|'06 UAB week
Owls refuse to accept last-minute loss
Rice's Bencil Smith forces fumble in end zone that might have squelched UAB's go-ahead
drive before it had chance to get off the ground (PTH photo)
Lute Barber is Foul Owl on the Prowl as he espies loose football with seconds remaining in
game -- his fumble recovery; Owls' ball; a win for Rice (Mark Anderson photo)
HOUSTON (Oct. 15) -- Fate and the UAB Blazers attempted to jam the
script for another demoralizing loss down the collective throats of the Rice Owls here
Saturday evening, but the Boys from the Institute spit it right back up and papered the
Rice Stadium north end zone with the pages.
The Owls' will to win drove the team from their 20 to the lip of the goal in the
waning seconds after falling behind, 33-28 with 3:55 left in the game, the victim of a
bizarre, 98-yard drive by the Blazers that shouldn't have happened to begin with.
But the Bama boys committed a gaffe that shouldn't have been, either, fumbling away a
potential game-clinching interception, and the Owls used it to breathe life back into
Facing the necessity of completing a long TD drive to earn the win, the Owls
moved the ball 72 yards in 10 plays before Chase Clement's pass was intercepted by UAB's
Kris Guyton at the eight yard line with 35 seconds left.
Inexplicably, rather than falling on the pill, Guyton, seeing nothing but green
space ahead of him, lit out for the opposing goal line. But after he covered about ten
yards, as he was trying to move the ball from right arm to left -- or perhaps trying to do
a little premature strutting -- the spheroid simply slithered out of his hands, and Rice
OL Lute Barber was right there to recover it at the UAB 18.
"When I saw the ball on the ground," Lute said, "my mind flashed
back to those drills in fall camp when we practice recovering the ball. I was so glad that
I got to it and held on."
Next, a quarterback scramble took the ball to the nine yard line. But there was
time for only one more shot at that point, as a mere seven ticks were left on the game
clock, and the Owls had just had to call their final time out.
One can imagine the theatrics that transpired in the huddle during that
interlude. At first, it seems, the Rice coaching staff was inclined to avoid going to the
well too often. Jarett Dillard had already picked up two TD receptions on the evening, and
everybody in the stadium knew he'd be Chase's prime target.
But Jarett wasn't afraid to make a suggestion of his own. "Game on the
line, who wants the ball?" Dillard asked. "I went to coach Graham and told
him they're double-covering me, but I want the ball. Throw the fade. I told him I'm
going to catch it, we're going to score; we're going to win the game."
And that's exactly what happened.
Double-teamed, Jarett made the winning grab, no problem
Jarett Dillard is obviously interfered with, resulting in 15 yards and a first down on
Owls' winning TD drive (PTH photo)
Double-teamed, Jarett circled out until he reached his favorite end zone
sweet spot, camped up against the out-of-bounds line about three yards deep in the pay
station. Chase made the quick drop, wheeled and threw a line drive scheduled to hit that
sweet spot, about ten feet in the air, a split-second later. Jarett leaped high, fading
only slightly, and snagged the ball with both hands at the top of his leap, sandwiched
between two white-shirted defenders.
Blink your eyes, and you'd have missed it. But you wouldn't have missed just
about the loudest roar that possibly can emanate from the partisan crowd that was
announced as a shade over 10,000.
It was Jarett's third touchdown reception of the game, his eleventh of the
season. It broke an all-time single season TD catch record that had stood for over 30
years, and, by golly, just like Jarett said, it won the game.
"It was meant for us to win," Rice head coach Todd Graham said,
post-game. "That's just Conference USA for you. You're going to have a chance to win
every game if you play every play to the end."
Right, coach. In this case, quite literally to the very end.
Rice impressively jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, but UAB kept flailing
and chipping away until finally they took the lead with under four minutes remaining on a
49-yard sideline pass to Coach's son Steven Brown.
That play hit the Rice sideline like a kick in the stomach. "It was so
frustrating," Coach Graham said, "because it felt like we'd outplayed them all
night, but we kept on just giving cheap touchdowns."
Many a Rice team would've folded its tent right then and there, but not this
new, improved 2006 version.
On the ensuing fateful, final drive, the Owls starting by accepting a touchback.
Then on first down, it appeared Quinton Smith had running room, but he was separated from
the ball after a four yard gain, only quickly to regain possession. Tick, tick, tick.
