then proceeded to (I suppose by virtue of his arm strength) fit the ball between 3 converging Vandy players where he usually had Randolph or VMcD running a wide open crossing route across the field that easily could have turned into a big gain.

The issues with the offense are clearly a quarterback problem. It's crystal clear looking at the film. And unless we get Fanuzzi back soon, or JT or RL make significant progress, we won't sniff a win.

Talon: I'll take your word for it, but video 'highlights' might not tell the entire story. There were a handful of times where I scanned downfield and saw receivers locked up, and others have told me that they witnessed receivers struggling to beat press coverage. I don't want to belabor the point, but the receivers are as much to blame as shoddy quarterback play and the injury-ravaged/inexperienced O-line. - MK


Well, without Fanuzzi I don't think we have much hope of winning this week, unless Ryan Lewis rid himself of all his bad play last weekend.

Who will start/get majority snaps?

My prediction: Tulsa 41 Rice 24

Talon: Bailiff opted not to name his starter on the record, but I think we can all figure out who will be the first quarterback on the field against the Golden Hurricane. - MK

No Nick. That's depressing. Is Tyler Smith going to play or is the toe too painful?

Owl-88: Bailiff said T. Smith is out, but I saw Smith practicing today. Apparently he is experiencing too much pain to go full throttle, but at least he was back in shells. My prediction for Tulsa? Charles Ross had better stash two inhalers on the sideline. - MK

Well, that explains that. Just a bad break for the Owls that they can't get their starting QB out there. They think he will be available for Navy next week or is it still just a wait and see thing?

Also, is JT or Ryan going to start Saturday?

To me, the big key will be getting the running game going. That 3-3-5 can be susceptible to it. A large dose of Charles Ross and others to set up the pass would be the prescription to win this game I believe. We've got to have some long drives and keep that Tulsa offense off the field and let our D rest so they can defend that high tempo attack. Speaking of which, we've got to interrupt that tempo. It drives me nuts how fast they get to the line. Negative plays, incomplete pases...hell, Bailiff may need to call a timeout here or there just to slow them down and get them off rhythm.

d1owls4life: No long-term prognosis on Fanuzzi, although the odds of his playing increase by the week. I'd give him a good shot against the Middies. As for your second question, I am not at liberty to reveal that information per my agreement with Bailiff. However, the answer should be obvious given the results we have seen weekly, the expected improved protection provided by the revamped offensive line, and the drop off in pressure produced by Tulsa as compared to Vanderbilt. - MK

Re: Ross. Does his asthma typically affect him during games, or was that just a freak occurence vs. Vandy?

He played consistently in highschool.

Talon: From what I've been able to cobble together, it was a freak occurrence. I am positive several trainers will be on the sideline, inhalers in hand, on Saturday. Ross will need them because I get the feeling his workload will increase exponentially. - MK

Ok, thanks MK. Appreciate the breaking news. I'd rather it be this way than wondering all week.

D is going to have to step up huge if we are going to pull this off. Hate to say it, but my 4 win number from earlier this year is looking a little more likely now.

d1owls4life: Hope you understand that I've got to maintain some confidentiality with Bailiff. Given the circumstances, I understand where he is coming from on this. - MK

Oh, absolutely. No problem with that. I'll take whatever info you can provide and be grateful for it. It's much more than I ever could get.

Man, right when Fanuzzi turns the corner and puts together a great game, he goes down to injury. We're just snakebit this season.

Any talk of opening up the offensive playbook? Have we even seen so much as a reverse this year? I realize you need line protection for that, but it's an illustration of the extreme lack of creativity we've seen on offense.

MK, thanks for the updates. Is there a clear difference of who is getting the most snaps this week in practice? Despite the ratings, I think we should go with Ryan more so the game slows down for him and the O establishes a rhythm.

wiessguy: No clear-cut reps winner to me, although I agree with you in that Lewis should get the start and remain in the game throughout. At some point we have to see if he is the most viable backup to Fanuzzi, and there is no time like the present. - MK


Long time, no talk. Sorry to hear your qb is out. Should be a great game. Love your work and congrats on the new job.

Not that worried about the run game. We're giving up stupid stuff in the air. Run d has been decent; Graham isn't coaching the d anymore, fwiw.

Your friend,


Gold: It's been too long. So, what are your thoughts on the O-line? I know there has been some shuffling up front; did Tulsa find stability last week against Sam Houston State, or is the process ongoing? Do fans up there feel like that have a read on that team even with the victories over poor competition? Hard to figure from afar. - MK

O line looked better against Bomar State, but that wasn't a baramoter if anything other than that Bomar State was terrible. Losing Holmes really hurt. They shuffled two new starters in against Bomar State, Sproal at center and Deshane, a true freshman, at guard. Deshane has a lot of upside and had some big time offers. Another true freshman, Dupy, started the year at center and may have hit the proverbial wall.

I don't think anybody has a very good feel for this team other than that they are young and have some unfortunate injuries. Still a lot of talent at the skill positions. Kinne is pretty good. The defense is better up front and it looks like we are doing some new stuff with the linebackers. Running game needs to get better. Charles Clay isn't playing to his potential.

OK, I downloaded Firefox and I can finally comment. So all of us having problems signing on, it is apparently an IE problem. I will try and see (later) if changing my security settings works.

Anyway, MK love the new blog (if not the name of it). Wish you had a better start to the season to write about. At least the baseball Owls sound ready to make some noise again this year.

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