Rice-UCF: Five Things To Watch

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There will be a football game at HRS on Saturday, ya know. Given all the turmoil around these parts this week, it is too easy to forget that the Owls are hosting the Knights of UCF. Unfortunately Sr. FS Andrew Sendejo will not be in uniform, the victim of a career-threatening ankle injury. And to think, his loss was presumed to be the bad news of the week on Monday.

Everyone should pay close attention to what unfolds on the field over the final five games of 2009. With the Owls' postseason hopes officially dead thanks to last week's loss at East Carolina, shifting focus to what Ben Braun is cooking up at Tudor Fieldhouse and/or the overwhelming optimism at The Reck doesn't take much effort. But the Owls will likely start just three seniors on Saturday, all on offense (WRs Toren Dixon and Taylor Wardlow, RB Jeramy Goodson). The defense features only one senior - hobbled DT Chance Talbert - on its two-deep, so the Owls running around the field will be the same players vying for starting positions in the spring. In the minds of many, 2010 will be the season that springboards Rice into another echelon on the gridiron. What happens down the stretch in '09 might reveal the validity of those beliefs, so you should pay rapt attention as the schedule draws to a close.

1. Good Luck, Kody Emmert. It's tough to put your finger on the most devastating injury suffered by the Owls this season, but the loss of So. RG Jake Hicks surely ranks up there. The Owls' revamped O-line has found its footing recently, but the best unit remains the one that started the first three games of the season, the group with Scott Mitchell at left tackle not right. Emmert continues to improve following his insertion into the starting lineup, but as the left tackle he is charged with protecting the blind side of So. QB Nick Fanuzzi. This week Emmert will be lined up against Jr. DE Bruce Miller, he of the 19.5 career sacks in 32 games.

2. A New Hope. Did you enjoy that flash of So. RB Tyler Smith you witnessed last weekend? It was pleasing, wasn't it? Smith touched the ball four times and racked up 37 yards in his first action since succumbing to turf toe at Texas Tech on Sept. 12. He should be completely healthy against UCF, and with Fr. RB Charles Ross (groin) and Fr. TE Vance McDonald (shoulder) also back in the fold, The Nick has some valuable weapons at his disposal. Great!

3. Who's Got The Power? UCF ranks 10th in Conference USA in rushing offense, but the Owls should nevertheless expect a heavy dose of So. RB Brynn Harvey (140 attempts for 561 yards and six TDs). East Carolina wasn't that stout on the ground, but that didn't prevent the Pirates from utilizing power formations and pounding out an early lead on the Owls last weekend. Rice eventually adjusted and, thanks to a Dominique Lindsay ankle injury, slowed the Pirates' ground game, but that doesn't mean UCF won't try to do the same thing ECU did to success.

4. Very Special. By and large the Owls' special teams unit has been solid. Sure there are the flubbed field goal attempts and the occasional backbreaking kickoff returns allowed, but the improvement over the first half of last season has been dramatic. Given their slim margin for error, the Owls can't afford any more catastrophic breakdowns in kickoff coverage, and they need So. P Kyle Martens to return to his sparkling form after his off week in Greenville, N.C.

5. Now, Convert. A lot of attention has been paid to the Owls' inability to force turnovers, and the Owls answered those concerns by nabbing two interceptions and pouncing on one fumble against the Pirates. Of course they got zero points out of those three turnovers, actually handing the ball back to East Carolina on two occasions. Forcing turnovers is fine because they kill opponent possessions, but cashing them in for points is what coaching staffs crave.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns?

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Any reason for hope and optimism of a win this weekend?

Notice the coaches make any substantive changes in practice this week?

Talon: I'm always optimistic! But seriously, getting Tyler Smith, Charles Ross and VMcD back should help the offense, right? I didn't see much practice this week with all the madness going on, but aside from Chris Jones moving from SS to FS, I wouldn't expect too many changes in personnel or game plans. I could be wrong, though. - MK

I really expected a lot from the RBs this year but it's been pretty dismal back there. I know many of the games have dictated passing over running but I also thought there would be better use of the runners in the passing game. I'm excited to see Smith back in heavy rotation and if UCF is going to go blitz happy, it would be nice to burn them with passes to the running backs and tight ends.

MK -- What happened to the live chat today?

owl-1983: I was asked to shut it down, unfortunately. Not enough sunshine and roses on my behalf apparently. Fingers are often pointed with winless teams, even in the direction of people who are not at fault for the product on the field. - MK

LOL. What Sailer is already trying to take dictator-like control or something? Suppressing free speech?

That was the sorriest excuse for a football performance I remember watching. Major house-cleaning is needed on the football staff.

They shut it down? What next, they're going to delete our accounts if we post negative comments?

I'm sorry to hear that, MK. That is nonsense. I guess without discussing the problems this program is facing right now, they somehow cease to exist. Doesn't leave much faith in the directors of our athletic programs.

Was shutting down the chat a one time thing or will there not be any more?

owl-1993: I remain hopeful that we can find a resolution to this problem by the SMU game. I believe the live chat has merits, but others disagree. It's not my call. - MK

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