July 9, 2012
The following is the fourth installment of a 12-part series, previewing each of Marshall's opponents for the upcoming season.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
Marshall will make its longest road trip of the season on Sept. 22 when the Herd travels to Houston to open Conference USA play against Rice.
The Owls trail 2-1 in the all-time series and will be looking to avenge a 24-20 loss in Huntington last season. The loss held extra bite considering Rice led 20-17 with the ball in hand with 3:38 to play in the game. After a Sam McGuffie fumble on the 23-yard line, Marshall's Tron Martinez scored the winning touchdown.
David Bailiff enters his sixth season as head coach at Rice and despite a 4-8 record last season, is four seasons removed from leading the Owls to their first bowl title in over 50 years.
Rice primarily used two quarterbacks last season with Nick Fanuzzi and Taylor McHargue. McHargue will most likely take the starting job this season, replacing Fanuzzi, who ended his career as the most accurate passer in school history. McHargue split reps with Fanuzzi and led the team with eight touchdown passes and 1,196 yards of total offense in eight games.
Like many teams, Rice routinely runs the "Wildcat" formation or "Wild Owl" as it's called around Bailiff's program. Turner Peterson is listed as a running back, but uses his skills as a former high school quarterback to line up in the shotgun and run the popular formation. He was second with 485 yards rushing and completed 7-of-11 pass attempts for 74 yards.
The Owls' rushing attack ranked fifth in Conference USA with help from Peterson and departed senior Tyler Smith. McGuffie returns for his senior season after an injury plagued season in 2011. An ankle injury against Tulane forced him to miss the final five games, but not before rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown against the Herd. McGuffie is a natural athlete - he finished third in the heptathlon at the C-USA Indoor Track and Field Championships - and worked exclusively at wide receiver and slot receiver this spring to prepare for an additional role in the Rice offense.
Offensive Player to Watch
Running back Charles Ross ran the ball just 12 times in four games before suffering an injury at Southern Miss. He was granted a medical hardship waiver by Conference USA and will be a junior again this fall. When healthy, Ross is not only dangerous in the backfield - he had 97 yards on six carries in the Owls' spring game - but also as a kick returner. As a sophomore in 2010, Ross ranked ninth in the country with a 29-yard average on kickoff returns.
Defensive Player to Watch
Linebacker Cameron Nwosu was spectacular in his first season as a starter. The junior led the team and ranked sixth in C-USA with 108 tackles. Rice led the nation in fumble returns for touchdowns thanks in large part to Nwoso, who accomplished the feat twice. He was a third team All C-USA pick and will team up with senior Justin Allen (97 tackles) to form one of the top linebacker duos in the league.
Can Marshall win in the city of Houston? The Herd is 0-3 all time in "H-Town" including a 35-10 loss at Rice in 2008.
Will the Rice passing attack, which ranked 11th in Conference USA last season, be improved?
Can Rice hold a lead? In three of their five conference losses, the Owls held second half leads in three of them.
Quote to Note
"It's been a while since I ran the ball. I missed half of last season. I've been ready to come out ever since then. The coaches let me get healthy and I feel good - the best I've felt since I've been here."
- Charles Ross, junior running back
Aug. 30 vs. UCLA
Sept. 8 at Kansas
Sept. 15 at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 22 vs. Marshall*
Sept. 29 vs. Houston*
Oct. 6 at Memphis*
Oct. 13 vs. UTSA*
Oct. 20 at Tulsa *
Oct. 27 vs. Southern Miss*
Nov. 3 at Tulane*
Nov. 17 vs. SMU*
Nov. 24 at UTEP*
* Conference USA