|'06 U of H week
University of Houston 31, Rice 30 x
Second quarter TD frenzy not enough
as upset chances slip away from Owls
Bubba Heard goes high to challenge UH receiver and prevent the
touchdown -- the ball was ruled caught out of bounds (Mark Anderson photo)
HOUSTON (Sept. 3) Renaissance Rice turned out to be very much
the engagingly successful, encouragingly transitional experience long-suffering Owl fans
hoped it would be here Saturday night. But apparently just a drop of the leftover
old, tired blood still coursed in Sammy's veins, given that the University of Houston
managed to overcome a 16-point Rice lead in the last 17 minutes of play to defeat the
Owls, 31-30, in the season opener for both teams.
The result left the Owl players, not to mention their coaches and fans,
mentally grasping for the one, single, solitary play that could have put away the game for
Obviously, that play could've been a converted extra point after the Owls scored to go
ahead, 27-14 just before the halftime clock ticked down.
It could have been a slight change in plane geometry allowing a Rice defender to
maintain the angle on UH's Anthony Aldridge, keeping him out of the end zone and
preventing the winning touchdown from being scored late in the game.
It might have been the play, mid-way through the third quarter, when Rice
quarterback Chase Clement twisted his ankle after disappearing into a pile of Coogs on the
visitors' sideline, an injury which he appeared to shake off, but which clearly affected
his ability to cut, plant his foot for the pass and probably hurt like hell for the
rest of the game, to boot, which couldn't have done much for his powers of concentration.
The list could go on and on. In fact, Rice head coach Todd Graham said
afterward, "I asked our kids in the locker room, who wanted to take a play back. They
all raised their hands."
Ah, but for the want of a nail a single Cougar coffin nail Todd
Graham's first-ever game as a college head coach, was lost.
Coach Graham blames self for loss
Rice running back Quinton Smith runs past the last, diving UH defender en
route to 80-yard pass- and-run TD (Mark Anderson photo)
Coach Graham made an earnest attempt to pin that loss on himself and his
"We can't make mistakes like that as coaches," Coach said. "We've
got to get better. That's just us getting on the same page and doing things right."
But most Owl fans would protest that the game wasn't lost because of a bit of
coaching confusion surrounding a last-gasp, fourth-and-12 play. If at any one place, the
game was lost in the first five minutes of the second half. You know those five
minutes that so many coaches insist are the most important in the game.
Prospects for victory, indeed, had looked so great going into that five-minute
set. After the Owls' mind-blowing four touchdown offensive performance in the second
quarter, the mood was jubilant in the stands and along the sideline.
And, oh, what a quarter it was.
Actually, the Owl offense first commenced to rub the sleep out of its eyes in
the waning moments of the first period, when, down 14-0 after two quick UH touchdowns, and
commencing at their own 23, the Feathered Flock got jump-started via a Quinton Smith burst
up the middle for 52 yards.
The Owls then chipped and putted their way as far as the UH 14 yard line, where,
as the quarter ended, Rice was facing first and ten.
From there, on third and nine, Rice quarterback Chase Clement zipped a quick
hitter to Jarett Dillard as he sliced into the end zone untouched, and the Owls were on
The Coogs showed some of that brain power they're always talking about on those
billboards, as on the ensuing kickoff, Donnie Avery took possession of the ball and
proceeded to run straight out of bounds at UH's own three yard line.
Backed up that far, the Coogs nevertheless managed to get out to the Rice 47
before the Owl secondary broke up two straight Kolb passing attempts, and then Brandon
King returned a weak Justin Laird punt for eight yards out to the Rice 20.
First play, Chase had to fall on a bobbled snap, and then Q. made it back to the
original line of scrimmage on second down. That set the stage for an electrifying play
that brought cheers of ecstasy from Rice fans and howls of misery from the East stands.
'I decided to just let it all out'
Rice DL George Chukwu fights off UH defender (Mark Anderson photo)
It started out as just a little flare pass to Quinton Smith coming out of
the backfield. But Q. said afterwards that suddenly he saw some daylight to run to
if he could just beat his defender to the corner.
"On that play," Q said, "I'd just had another play, just before,
that picked up around 50 yards, when in my mind, I was thinking ball security' and I
was running with both hands over the ball. But on the TD run I just decided to just let it
all out, to just go all out with it."