On second down, Chase faked to Q and lit out around end, picking up 19 yards and
a first down at the Rice 43.
The Rice press box obviously was seeing a vulnerability, a consequence of UAB's
'prevent' defense, which suggested that Q test the line again. This time he got seven to
midfield. From there, Chase dropped back in the pocket and found you know who camped out
on the sideline 20 yards downfield, but this time two UAB defenders were going to make
sure he didn't catch the ball, taking him to the ground before the pass arrived.
Rice continued its goalward drive
Quinton Smith stretches for yardage in first half of Rice-UAB game (PTH photo)
The resulting pass interference call gave the Owls a first down at the UAB
35, and suddenly the crowd and the Rice bench (and one would presume the 11 Rice men on
the field) seemed to figure it out, hey, we can just take this thing down the field and
stick it in the end zone!
Again, the defensive alignment indicated a running play to Q, but two tries by
the senior running back netted only six yards, and now time was really becoming a concern.
Tick, tick, tick.
On a huge third and four, Chase hit Jarett on a quick-out for nine yards and a
first down. The field was getting shorter and shorter, and the UAB defenders began to
stack the defensive front accordingly.
Chase next hit Toren Dixon for seven more, but now only 38 seconds shone on the
scoreboard clock, so the Owls had to use one of their two remaining timeouts.
Chase scrambled for six more yards, and now the ball was on the UAB 14, with the
first down giving the Owls a momentary stoppage of the clock.
Next, a quick hitter on the slant to Joel Armstrong almost did the trick, but
was a bit low and outside for him to hold onto. But at least it stopped the clock with 19
Then came the bizarre interception-fumble-combination that dramatically set up
the winning score for the Owls. Chase said the UAB defender just appeared to come out of
nowhere on the pickoff. "He'd been making plays all day. I just went straight to the
ground, I was at such a low right there," a tired but elated young man said
afterwards. "Then I hear everybody get loud, and I look up and they're pointing 'our
When was the last time if ever that the Owls scored a touchdown on their first
AND last plays from scrimmage in a single game? That's what happened at Rice Stadium
Saturday, and it took both scores to provide the margin of victory.
To open the game, the Owls had good field position after a personal foul penalty
tacked 15 on to a return the Chris Douglas brought out to the Owls 28.
On first and ten at the 43, Chase faked to Q in the middle of the line, and
everybody for UAB but the bus driver bit on it. Quickly, the Owl quarterback circled wide
to the far sideline. By the time he crossed the goal line, 57 yards away, nobody was
within 15 yards of him.
Great way to start a ball game.
Rice made big stop on UAB's opening possession
'Hey, I'm through with this for the time being. What'da I do with it?' (PTH photo)
UAB moved the ball on the ensuing possession, but the Rice defensive unit
rose to the occasion once the Blazers approached midfield. On third and six, Blazer QB
Chris Williams hit his receiver Marcus Elliot for what looked as if it were going for a
first down, but Rice's Ja'Corey Shepherd teamed with Brian Raines to deliver a crushing
stop three yards short of the yard marker, and UAB had to punt out.
A 48-yard Parker Mullins punt backed the Owls to their own six yard line. Deep
punt returner Ja'Corey Shepherd appeared to have signaled for the fair catch at the eight,
but apparently he didn't do it with sufficient conviction, because the gendarmes
allowed the smothering hit applied to him, and it was all anyone could have done, just to
hold on to the ball.
Three straight Chase Clement scrambles picked up a total of 28 yards and had the
Owls suddenly sitting pretty at their own 34. But a Blazer blitz sat down Chase for an
eight-yard loss, however, which set up third and long.
What to do then? Elementary, my dear Watson, er, Brown. Chase dropped back and
flung the ball high and far down the home sideline, and Jarett Dillard was there to leap
and wrap up the pass for a 31 yard gain.
After a key reception by Rice tight end Taylor Wardlaw gave the Owls a first
down at the UAB 12, the Owls were flagged, next play, for illegal procedure. Owl fans are
used to seeing such an infraction mean a drive-killer, but not this time. One play later,
Chase had good protection when he found his old battery-mate in the end-zone for a
relatively easy TD pass-and-catch that went the final 15 yards for the score.
