LAWRENCE — If the Kansas defense is seeking a dress rehearsal for what it might see during Big 12 play, the Jayhawks might get something close on Saturday afternoon against Rice.
“This is our first look at what I would call a true spread offense,” KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo said on Wednesday.
So what exactly will the Owls’ offense look like? Well, it starts with junior quarterback Taylor McHargue, who dominated the ball against UCLA in Rice’s season opener, completing 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards and rushing 22 times for 95 yards.
(McHarque’s most effective target was former Michigan receiver/running back Sam McGuffie, a player that KU coach Charlie Weis once recruited to Notre Dame. But McHargue, a junior with 14 career starts, will draw much of the attention.)
“I think he’s one of the keys to their offense,” Campo said. “McHargue is a good player. He’s tough. He’s a good runner. Not only in the run game, but also in scrambling. He’s really a good player.
McHarque’s performance against UCLA was mostly lost amidst the Owls’ defensive disaster. Rice surrendered 646 total yards — including 343 on the ground — in a 49-24 home loss to the Bruins. But the Owls’ offense could pose some problems for Kansas. (And at the very least, it should be good prep for what Kansas will face in the Big 12.)
The KU coaching staff expects Rice to spread it out — three and four receiver sets — and a fair share of zone-read option looks from McHarque. Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan, a former KU assistant who spent five years under Mark Mangino, will engineer the offense. And the Owls have made a habit of playing Big 12 competition in the recent future.
Last season, the Owls lost to Baylor 56-31 in a shootout and were bottled up in a 34-9 loss to Texas in September. (Rice also beat Purdue 24-22.)
“They do a lot of different things,” Campo said. “They run a lot of trick plays. They run a lot of different spread-type attacks.”
On Wednesday, Campo was generally pleased with his team’s defensive performance in the opener against South Dakota State. There, of course, was the 99-yard touchdown run that KU surrendered in the first quarter. So, that was hard to ignore. But overall, Campo said, the defense made strides.
“I thought we played pretty good,” Campo said. “If they wouldn’t have popped that run, I would have felt really good about it.”
In its first game action, the revamped KU defense forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and a bolstered defensive line looked much improved — albeit against Division I-AA South Dakota State.
“You still don’t know how good we are going to play,” KU coach Charlie Weis said of the defensive line, “but you can say we have more quality depth.”
Now the Jayhawks’ defense will continue its week-by-week step up the food chain. Big 12 newcomer TCU awaits next week, and perhaps Rice presents a nice bridge to that competition.
“This is a good test for us,” Campo said.
Three more Rice players to watch
1 Luke Wilson, senior, receiver
Rice lists Wilson at receiver, but at 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, he certainly is the de facto tight end in the Owls’ spread offense. He had 29 catches last season while averaging more than 10 yards per reception.
2 Corey Frazier, senior, free safety
Frazier, a veteran defensive back, is the son of Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.
3 Jeremy Eddington, junior, running back
Junior running back Charles Ross is listed as the starter on the Owls’ depth chart, but Eddington was the most productive against UCLA, finishing with 38 yards in nine carries.