During the 2012 season Rice possessed the football more than any team in the country, an average of 34 minutes a game.
The Owls had the ball an average of 32:47 (12th nationally) in 2013, as clock control remained a key objective. While the grind-it-out approach helped the Owls win 10 games last season, there were occasions when it may have hindered offensive production. Rice struggled at times in games where trailing on the scoreboard necessitated a quicker pace.
So Rice turned to another academically-renowned university for fast-paced pointers.
“Duke is similar to us, and we have several friends on their staff,” Rice coach David Bailiff said during Owls Media Day. “We’ve watched the renaissance for that program under Coach (David) Cutcliffe. We got some great ideas offensively.”
Bailiff and other Rice coaches met with Cutcliffe and his staff during the offseason. Duke also won 10 games last season, taking the ACC Coastal Division title, finishing No. 22 in the nation and giving Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M a tussle in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“One thing that came from watching Duke was how fast they play and how fast they go from play to play,” said Larry Edmondson, Rice co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
From a schematics standpoint Duke’s offense is similar to Rice, a fact that reassured Edmondson during their visit, he said. The Blue Devils averaged 33 points a game last season and amassed nearly 6,000 total yards. Their time of possession average was 29:04. The average gain per play of 5.9 yards was a half yard higher than Rice’s average.
“We would like to play faster when we need to play faster,” Edmondson said. “When you do that, your quarterback has got to be in tune with what plays don’t work against the opposing defense. That puts more responsibility on the quarterback. I think we can do that with Driphus (Jackson) and the other quarterbacks because they’ve been in this offense.”
Though he only started one game last season, Jackson appeared in 11. He completed 39 of 69 passes for 672 yards.
“Every time Driphus has gotten into a football game, good things have happened,” Bailiff said. “Driphus has showed an uncanny ability to make good decisions and take care of the football.”
The occasional up-tempo approach also allows Rice to be more cunning. Edmondson said Rice could line up to play fast, but then slow it down and take their time making the call.
“The big difference is instead of us looking to the sideline as a whole team, we only need the quarterback to look,” he said. “He’ll get it conveyed. When the offense is all looking to the sidelines, I think that’s when a lot of times the defense changes. You can mask it better if the quarterback is just giving a subtle look.”