The Rice Owls have shown glimpses of what the offense can do when everything comes together. The running game has worked at spots. The passing game to the tight ends has been mostly effective. Teams have had trouble with the Owls when running the wildcat.
But the Owls have always found a way to blow things up. A stupid penalty here. A fumble or an interception there.
Saturday didn't appear to offer up too much hope for the Owls. They were going into battle with the East Carolina Pirates, one of Conference USA's top offensive squads, and one of the best squads in C-USA East. The Pirates had shown, throughout the year, an ability to pile up points on anybody. But they had one problem, they had the second-worst total offense in C-USA, and they had the conference's absolute worst rushing defense.
The Owls knew this, and the Owls took advantage. And while the Owls gave up 38 points to the Pirates, that didn't matter as East Carolina's defense lived down to its reputation and surrendered 62 points to an Owl offense that was absolutely firing on all cylinders as Rice stormed to the easy 62-38 victory.
"I am so proud of this football team for hanging together," head coach David Bailiff said. "This season has been tough, but they have come over here everyday with an attitude that we're going to get better, we're going to get it turned around. When times are tough all we can do is keep working through the tough times, and that's what we've done, and we've done as a team. Because of their attitude and effort and the character of these young men, we just went out and won us a huge ball game."
The Owl offense cranked out 639 total yards, including 410 yards on the ground as Jeremy Eddington and Sam McGuffie both rushed for over 100 yards. Eddington did most of his damage as the quarterback in the wildcat formation, including a 88-yard TD run in the second quarter that started with a fake to McGuffie and found Eddington putting on a burst of a speed that no one, let of all Eddington, knew he possessed.
When the Owls weren't running the wildcat, Taylor McHargue was running the offense as quarterback, and he threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns while he also rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown. And while a lot of the Rice damage probably resulted from the awfulness of the East Carolina defense, a lot of it resulted from the Owls executing the offense to a perfection they haven't been able to pull off this season.
"I think it's just confidence," tight end Vance McDonald said. "We started off in the season knowing we could be good. I hate that it's taken this long, but this last couple of weeks, and especially today, we've had great play calling, and great focus, and our execution has been great. It's really good to see us moving the ball as well as we are."
And while the Owls have one game left this season, one game to work on the execution and show what they can do, the focus at this point is on next season. It's on gaining confidence and demonstrating for all involved what this team can do when the players are healthy and everyone knows the offense.
"I think you see now an offense that believes in itself, and believes it can win," Bailiff said. "It's been a long time coming."
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The optimism for next season, offensively, is more than justified. McHargue, a redshirt freshmen, has a total command of the offense who can keep defenses guessing because of his ability to pass or tuck the ball and run. McGuffie and Tyler Smith have proven they can run the ball, and they'll both be back, as will Eddington, the freshman running back who is showing an increasing ability to do anything from the wildcat. And tight ends McDonald and Luke Willson will both be returning, and they have shown an ability to catch anything thrown in their general direction along with the capability to run with the ball once they have made the catch.
"I know there's only one left, but man let me tell you, I'm excited," Bailiff said. "I can't wait to get to work."
That one game is Saturday afternoon at 2:30 as the 3-8 Owls host the 4-7 UAB Blazers, another of the dregs of C-USA. But remember, while the Owls want the win, it is next season they're setting the stage for. And with the makeup of the Owl offense, it's a next season that shows lots of promise.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The 639 yards gained by the Owls offense was their most since gaining 700 against Tulsa in 2007, and those are the fifth most yards gained in team history....The 62 points scored by Rice is the most since they put up 77 against North Texas in 2008....Jeremy Eddington's 88-yard rushing TD was Rice's longest rushing play of the season, and Eddington's four TDs were an individual team high for the season.