Just as with the Rice Owl offense, this Rice Owl defense is returning a lot. Ten players that started on last years bowl team return for the Owls and Rice fielded a defensive unit that improved steadily throughout the season. At the same time it was still far from a strength so while returning players is a nice luxury, it can sometimes be a double edged sword if the players and the unit fail to improve.
This was probably one of the areas that the Owls were the most productive in. The interior defensive line did a nice job last season and that shows in both the red zone and 3rd down defense for this Owls defensive unit. They return a host of players that have produced on the defensive line including Cody Bauer who is one of the leaders of this team and the defensive line position group. Probably the chief concern for Kansas will be the ability for the Owls to apply pressure both from the end position and straight up the middle from the defensive tackle spot. While the left side of the Kansas line looked solid last week, the right side is going to be tested further in week two.
Cameron Nwosu missed the first game of the year due to injury. While it was initially believed to be an opening game absence, Nwosu isn't listed on the depth chart released this week by Rice and may or may not play again against the Jayhawks. Nwosu is a tremendous asset to the defensive group and a huge piece to the 4-2-5 puzzle that Rice puts on the field.
Improvement in the Secondary
Rice boasted a steady improvement in the secondary throughout the season last year and they expect to continue that trend as they settle into the 2013 schedule. The entire starting secondary returns for Rice from 2012 and the Owls add Bryce Callahan, a player who sat due to injury last year but was expected to be an All Conference level performer. Phillip Gaines will also return after missing the opener due to suspension. Gaines was the defensive player of the year in Conference USA last year and he is the leader of this Rice defensive unit. Adding Gaines back in makes this team better than the one that took the field against A&M.
Kansas played a pretty vanilla straightforward offensive game during week one. Heading into this game against Rice the Jayhawks will need to be balanced, they'll need to be able to go toe to toe better on the interior and if they expect to win on the road they have to expect to produce against an Owl defense that has some holes. It's an experienced unit, and one that is expecting improvement, but they aren't great and they do have areas that Kansas should be able to exploit given the strengths of the Kansas offense.