In their first full eligible year of Conference-USA (C-USA) football, Old Dominion University football will have its hands full when they get into the bulk of their tough schedule.
On September 20, ODU will face off in their first-ever C-USA conference game against the 2013 conference champion, the Rice University Owls. The championship was the team’s first outright conference title in 56 years. The Owls will return more than half of their starters on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball, respectively.
The Owls finished the season at an impressive 7-1 in conference play and a 10-4 mark overall.
Rice and ODU will provide plenty of fireworks, as the Owls are similar in the offensive scheme. Both teams will receive a multitude of possessions due to the rapid pace of their no-huddle approach. This simply means the two defenses will be on their toes all game.
Rice is returning 20 letterwinners on defense, which provides depth and experience when dealing with a dynamic offense like the Monarchs. The Owls will have to figure out a way to replace the production of two-time All-CUSA cornerback Phillip Gaines, leading tackler Michael Kutzler, safety Paul Porras, and defensive ends Cody Bauer and Tanner Leland.
Rice head coach, David Bailiff, said the defense did well for the most part but needed to work on a few things. “We’ve got to work on tackling. We haven’t done a lot of live tackling this spring and you saw that as we got a little fatigued. We had some missed tackles and missed assignments out there.”
Rice seems to have the situation covered, with the return of All-CUSA defensive tackle, Christian Covington, and Senior cornerback, Bryce Callahan.
Offensively, the Owls will have some new faces in important positions but have stability as they return six starters and 21 letterwinners. Losing intricate parts of your offense is always a burden, but the Owls have some experienced athletes on the depth chart that enable them to worry less, and execute more.
All-CUSA running back Charles Ross, who rushed for 1,280 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground, will be a tough act to follow. Ross’ frequent left-hand man, quarterback Taylor McHargue, has to be replaced as well. McHargue racked up over 7,500 yards of total offense in his career.
Junior, Driphus Jackson, looks to be “that guy” to step in and lead the Rice aerial attack in the fall.
Bailiff talked highly of Jackson and his corral of gunslingers, saying “You look at some of those younger quarterbacks and the plays that they made, you’re seeing some guys who need to step up are stepping up. Tyler Stehling’s first pass was a long touchdown.” In a spring scrimmage, Jackson went 6-11 passing for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Rice is confident going into the season and coach Bailiff was elated after the first spring scrimmage. The pat on the back didn’t last long though as he believes they still have a long way to go. The mantra for Rice remains war ready but optimistic.
Bailiff knows that “they’re going to get better with every rep.” The Owls will prove to be a tough test for ODU, but in the illustrious words of Wilder, the Monarchs will be “raising the Bar” when the Owls host the Monarchs in Houston.
For information on tickets to this game, visit www.riceowls.com or www.odusports.com
By Mitchell Brown