Coach Graham earlier in the week had described UAB as a relatively undisciplined
team. So one would have thought that such an emphatic opening statement by the Owls might
have prompted the Blazers to fold their tent. But they kept coming back, usually by way of
long TD passes that took advantage of Rice defensive breakdowns. First, UAB QB Williams
hit Sylvester Mencer, who sprinted in from 30 yards out.
Kicker Parker Mullins shanked the extra point try, so the Owls were still up by
14-6 at that point, late in the first quarter. But after Rice failed to move the ball and
had to punt away, William struck again, this time hitting his wideout Willie Edwards, who
caught the ball in the middle of the field 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, but then
managed to bounce off at least two Rice secondary men who appeared to have clean shots for
the tackle, and went on for 71 yards and the touchdown. The two-point try failed, so the
Owls led 14-12 at that point, with 6:10 left in the half.
The Feathered Flock had one more good first half drive left in them, however.
Mixing the pass (mostly Clements to Dillard) and the run (mostly Clements scrambling), the
Owls took it 74 yards in 10 plays to go up, 21-12, with two minutes left in the half.
UAB responded by running its two-minute drill quite adeptly, howver, and it
looked for a moment as if the Blazers once again would match the Owls, score for score,
when they blew right down the field, finally stalling at the Rice 17, where, as the clock
ran out, Parker Mullins missed a field goal try from 33 yards out.
A 21-12 halftime lead could have been more, but it could have been less. The
missed field goal put a skip in the step of the Owl defenders as they headed into the
halftime locker room -- in effect, it was just as good as a three-and-out.
Owls stiffened after third-quarter defensive breakdown
Owls' Dietrich Davis levels quietus on UAB quarterback (PTH photo)
UAB moved the ball into Rice territory after taking the second half
kickoff, via a 51-yard broken-field run by tailback Dan Burks. Burks had run the Rice
defense ragged in last year's 45-26 loss to UAB in Birmingham, but he was listed as
questionable, injury-wise, for this game.
But he came in seemingly none the worse for the wear, and once again ran like a
demon against the Owls, carrying the ball 18 times for 133 yards on the night.
Suddenly, however, with a shorter field behind them at defending from their own
34, the Owl defense stiffened once more.
First, George Chukwu penetrated the UAB defensive line and was there to greet
Burks for a three-yard loss the moment he took the handoff. An illegal procedure penalty
against the Blazers was followed by another Owl TFL, this time shared by Will Wood and
Brian Rains. A third-and-long passing attempt skipped weakly into the sideline, and UAB
had to punt the ball away.
The Owls were in a disadvantageous field position, however, and that failure to
play the field-position game cost them. Though they moved the ball from their 12 out to
theirown 36, at that point, Chase threw a ball that UAB's Kris Guyton was able to get a
mitt on. UAB's Jeff Williams was the beneficiary, as his interception set up the Blazers
at the Rice 37.
Given the short field, UAB wasted no time in tightening the game further. First,
UAB QB Williams hit Willie Edwards for 21 yards to the Rice 3. But it took the Blazers
three plays to punch it in from there, thanks to key stops by Ja'Corey Shepherd, Marcus
Rucker and Bencil Smith.
On third and goal, however, Owl nemesis Dan Burks pushed the ball across, and,
with a single PAT taken, UAB was once again within two, at 21-19.
Rice immediately responded with an eight-play, 65-yard drive, the key play being
a Joel Armstrong end-around that went 21 yards to the UAB 27. Three plays later, Chase
connected with -- guess who -- from 14 yards out and the Owls were back up by nine, 28-19.
Rice held UAB on the ensuing possession, but having gotten the ball back, Rice
went three-and-out, and Jared Scruggs got off one of his lesser punts of the day --
althought he had a good day, overall -- and Kevin Sanders returned the ball 13 yards to
the Rice 35.
It took the Blazers three plays to go the distance and once again come within
two points, this time 28-26, five seconds deep into the fourth quarter.
It was time for Rice either to move the ball and hold on to it, or play the
field position game, and they elected to do the latter.
Two exchanges wound up with Jared Scruggs making a perfect punt that landed
underneath the deep man and bounded 25 or so yards, all the way to the UAB two yard line,
where it was killed by the Owl coverage team.
On second and ten from there, UAB quarterback Williams dropped back into the end
zone to pass. About five yards deep, he was hit with a crushing blow by Bencil
Smith, and the ball was stripped away and bounced around, tantalizingly, in the end zone.
