It's hard to stay positive as a fan after a game like this one. I, like many fans, didn't necessarily expect to win this game, so the result itself is not necessary what's disappointing. What's hard to swallow is that the defense, my main concern heading into the game, generally did its job, and if the offense had been competent against a weak Rice defense, we would have won the game.
Quarterbacks - D
There's been some debate over Jake Heaps' performance (13-28, 156 yards. 1 TD, 2 in). For my part, Heaps did nothing to deserve a high grade, but at the same time, the passing game's ineffectiveness was not entirely his fault. Heaps has pretty good feet, and was able to buy himself extra time on several occasions, and on one or two plays, the offensive line even gave him time to throw, but naturally, there was no one open. Heaps was able to deliver some passes on target that fell incomplete, due to numerous dropped passes. Drops aren't tracked in standard college box scores, so I haven't been able to find an official count, but I know James Sims and Jimmay Mundine dropped easy passes on key third down attempts. One criticism that does fall on Heaps is his deep ball. So far, I haven't seen him throw an accurate one. The blame for our lack of a passing game may not fall entirely on his shoulders, but I don't see a lot of high marks in his future unless a lot of things change on offense.
Running Backs - B-
Even if you take out Heaps' rushing stats (which wouldn't be entirely accurate, since he had 8 carries that weren't sacks), we only ran for 126 yards. On a Rice team that gave up 151 per game last year. In Conference USA. It's hard to place blame on the running backs for that, because for some reason, Sims, Pierson and Miller combined for just 22 carries (19 going to Sims). Sims made the most of what little room he was given, taking 5.7 ypc and 109 yards for the day. Sims did have a key drop in the flat on what would have been a third down conversion, meaning the case of the drops may have spread from the receivers into the backfield as well. Still, the backs were at a disadvantage due to both the line and the playcalling, and did what they could.
Receivers - F
I suppose if we're counting Pierson as receiver, this grade might need to go a bit higher, but in general our receivers sucked. Even on the plays where Heaps had ample time to throw, our receivers simply couldn't get away from Rice's defensive backfield. Typing that last sentence made me so sad I'm starting a new paragraph just to get away from it.
Outside of Pierson and his fantastic 77 yard touchdown, the leading receiver was Tre Parmalee, whose 2 catches and 23 yards were both team highs for wide receivers. Jimmay Mundine would have had 4 catches if he had hands, but ended with just 2 for 19 yards. Again, against RIce.
Offensive Line - F
Did I mention we were going up against Rice's defense? This defense ranked 96th in the S&P+ last year, and our line couldn't open up holes, or keep pass rushers away from Jake Heaps. We simply lost the battle in the trenches offensively, and averaged just 4.2 yards per play despite James Sims gaining 5.7 per rushing attempt. Against Rice. The lack of production doesn't fall entirely on the line's shoulders, but it sure as hell starts here, and it's inexcusable.
Defensive Line - C+
This was a fairly solid game for the d-line. Tavai notched 2 tackles for loss, Goodman recorded two sacks, and in general the line did their job, which in this defense is to occupy the offense's front line. This allowed for a monster performance from Ben Heeney, and strong showings from Love and Faifili as well. I considered bumping them up to the B range, but there wasn't anything really outstanding to point to, other than perhaps exceeding my expectations for the game.
Linebackers - B
For anyone worried by Ben Heeney's disappearance against South Dakota (largely due to cramps), he put those worries to rest in Houston. Heeney notched 15 total tackles, including an incredible stop for a loss when he jumped Rice's snap count, blew through the line untouched and blew up a running back. Love and Faifili combined for nine tackles and looked solid as well. Rice has larger running backs and not a ton of speed in their backfield, so this matchup favored our linebackers. I wouldn't count on as good of a performance against teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Secondary - C
This wasn't an easy grade to give out. Dexter McDonald played a very strong game at corner, breaking up 3 passes and intercepting another, and looking like a very good instinctive cover corner in the process. Jacorey Shepherd was up and down. The safeties look like a huge concern to me. Rice's receiver corps isn't bad, but it's nothing compared to what we'll see in the Big 12, and Linton, Sendish and Johnson simply looked overmatched. Johnson was able to notch 9 tackles, but looked absolutely lost in coverage despite intercepting a pass. He reminds me a bit of Keeston Terry. Good athlete and solid tackler, with no clue how to cover a receiver. We've discussed Linton before, and he isn't changing. He's a solid instinctive player who doesn't have the speed to be left alone in coverage. I'm not sure what the problem is with Sendish. For all the fanfare he received, I've yet to see him make a single play I can point to as evidence that he's going to be any type of difference-maker in the seconday. He isn't getting eaten alive, but he's not living up to the hype, either.
Special Teams - B
The one special teams play we'll all remember is the awful miss from 47 yards by Wyman, but special teams encompasses a lot more than field goals. Kansas kicked off three times, and all went for touchbacks. Out of 7 punts, Pardula averaged 45 yards and two were downed inside the 20. Out of the three punts that were returned, only 11 total yards were gained for Rice. Outside of the missed field goal, it was another solid performance by all facets of special teams, which is not something we could have said at any point last year.
I've previously discussed why I don't give grades to coaching, but I (like most fans) do have a bone to pick with the playcalling Saturday. Even if you put aside the fact that there was no reason to have called 30+ passes in a game against a team that couldn't handle our rushing attack, I'm still puzzled by something. Where was the play action? Maybe I missed it, but I don't recall seeing the play action pass used. Rice was bringing their safeties up and attacking the line on nearly every play. Why would we not take advantage by faking a few handoffs. It would have virtually assured our receivers would be in one-on-one coverage (the only way they can get open anyway), and would have forced Rice to back off the line, thus opening more room for the running game. Play action is a staple of a pro offense, and yet our NFL offensive coordinator at head coach didn't see fit to call a few? That's an inexcusable lapse in decision-making, in my opinion.
Overall - D
It's a shame to give such a low grade when the defense exceeded expectations like this, but the offense's failure to produce overshadowed the good here. I'm not quitting on the team, and I still feel like we could look much better by year's end, but I just don't see enough talent offensively, or athleticism defensively, to pick up more than 3 wins (2 if we lose to La Tech). We aren't there yet, and if things don't improve, Coach Weis is going to start seeing more and more decisions being picked apart each week, by media and fans alike.