Over/Under For The 2009 Owls (Review)

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This time, Mark Twain was wrong. These statistics do not lie.

Let's do our best to limit all reviews of the carnage that was the Owls' 2-10 season, shall we? There will be a statistical analysis here and a discussion on position breakdowns heading into the offseason this week, and that's it. In all honesty, what more is there to say beyond that?

The Owls' defense has been consistently porous for years now, so while the shortcomings on that side of the ball were appalling they weren't utterly shocking. But when you mix in a flaccid offense and ineffective special teams, the concoction makes for 12 weeks of difficult viewing.

How bad was it? Let us count the number of categories in which Rice finished last in C-USA:

1. Scoring Defense (43.1 points/game)
2. Total Offense (304.6 yards/game)
3. Pass Offense (195.3 yards/game)
4. Total Defense (464.0 yards/game)
5. Pass Efficiency (101.1)
6. Pass Defense Efficiency (165.1)
7. Field Goals (53.3%)
8. Opponent 4th-Down Conversion (64.3%)
9. Red Zone Offense (64.1%)

With that, it's easy to understand why taking the under on the Owls was the wise play in 2009.

1. Receptions for Sr. TE Taylor Wardlow: 32. Wardlow seemed a sure bet to best this number at midseason, but his production mysteriously fell off the table in the second half. He closed with 31 receptions for 347 yards and one TD, capping a career once teeming with so much promise that Yancy McKnight believed Wardlow was the Owls' top NFL prospect in 2007.

2. Combined sacks for Jr. DEs Scott Solomon and Cheta Ozougwu: 12Missed it by that much. Solly (6.5) and Cheta (4.5) combined for 11 sacks, numbers lessened by the necessary move of Solomon to DT on several occasions. Both were exceptional down the stretch, with Ozougwu in particular delivering his most consistently disruptive season in a Rice uniform.

3. Team rushing yards/game: 146.3. Not even close. With the offensive line in tatters at midseason, the Owls scuffled running the football with any semblance of authority. So. Tyler Smith emerged after missing several games (turf toe) and Fr. Charles Ross paced the squad in rushing yards (491) and TDs (11), but the Owls averaged a paltry 109.2 rush yards/game.

4. Combined INTs by Soph. CBs Chris Jammer and Jarrett Ben: 6. Considering both were benched in favor of true freshmen at different points this season, it comes as no surprise that this duo combined for just two picks - both by Ben. Easily the most mystifying and unforeseen lapse in effectiveness on defense, if not the team. Both have more talent than they displayed.

5. Touchdown catches by Sr. WR Toren Dixon: 10. After his virtuoso, three-TD performance against Tulane, Dixon appeared primed for a late push at this number. But he posted just four receptions for 33 yards against UTEP and UH, and finished the season with only six TD catches. Dixon battled hamstring injuries throughout the season, and with the Owls unable to put a viable deep threat on the opposite side of the field, blanketing Dixon was woefully easy.

6. Combined tackles by safeties Andrew Sendejo and Travis Bradshaw: 167. This tackling tandem cleared the number with ease despite Sendejo missing the final five games of the season following ankle surgery. With Bradshaw producing 121 tackles, tied for the eighth-most in a single season at Rice, he and Sendejo totaled 185 stops. If Sendejo maintained his pace and stayed healthy through the close of the season, he would have finished with 109 tackles.

7. Most receptions by a non-senior: 31. Jr. WR Patrick Randolph quietly enjoyed a productive campaign, posting 39 receptions for 356 yards and four TDs. The only troubling detail about those numbers is the yards/catch, 9.1, which is less than Dixon (11.0) and Wardlow (11.2), two bigger and slower athletes. The goal was that Randolph would serve as the vertical threat.

8. Turnover ratio: plus-8. Uh, the Owls finished at minus-9, which explains their miserable record. After placing the number of interceptions for Jammer and Ben at six, the Owls finished with six as a team. Their quarterbacks threw 17 picks, offsetting that plus-2 margin in fumbles.

9. Rushing yards for Sr. QB John Thomas Shepherd: 307. Once So. QB Nick Fanuzzi returned from injury (shoulder), the staff shelved the rotating quarterback system. Shepherd hardly played down the stretch, and his closing out his career scrambling for yards in the final seconds against UH last Saturday night tugged at the heartstrings. He was the consummate team player, but Shepherd wasn't an ideal fit for this offense. He finished with 110 rush yards.

10. Passing yards for So. QB Nick Fanuzzi: 1,818. Fanuzzi would have cleared this number had he not missed two games with that shoulder sprain. He passed for 1,598 yards in 10 games, but his shaky performances against UTEP and UH did little to solidify his status as the No. 1 quarterback going into the spring. After fending off Shepherd and Ryan Lewis this season, Fanuzzi must to do the same against Taylor Cook and Taylor McHargue next spring.  

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My over/under question is how many more football stories will we see before recruiting day? Barring any unforeseen changes or news, I am picking 1 and hope it is the under. No offense but I think most of us are more excited about men's basketball at this point than football.

It was a brutal season. Amazing how different these past two seasons have been. I remain hopeful that next season we can rebound back to respectability and possibly win enough games to qualify for a bowl. It's possible. Lets face it, this senior class was small and not particularly productive. Next season we should have better leadership, better talent, and more experience on offense. Special teams needs to be addressed again and the offense has to find itself, but most importantly, we need to have a breakout year on defense. By "breakout" I mean not finishing in the bottom 10 again in total defense. With Cheta and Solomon as seniors, we should have a decent D-line. If Hill can come into his own at LB, a big improvement is possible on that side. Still, we were just 1 win off the 2007 record (and that included a DIAA loss) and while we don't have the Big 3 anymore, McGuffie and Cook, plus Denzel Wells, Smiter, new freshmen, and the return of the entire O-line plus Ross and Smith, we have enough on paper to allow Bailiff to orchestrate a major comeback season. Attitude, like DB said, is a big part of it, and McGuffie and Cook alone bring that winning attitude with them.

I for one (and I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way) would appreciate a sort of "state of things" interview with Bailiff reflecting back on this season and his plans to ensure similar failures don't repeat in the future.

I'm not asking you to stoke his fire with the obvious, but just let him muse without the constraints of being in season with games forthcoming, and without "coachspeak" being necessary.

Maybe he can offer a phrase or two that will quash the growing concerns and coordinator lynch-mobs brewing in the fan base, and put out the flames of doubt.

regarding item #10 - don't forget Ryan Lewis being in the mix at QB for this coming season, unless he is planning on focusing on baseball only.

TFW: I would not be surprised if Lewis played baseball only for the remainder of his career. His upside at first base/right field is greater than at quarterback, IMO. - MK

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