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December 29, 2013

Know the Foe: Rice

Mississippi State snuck into postseason play after two dramatic overtime wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss. This is the fourth-consecutive bowl game for Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs which is a first in MSU history. They now prepare for their third trip to the Liberty bowl and first since beating Central Florida in 2007. State is set to take on the C-USA Champs in Rice on New Year's Eve.

Who: Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6) in the Liberty Bowl
Where: Memphis, Tenn. ; Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
When: Tuesday, December 31, 2013; 3:00 on ESPN
Series Record: Rice leads, 1-0; The last time: MSU, 28-14, 1969 in Starkville (MSU lost by forfeit)


For your bowl-week reading pleasure, Bulldog Blitz teamed with Owls Insider to breakdown the match up between MSU and Rice. Here is a look at MSU's opponent.

About the Owls

Rice entered 2013 with the goal of winning Conference-USA and making it to Memphis for the Autozone Liberty Bowl. As we sit less than a week away the Owls coaching staff has to be thrilled with the way their team responded this season. Achieving a 10-3 record and winning their first outright conference title in 56 years.

The Owls have a chance to put an exclamation point on 2013 with the chance to knock off an SEC foe in the exact bowl they hoped to be in on Dec. 31 and there will be a lot of excitement around campus at as the Owls get set to finish one of their best seasons in recent years.

Coaching

Rice head coach David Bailiff is really becoming a beloved coach at Rice, which is not one of the easier places to win. With their strict education requirements it can be challenging to recruit top talent in at Rice, but Bailiff has helped resurrect a program that was once a doormat in conference play and has them improving more and more each year.

Bailiff is the kind of coach who manages the overall puzzle but lets his coordinators work each of their individual pieces. Something a lot of coaches around the country struggle with and I think is a big reason that Rice players have such a strong bond with not only Bailiff but all of their coaches, from the head man up top down to their position coaches and even the graduate assistants.

The Owls coaching staff is a tight knit group and really embrace the family atmosphere that Bailiff wants to embody at Rice.

An old new face on gameday for Owls fans will be quarterbacks coach Larry Edmondson who is assuming play calling duties for the Owls in place of departed offensive coordinator John Reagan, who accepted a position with Kansas. I don't expect there will be much change in the overall philosophy of the Owls offense, but there could be some notable changes in how the game is called with Edmondson at the helm of the offense.

On the defensive side of the ball defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond brings in years of experience and a 4-2-5 defense that his players love. Thurmond is well respected among his players and is thought of as more than just a head coach, often sharing his wisdom and never missing an opportunity to teach his players a life lesson when available.

The Offense

The Owls feature a spread offense that features a lot of read option run plays and heavy dose of power running with senior bulldozer Charles Ross. The Owls are a run-first team but are most dangerous when they are balanced on offense. The biggest question about the offense heading into the Liberty Bowl is exactly how much if any the play calling will change on gameday with interim offensive coordinator Larry Edmondson calling the plays. It's not expected to change all that much, but I'm sure that Edmondson will call his own game, separate from the ways of John Reagan and will incorporate some of his own wrinkles into the offense.

Everything is said to begin at the quarterback position and the Owls have a veteran leader in Taylor McHargue, who is a threat in the option game. Sometimes errant as a passer, but if he can find consistency in the passing game he will be dangerous on the ground and through the air.

There is no question one of the biggest matchups will be the Owls offensive line matching up against the Mississippi State defensive line. A veteran group led by senior center Nate Richards has been the focal point of a strong rushing attack and has opened up plenty of holes along the way for senior bruiser Charles Ross and his running mates.

At the receiver position the Owls feature a stable of playmakers that often go overlooked due to the success of the running game and run-first gameplan the Owls bring to gameday. Junior playmaker Jordan Taylor is the biggest threat at receiver and will be dangerous in one-on-one coverage if the Bulldogs are determined to commit to stopping the run with eight men in the box. The emergence of Dennis Parks as of late has given the Owls another big play threat in passing game, if McHaruge can find rhythm with his receivers in the passing game, it will go a long way in helping Rice and their offense put points on the board.

Defense

The Owls bring in their 4-2-5 defense which features a couple of playmaking standouts at the corner position. Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan gave the Owls arguably the top corner duo in all of Conference USA. Phillip Gaines is considered the shutdown corner and wasn't tested all that often and when he was, more times than not, he made the opposing quarterback pay. Callahan was often picked on, due to his 5-foot-9 stature but was a steady playmaker. What he lacks in size he makes up with in pure athletic ability.


Owls "Kat" defender Paul Porras has made a habit of finding the football and is the team's second leading tackler behind linebacker Michael Kutzler with 76 tackles. Kutzler who has played this season for the injured Cameron Nwosu has filled in nicely with 86 tackles, including six tackles-for-loss and two sacks.

Up front the Owls are anchored by Canadian standout defensive tackle Christian Covington, the son of CFL Hall of Famer Grover Covington who holds the all-time sack record in CFL. Covington gives the Owls a boost in the middle of the defensive line and is very powerful and explosive. Has been a savior in rush defense throughout the season with 51 tackles from his defensive tackle spot. Covington has also accounted for four sacks.

Defensive end Cody Bauer is another name to keep an eye on. Bauer has 9.5 tackles-for-loss and a team-high 4.5 sacks.

The Owls defense is quite stingy when they are on their A game, but that's exactly what has plagued this defense throughout the course of 2013. They've been somewhat inconsistent and their biggest struggle has been limiting big plays, even when they're playing at the top of their form, opposing offenses have usually found ways to hit the Owls with a big play here and there, whether it is from a result of a broken tackle or a broken play. They have been playing their best football the last few weeks of the season and we should all be in for a New Years Eve treat next Tuesday.


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