And that he did, suddenly turning on a burst of speed and breaking into the
clear, outrunning several UH defenders who appeared to have at least a shot at him coming
across the oblique. But Q made it into the end zone untouched, and suddenly, shockingly,
the game was tied, 14-14.
Another crafty Luke Juist kickoff pinned the Coogs back at their own eight yard
line, where the Rice defense, led by Chad Price, George Chukwu, Ja'Corey Shepherd and
Brian Raines combined to produce a three-and-out for UH.
What a difference one quarter had made, for the Rice defense. Rice DL DaJaun
Cooper explained what happened to the Owl defenders.
"Coach (DC Paul) Randolph told us just to settle down and play our
game," he said. "We kind of had happy feet when we first got out, but once we
started playing the game we had been all during two a days, things started clicking."
And click, they did.
Owls took advantage of short-field situations
The Owls played field position again, as Brandon King managed a 12 yard punt
return to set up Rice at the UH 45. It didn't take long from there for the Owls to surge
into the lead, as, five plays later, Quinton Smith took what looked an awful lot like an
old-fashioned option pitch and ran wide into the end zone.
A big play in the series was a 13-yard reception by Mike Falco to get the drive
going. Chase Clement also connected with Jarett Dillard for seven yards and a key first
and goal at the Cougar 7, whereupon Q made his scoring dash, next play.
The next kickoff, UH did manage to get the ball out to their 21 for starters,
but went nowhere from there. The Owls' Dietrich Davis made sure of that when he sacked UH
quarterback Kolb for a five-yard loss on third and six.
Once again, the Owls wound up with a relatively short field to work with, as
this time, Brandon King returned a 36-yard Justin Laird punt for 11 yards to, guess where
the Houston 45 yard line.
At that point, 3:49 remained on the halftime clock, and suddenly it became
apparent to Owl fans that the Institute Boys had a chance to double up the scoring on
their crosstown rivals going into the halftime locker room.
And the Owls proceeded to do just that. After Chase connecte on a nine-yarder to
Jarett Dillard, from there, Messrs. Clement and Smith took turns doing the honors on the
ground. UH appeared to be falling back a bit in their coverage, due to the waning
scoreboard clock, but that tactic backfired on them, as Chase consistently tucked the ball
under and ran underneath coverage for first down yardage.
Nevertheless, it appeared that the clock might run down on the Owls before
they got it in the end zone, when, on first and goal from the one, Chase was repulsed on a
quarterback sneak by UH's Marquay Love.
No sweat, though, for during a time out with 26 second left in the half, the
Owls decided to go back to the well one more time, and Quinton Smith knifed across the
goal with 21 ticks remaining.
Very few, if any, groans emanated from the Rice faithful when a Coog got a hand
on Luke Juist's extra-point attempt, keeping it 27-14, halftime score.
At that point, it looked as if the Rice offense could have its way with the UH
defense, having scored touchdowns on four straight possessions, and none of them flukes.
The atmosphere had to be slightly surreal in the halftime locker room, one would
have guessed. "I kept telling the kids (during the second quarter and at
halftime) that when we took the lead, we hadn't done anything," Coach said.
So the warning was given. But somehow it didn't completely take hold.
Coogs appeared willing victims, early third quarter
When the Coogs came out of the tunnel for the second half of play, there were
looks of apprehension much like there were on the UH sideline last fall when the
Owls threatened to take a 17-point lead early.
And at first blush in the third quarter, it appeared the Cougars were more than
ready and willing to bumble their way toward an ignominous defeat. The Owls, however,
appeared to lack that little extra spark that had propelled them so magnificently, on both
offense and defense, in the second quarter.
Taking the second half kickoff, the Owls did manage one first down before
bogging down at their 39. The play on third and six came up huge, Clement passing to his
tight end Will Moss in a play designed to just pick up the first down, but in this case
falling a couple of feet short. Those kinds of errors can be corrected with more play
reps, Coach says.
A few moments later that gaffe seemed completely inconsequential, as, after
Jared Scruggs pinned back the Coogs with a 61-yard punt, UH went nowhere again, thanks to
the defensive antics of Brian Raines, Bencil Smith and Lance Luedeker.
