In four days, the Fighting Irish are going to defend their new turf against the Rice Owls for the first game of the season. As the days count down, Notre Dame has been finalizing their game plan against the Owls for weeks now. What do they have to prepare for? Who are the key contributors to Rice’s new offense?
Let’s look at what Rice was able to accomplish last season.
A year ago, the Owls ranked 17th in the nation in rushing yards per game. A lot of that impressive success on the ground was largely due to the fact that now graduated running back Charles Ross was a pretty talented athlete. Last season, Ross compiled 1280 yards rushing along with 15 scores. He was also able to come up with an extraordinary 6.1 yards per carry. In addition, the Owls’ offensive line was led by senior left tackle Jon Hodde and 2013 first-team all-conference USA senior center Nate Richards, who are both no longer apart of the program.
Rice also departed with their starting quarterback Taylor McHargue, who helped lead the Rice Owls to their first Conference USA title. McHargue finished his senior year with 2345 yards and 17 scores through the air in addition to 464 yards and five scores on the ground. His replacement will be junior Driphus Jackson, who has played in a total of 16 games racking up 722 passing yards and six touchdown passes to one interception. Although he hasn’t played in many games, there are reports stating that Jackson has the ability to lead this offense to future success as a dual-threat quarterback.
The vacancy at the running back position is Rice’s major concern, but Darik Dillard and Jawson Davis, who are both sophomores, will be expected to share the majority of the load on the ground. Davis has had more experience playing in every game last season compiling 396 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It could be of a concern to the Owls that the running back position is still uncertain, which should be something the Irish could hone in on defensively.
To wrap up the Owls’ offense, the receiver position is less of a question for Rice with junior Jordan Taylor leading the receiving corp. Taylor has been able to come away with 122 receptions, 1,746 yards, and 13 touchdowns over the last three seasons. Taylor could be the Irish’s biggest threat on Saturday if his foot injury allows him to play. His 6’5″ frame and athleticism could be a serious mismatch for Notre Dame’s starting corners (Cole Luke and Cody Riggs) who both stand under six feet.
Besides Taylor, the Irish really don’t have too much to stress about this Saturday. Rice have new players starting for them at nearly every skill position, which is an advantage for the Fighting Irish. If all goes as planned, Notre Dame should be able to control the Owls’ offense with relative ease this Saturday.