Probabilities stood with Owls, but they didn't pan out
DaJaun Cooper shares high-fives with his buddies in the MOB (PTH photo)
What are the possibilities in such a case? Well, number one is that
a defender falls on the pill for a touchdown. If so in this case, game over.
Number two is a defender falls on it for a safety. If so, Rice leads 30-26 and gets
the ball on a free kick; game pretty much over. Number three is the ball goes out of
the end zone for a touchback, and Rice gets the ball on its 20, with a golden opportunity
to run out the clock.
Only in alternative four does the fumbling team retain any dignity from the
situation, and that happens only when an offensive player is able to pick up the ball and
run it out of the end zone. UAB's Quinton Harris was able to do so and get the ball
out to the UAB 2. The percentages were against him, but he was somehow able to do
UAB had plenty of time, but they had 98 yards to go. Moments later, the Blazers
faced third and 13 at their own 35, and then the Owls flushed the UAB quarterback Williams
out of the pocket, though he picked up six yard to make it fourth and seven.
At that point, UAB had burned all of their time outs, so Watson Brown had to
gamble and go for it. Unfortunately, in making the big stick on Williams the previous
play, Rice's Bencil Smith was injured slightly, and the time he took to get off the field
gave the Blazers the chance to plant a victory garden.
QB Williams threw a quick out to Stephen Brown (again, Watson's son) for nine
yards and a first, and the UAB drive was still alive.
Next play, Williams hit the self-same coach's son for the 49-yard scoring
strike, and once he'd threaded his way down the visitor's sideline for the go-ahead score,
things looked glum for the Owls, indeed.
Only they didn't wind up that way.
UAB head coach (and former Rice head coach) Watson Brown was sanguine,
"You've just got to play better on the road, that's all," he said.
"It's no different than Tulsa or Southern Miss -- it's not an easy place to play
here. Houston got out with one point, we needed to come in here and do the same. We were
not able to do that."
"It seemed like every big play that they didn't just throw a fade route to
Dillard was 16 scrambling out and hitting somebody or getting loose or on a gun running
play or on the first play when he gets loose and we don't take him. I thought he (Chase
Clement) was the difference in the game, one hundred per cent."
Coach Graham, on the other side of the stadium, said that the amount of yards
given up by the Rice defense this night was misleading. "Our kids came in and stepped
up to the challenge, defensively. I was really proud by the way the defense bore down and
took the game to them," he said. "They were giving up a lot of size to a team
that can really run the football."
"All in all, I was really pleased."
--Paul T. Hlavinka
It's called Attitude: Rice's Quinton Smith
can't resist strutting his stuff at least a little bit,
once he safely crosses goal line to provide Owls with game-clinching TD (PTH
Team awarded offensive lineman Lute Barber game ball for his key fumble recovery in waning
seconds (PTH photo)
Post game interviews:
"I said, 'Alright, we'll throw you the ball'"
"Such a low, such a high there towards the end"
"'I'm going to catch it; we're going to score; we're going to win the
"I was just glad to put the ball back in our players' hands"
Rice team will show -- Tulane's victim, or Army's tormentor?
'Next time, I'm rentin' me a'
HOUSTON (Oct. 12)
-- Will the real Rice Owls please stand up?
First play of the game, and it's 'see-ya!' to the UAB defense, as Chase Clement romps in
57 yards, untouched, for the score (Mark Anderson photo)
Rice football fans saw a veritable Jekyll-and-Hyde act from their
Owls in the past two weeks as the Feathered Flock followed a stirring, near-letter perfect
34-point win over Army with an error-ridden loss to a so-so Tulane team this past
It was like observing two completely different teams on the gridiron,
comparing the War Owls of West Point to the birdies of the Big Easy. The question
now is, which of those two teams will show up on the turf of Rice Stadium Saturday, when
the home team takes on Watson Brown's Blazers of the University of Alabama-Birmingham;
kickoff at 6:30 p.m. (CSTV).
Rice head coach Todd Graham and his staff were besides themselves on the sidelines of
the Superdome Saturday as their charges made like they were pale facsimiles of the rugged bunch that humbled an up-and-coming Army
team the week before.
We got out and beat a very good football team, Coach Graham said,
referring to the Flocks 48-14 rout of USMA at the Point. That was a team that hung 62 points on the
board this week, he added, alluding to the 62-7 beating the Black Knights pinned on
the Keydets of VMI Saturday. And then we come back and lose to a team that I really
think we ought to have beaten.
