For a team expecting to compete for a division and possibly a Conference USA title in 2015, this season was an unmitigated disaster for the Owls. Losing six games by double digits to missing out on a bowl berth with four losses in their final five games, there is very little good to speak of in 2015.
With that said, lets take a look at the 2015 Rice football season and give them report card style grades.
Here is the confusing part about the Rice offense in 2015. They were really good at gaining yards with their running backs, but fumbled the ball at a ridiculous rate. While not all are attributed to the running game, Rice players fumbled the ball 22 times on the year (13 lost).
The trio of Darik Dillard, Samuel Stewart, and Austin Walker were good for 1,523 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Jowan Davis was also a solid contributor with a 4.2 yards per carry average on 71 carries. The Owls have a solid stable of backs moving forward.
Now, let's talk about the passing game. The nicest thing to say is that it was awful in the 2015 season. Senior Driphus Jackson struggled all season long to a 58.5% completion rate for only 2,348 yards and 18 touchdowns. A combination of injuries and poor play saw Tyler Stehling earn playing time in five games. He struggled just as much as Jackson with a 50% completion rate.
Yes, injuries and graduations did hurt the Owls receiving corps moving forward this fall. But the of the top five receivers on the year, only Temi Alaka had a catch rate over 60%. Top targets Zach Wright and Dennis Parks saw 128 passes thrown in their direction. Only 72 were caught. The positive moving forward for Rice is the group of receivers will only lose Parks to graduation.
When you give up 70, 49, 42, and 65 in losses while also giving up 34 to UTSA and 38 to Army, it is generosity that keeps me from giving a grade of F. Teams were able to hit short plays, hit the long ball, run at will, and pass all they wanted versus the overwhelmed Rice defense in 2015.
Starting with a 5.1 yards per carry average allowed, the Owls gave up just over 190 yards per game on the ground. Sadly, that was not anywhere near as bad as the pass defense, a group that gave up 10 yards per pass attempt and 257.2 yards per game. That is literally a first down per pass attempt.
Sophomore defensive end Brian Womac was a pleasant surprise with 12.5 tackles for loss, six more than anyone else on the team. He was one of the few Owls defenders to actually make an impact this fall. Fellow sophomore Emmanuel Ellerbee picked off both passes from his linebacker spot. Yes, you read that right. Ellerbee had the only two interceptions that Rice forced.
Overall, the Owls were gouged for 447.4 yards per game and 35.8 points per game.
I feel as though I am being very generous when giving Rice this grade. They looked terrible for a good part of their schedule and easily could have been 3-9. Their only wins were over North Texas, an FCS program, and first year FBS program Charlotte. It was a bad year to follow Rice football.
James Farrimond. In the end, I had to choose between kicker Hayden Tobola or punter James Farrimond for the Team MVP. As solid as Tobola was, Farrimond was even better with a 43.1 yards per punt average, including 21 landing inside the 20 yard line. While a great accomplishment for Farrimond, it is an indictment of the rest of the team when a punter is the Team MVP.
According to the team's depth chart, only six starters will be lost to graduation. Center Andrew Reue will be the biggest loss, along with senior right tackle Caleb Williams. Though they are gone, three starters on the offensive line remain. Jackson is gone at quarterback and it would not surprise meto see virtually anyone taking snaps at quarterback next fall.
As stated earlier, only Parks is gone from a young receiving corps that should do nothing but improve in the future. The stable of four running backs are all underclassmen and should all get plenty of playing time moving forward.
The defense only loses nose tackle Ross Winship and the strong safety combination of Zach Espinosa and Ryan Pollard. 10 freshmen (true and redshirt) made tackles for the defense last fall. The Owls return nine of the top ten tacklers on defense and should be significantly better in 2016.
While not as bright as heading into last offseason, the future is still pretty bright for this young Rice team.