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Rice rolls in following 10-4 campaign, Conference USA title

| Thursday, August 28, 2014

History advantage: Notre Dame.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Rice, 4-0. The Irish have outscored the Owls, 147-16, in those games, and Rice has scored just one touchdown ever against Notre Dame.

But the Owls have come a long way since head coach David Bailiff took over in 2007. Up-and-comer advantage: Rice.

“[Bailiff] has done a great job, worked his way up through the ranks, like I have as well,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference. “Now, over the last couple of years, he has done some things at Rice that nobody has done in years.”

The Owls went 10-4 last season and won the Conference USA Championship, their first outright title since 1957. Over the past two seasons, Rice has put together a 17-10 record and played in two bowl games.

“It’s an exciting time for this football team,” Bailiff said at a press conference Monday. “We’re ready to get this thing kicked off and get rolling.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Driphus Jackson will start under center for the Owls. Jackson backed up former quarterback Taylor McHargue for three years.

“It’s rare to find guys that are willing to wait their turn and be patient,” Bailiff said. “He’s offered us incredible leadership that transcends this entire football team. If you watch Driphus work, he’s a student of the game and spends extra time every day. He’s always at practice early, and then he’s here late too.”

Redshirt senior receiver Jordan Taylor is the standout offensive weapon for Jackson and the Owls. In 2013, Taylor was Rice’s top receiver with 848 total receiving yards. He averaged 15.4 yards per reception and 60.6 per game.

“I think everybody has heard of Jordan Taylor, … outstanding wideout, one of the better ones that we will see during the year,” Kelly said.  “[He] has the ability to do a little bit of everything, a very good route runner.”

As for running backs, the Owls have two who had what Bailiff called “an amazing camp” — sophomore running back Jowan Davis and redshirt sophomore running back Darik Dillard.

The two headline the backfield rotation this season after making significant contributions in 2013. Davis recorded the second-most rushing yards (455) on the team last season as a freshman. Dillard ran for 396 yards and three touchdowns.

The offensive line blocking for them figures to be solid, Bailiff said.

“Our offensive line is very productive,” he said. “We return three starters, including [redshirt senior offensive lineman] Nico Carlson, and our other young men have gotten a lot of reps. So we feel good about the offensive line.”

Rice boasts experience on defense as well. Redshirt senior linebacker James Radcliffe and redshirt sophomore linebacker Alex Lyons saw a lot of snaps last season, as did a secondary stocked with several upperclassmen, including redshirt senior cornerback Bryce Callahan. Redshirt junior defensive tackles Christian Covington and Ross Winship return as the defensive line’s foundation, Bailiff said.

“I like the personality of this team,” Bailiff said. “I like the way they’ve worked. I like the chemistry that we’ve seen. We know going into South Bend what an iconic program we’re going to play. When you talk about Brian Kelly, you look at what that man’s done, and I think he’s one of the top coaches in the country.”

The last time Rice and Notre Dame played in 1988, the Irish won, 54-11, on their way to winning the National Championship.

“They’re a big, hard-playing football team,” Bailiff said. “It’s going to be a challenging game for us. We’re going to go into South Bend and play the best football that we can play.”

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