Yeah, Todd, you and
the entire Rice alumni association or at least the cohort thats at
least dimly aware football is being played on South Main.
Errors said to be eminently correctible
The difference, the
Rice mentor took pains to point out, lies not in a reduced effort, or anything else
thats not eminently correctible. Its
simply a matter of reducing the defensive breakdowns to a manageable level, and executing
on offense the way that the Owls already have demonstrated they can do.
changing the way we're doing things, Todd said.
This season's far from over; we just have to keep getting better every
If we play
defense, that's the key. In the next six games, for us to win, we're going to have
to play defense. We're going to have to stop the run; at least control the run, be
able to do some things to slow people down. We were doing that the last game -- and
then we give up a 64 yard run that's absolutely ridiculous.
And the cheap
touchdown passes, you just cant give up.
We're going to
score our points. I really believe that, with the kids that we have.
This talent level in
this league presents the Owls with a
legitimate chance to earn a win each time they go out onto the field, the Rice head man
averred. In this conference, Todd
said, we're going to be in every single
game and have an opportunity to win it. And if we prepare and get better every day, we'll
have our share of success.
one in the conference in turnover ratio. That's the number one indicator for winning
football games. And you're 1 and 5! That's because you're giving up cheap
touchdowns. And because you're getting killed on field position.
That's a sign
that we're taking care of the football; getting turnovers. We're second in the
league in sacks. We're doing good things, but in the last three weeks, we're giving
up cheap touchdowns. And we're making too many critical errors in doing that. Thing
is, then, if we don't give up those big plays, we're gonna win.
Of course, they have
video projectors and such at Birmingham, so theyll be quite able to run films of the
Tulane game and see how Coach Scelfo and his able quarterback, Lester Ricard, were able to pester the Rice defense into submission with delays, draws, smashes, jams, and just
generally sitting back in the pocket and picking out the wide open receiver all afternoon.
Although former UAB
QB and All-America candidate Darrell Hackney has, er, de-matriculated, the Blazers are
still capable of moving the ball, both on the ground, and in the air as one would
expect any Watson Brown-coached team to be able to do.
Owl fans of a
certain vintage can well remember Watson and the skills he puts to work on the offensive
side of the ball, being that Macks older brother was head coach at the Institute for
the 1984 and 1985 seasons, before answering the call and coming home to Mother Vanderbilt.
He didn't win all that much, going 4-18 in the two years he was at Rice.
But his teams scored a lot of points.
Passing-oriented coach this year has emphasized the run
This year, while
rotating in a pair of quarterbacks, Watsons stressed running the ball perhaps as
much as he ever has, in his now 26-year head coaching career.
Thats not good
news for the Owls, for Rice enters Saturday's game against UAB ranked last among
Conference USA schools in rushing defense, giving up an average of 212.9 yards per game.
Its a statistic which bodes well for the Blazers, especially after a running attack
that netted a combined 277 yards of rushing offense in the win over Memphis on Oct. 7.
In that contest,
both Corey White (130 yards) and Marculus Elliot (111 yards) each rushed for over 100
yards against Memphis, and Watson Brown feels a comparably impressive set of rushing
statistics will be well in order, for the
Blazers take home a win from Houston.
game is always important for us," Watson said.
"We need to establish the run when we go in there because that is what we are built
on first. I don't know if we will rush for 277 yards again, but we need to definitely
establish the run this Saturday."
into getting the running game going against Rice will be the health of UAB's offensive
line (sound familiar?). Brown is concerned about it, but feels he has had the injury bug
on the offensive line throughout the season, and each week, someone steps up to fill a
"I am concerned
about the health of the offensive line," Brown said. "But at the same time it
seems like we have always managed to step up every time. Again, this week we are going to
have a couple of starters out, but it seems like this team, especially over the
Watson said he
wasnt particularly perturbed about the prospect of facings Rices revamped
offensive scheme one that tends to throw first and run second.
"We did pretty
well against East Carolina and well against Troy and felt good but then fell back a little
bit last week, he said, referring to last weeks 35-29 win over Memphis. I don't think we played as well on that side
of the ball in any phase. I think the challenge is to get us on track again and get some
big plays to win the game on defense.\
hearing the same thing from the coaches on our end.
UAB is 2-0 in conference
play, but hasn't hit road yet
The Blazers are 2-0
in league play but both wins have come at home. UAB
now travels to its first conference road game of the year, and Watson Brown appeared
sanguine over the task facing UAB at Rice Stadium.
I think it's
going to be a typical Conference USA game, he said, where when you go on the
road you just beg to get a win. It's only their second home game of the season so they're
going to be excited to be home.
are still question marks for the Owls. The
expectation is that Chase Clement will have gotten over the thumb soreness which hampered
his throwing hand at Tulane. Dietrich Davis
should be back full-time at middle linebacker, which will be a big help to the Owls in
their attempt to slow down the UAB running game.
On the defensive
side, Brandon King is still out with a high ankle sprain.
We didnt have those back when I was in school, Coach Graham
quipped. Not having Brandon King is very tough. It was a big part of Tulane's
game plan to attack his position. Saturday, we really had two guys out of our
secondary. Andrew (Sendejo)
didn't play most of the game, and that hurt us a little bit. But we've got to play
with the guys we've got.
Krueger is still walking wounded, and Mike
Falco is day to day. Both will likely suit
out, but see limited, if any, action Saturday. But the deal, Coach Graham insists, is that
the Owls won big at Army with all of those guys on the sidelines.
thing wasn't the talent, he insisted, in alluding to the loss at Tulane last week. It was just a matter of miscommunications
and mistakes. A lot of that had to do with what Tulane was doing. It was
really simple, it was not a matter of having to do anything that was all that
The effort is
great, but it doesn't matter what the effort is, if you're not going to the right
We need to
read each chapter as we go."
Rice future All-American receiver Jarett Dillard comes down with winning TD catch with 3.5
seconds to play (Mark Anderson photo)
Owls would'a, could'a, should'a been 3-3
By Mark Anderson
Rice QB/WR Joel Armstrong: We dont have to do too much different. I think we have a scheme that we can pretty much
put up against anybody. (PTH photo)
HOUSTON (Oct. 11) -- If you are one of the Rice
fans who have been tempted to toss in the towel on this season, there's a message waiting
for you the players are not.
Rice senior defensive lineman Courtney Gordon, for instance, in
spite of all that has happened so far this year, has maintained a positive attitude. Thats the only option [a positive
attitude], Gordon said. If you
dont keep a positive attitude, it will just continue to spiral downhill, and
thats not what we want. . . .we want to pick up and turn this season around. We go out and win these next six games, and we come
out with a winning record.
Gordon pointed something important out when he added, When you
look towards the future, you can see a positive outcome.
Ask Courtney if he believes the Owls have played better than
their record indicates. Oh,
definitely, Gordon responded. If
you go back and look at all the games, if theres a few things we correct, we can be
a completely different team.
Joel Armstrong agreed. We
feel that we could have had a better record, but we cant worry about that. Those games are over with, and we have to look
forward to the rest of the season.
Yeah, things went horribly wrong in New Orleans last
Saturday. Between blown coverages and being
outplayed on defense both by the run and the pass, some things simply are not as they
Courtney Gordon pointed to one thing in particular as a factor
in the loss to Tulane. Like Coach Graham
said, the big thing was communication on defense. WE
get that fixed. . . . and it should take care of itself.
On the offensive side of the ball, Armstrong pointed out,
We dont have to do too much different. I
think we have a scheme that we can pretty much put up against anybody. Joel also pointed out that the Owls needed to
eliminate awkward mistakes, such as penalties, a lot of penalties that were
not accustomed to, as one of the keys to getting back on track.
Scoreboard hasn't fully reflected degree
Rice DL Courtney Gordon: If you go back and look at all the games, if theres a
few things we correct, we can be a completely different team. (PTH photo)
The Owls have played better than the results on the
scoreboard have indicated so far this season.
For instancequickwho leads C-USA in takeaways? Which team has already surpassed their total of QB
sacks form last year? Who has the leading
receiver in C-USA? Who has the fifth leading
rusher in the conference? Which team has the
number two and number four (both tied) QB sackers so far this season?
The answer to all of the above questions is none other than
yourOwls. And this has been accomplished while
playing some of the toughest teams in the country.
Last year, the turnover/takeaway margin for Rice was, in a
word, atrocious. This year is completely
different. Thirteen times Rices
opponents have coughed up the ballten times Rice has recovered those fumbles. And until the game with Tulane, the pass defense
had held its own, making outstanding quarterbacks like Kevin Kolb and Ben
The truth about this season is that in spite of a 1-5 record,
the Owls have played much better football than their record indicates. They lost by a single point to the high-powered
Cougars. However, Chase Clement had been hurt
in that game early in the third quarter. Thats
when an Owls offense that was having their way with the Cougar defense began to
misfire and ultimately limp the rest of the way. If
not for the injury to Chase Clement, the Owls may have walked away with that game, even
with the Cougars scoring 31 points. But
thats something well never know, kind of like, Who really shot
The UCLA game was also a game the Owls came very close to
upsetting a national powerhouse. In spite of
getting down 13-0, the Owls came back to within three points, 19-16. A bad call gave the
Bruins the TD that, in the end, was too much to overcome.
There were less than five plays that night that separated the Owls from the
win columnand that was in spite of two running backs from UCLA that ran for over 100
Keys to the last half of the season
So how can the Owls get off the mat after last week and give
the Blazers, the leaders of the Eastern Conference, a defeat?
It starts with the players not coming out flat as they did
against Tulane. We came out flat,
Coach Graham readily admitted Monday. Threes
an old saying about a team rising or falling to the level of its competition. For the Owls, they need to rise above the level of their competition, and make that
a weekly habit.
Second, its time for the good guys to get the early
lead. The first drive on defense this week
will be a key indicator as to whether some of the kinks in the amour have been worked out
or not. Theres a saying about
preparation meeting opportunity. In the
Owls case, preparation is taking
advantage of opportunities that are presented to them.
Theyve been preparedthey knew everything that Tulane was going to do. But preparation did not take advantage of
opportunity. That has to change for the Owls
to get back in the win column.
Another thing that has to happen for the Owls to win next
Saturday is for Quinton Smith to have a big game on the ground. When Quinton runs as he can, it opens up the Owl
offense. Hes been good this season. But if he busts loose against UAB, the Blazers are
going to be in for a long evening. It will
also benefit Chase Clement as the defense simply wont be able to pin their ears back
rushing him and forcing him to run.
Fourth, the offense needs to continue to manage the game well. Up to this point in the season, they have done
remarkably well as far as limiting the number of turnovers.
Quietly, Major Applewhite is becoming an offensive coordinator to be
reckoned with. He is quietly putting together
an offense that, if it remains turnover free, can become one of the best offenses in
C-USA. Right now, the only team in C-USA that
can stop the Owl offense is themselves. By
eliminating the critical mistakes, such as crucial penalties, this offense can become a
juggernaut to be reckoned with.
Finally, the Owls must start winning the game of field
position. That means that all do what needs to
be done when it needs to be done. When the
defense has the other team pinned back deep in their own territory, they have to begin
making big plays to give the offense a shot at the ball in good field position. The offense, when given those opportunities, must
eliminate the critical mistakes. And special
teams must begin pinning the other team down in their territory on kickoffs and punts, as
well as avoiding penalties on returns.
One thing that has not been mentioned to date either here or
anywhere else I can find is that there is a bit of a wild card in play here. That wild card is this team has had to learn a
completely different system than many were used to running.
As Coach Graham indicated in his press conference this week, which means
sometimes a sideline signal is missed in a critical situation. This team is adjusting to this new system on the
A comparison might be helpful here. If you have ever taken a foreign language in high
school or college, you will remember how difficult the first semester was. You thought you were never going to be able to get
the vocabulary and nuances of the language down. But
if you hung around and braved out a second semester, one day it seemed to all click for
Thats what may very well happen with the Owls in the
second half of this season. The blown coverage
wont be blown. The signal from the
sideline wont be misread. The critical
mistakes will be eliminated because of familiarity with the new system.
Would it that same begins Saturday against UAB.
Rice quarterback Chase Clement seconds after the final gun in Saturday's last-gasp victory
UAB. Chase rushed for 141 net yards and threw three touchdown passes
to his battery-mate,
Jarett Dillard, to seal the win (PTH photo)
Tulane game a puzzlement for Todd Graham (PTH photo)
Monday's press luncheon audios
Joel Armstrong: 'You
have to take care of the little things...'
'It's a combination of things that can be corrected as a team...'
Coach Graham (part 1): 'In
this confer- ence, every week, anybody can beat anybody...'
Coach Graham (part 2):
'They didn't run one play that we hadn't practiced against...'