Either the UH deep snapper or the punter or both lost their
concentration on the ensuing punt attempt, for Justin Laird failed to handle what was only
a slightly-off snap, and, quick as a cat, Chad Price was all over him for a take-down.
With the ball at the UH 22, it looked as if the Owls were a cinch to take it in
for a fifth touchdown, one that surely would've sent the UH faithful packing for the
But first play, a couple of blocks were missed and Joel Armstrong had to take a
four-yard loss to the 26. Then the Owls were flagged for an uncharacteristic illegal
That was the only infraction on the day committed by the Owls, while the Cougars
were 10-for-80 in the same department. Hey, but that wasn't too bad for the Coogs
nobody got thrown out of the game for them, at least.
The Owls got five of those yards back but still faced fourth and 14 from the
Houston 27, when Luke Juist came in and calmly booted a 44-yard field goal to make it
By outward appearances, the Owls still appeared to be in great shape, leading by
16 with six minutes to go in the third quarter.
That feeling was heightened when the Owls stopped the Coogs once again on their
next possession. A holding penalty and a Brian Raines sack of Kevin Kolb set Houston back,
and they still had to punt despite a Kolb-to-Jeron Hary 16-yard pass to the UH 37.
But then the UH punter, Justin Laird, who'd been wearing the goat's horns all
evening, got off a boomer that narrowly missed going out of bounds and instead caromed
down the field all the way to the Rice three yard line, and the Owls had the ball again
but this time beneath the shadow of their own goal.
At that point, it's estimated that at least 1,647 Rice fans turned to their seat
mates and said, "It's OK, as long was we don't fumble
.." -- or words to
Guess what? First play, the ever-reliable Quinton Smith managed to have the ball
punched out of his hands during the pileup, and fumble it was, recovered by Houston at the
Rice four yard line.
Rice defense showed mettle in keeping UH out of end zone
But the Rice defense showed its mettle, as it determinedly kept UH out of the
end zone. On first and goal, true frosh Andrew Sendejo burst through to toss Kolb for a
loss of four. Andrew showed Owl fans why he deserved the starting tab awarded him by the
Rice staff, with three unassisted tackles on the day, one sack and a pass break-up.
Houston had to settle for a chip-shot field goal, and so with 2:04 left in the
third, it was Rice 30, UH 17.
Next series, however, the Rice offense got conservative. It seemed to make
sense, as the Coogs first were flagged for offsides, which gave the Owls a first-and-five.
Two running plays into the line netted but two yards, however, and then on third and
three, Chance unload a deep sideline pattern to Jarett Dillard, who was well-covered.
At that point, an estimated 1,873 Owl fans turned to their seatmates and said,
"That's OK; we've got Scruggs to come in there and boom it out for us,"
or words to that effect.
Guess what? First play, the ever-reliable senior punter appeared to try to steer
his punt through a couple of traffic lanes of onrushing Cougars, and shanked it out of
bounds for only a ten-yard net.
Now at that point, an estimated 6, 487 Owl fans turned to their seatmates and
.shoot!" or words to that effect.
Notice how the consensus increased when things turned negative. It's all those
years of conditioning, that's what it is. Owl fans can anticipate disaster like
Pavlov's dogs can drool over puppy chow.
Seconds deep into the fourth quarter, then, the Houston brain trust decided to
take to the air and the strategy worked just well enough. Three straight Kolb
completions took the Cougars to the Rice eight yard line, first and goal.
Then the Rice defense stiffened. First, Kolb tried the fade route to Jeron
Harvey, but the Owls' Bubba Hurd backed the UH received into the sideline and he caught
the ball out of bounds.
After a second pass attempt for Harvey went astray, Kolb struck quickly to a
slashing Vincent Marshall down the middle it was the same play that the Owls had
scored their first touchdown on and now the score stood 30-24.
By this time, the red-clad fans on the east side of the stadium were worked up
like feeding piranhas, while the home side of the stadium was taken completely out of the
Now it was Houston's turn to play the short-field game
Rice started the next series from its own 20, where a quick-out to Jarett
Dillard netted four, and Chase scramble for four more. On fourth and two, the punt team
came on, and Jared Scruggs got off the punt, but not as high, and not as far, as he
The ball was fielded at the Houston 33 by Rice tormentor Vincent Marshall, and
the speedster threaded his way through Rice punt coverage as far as the Institute 49.
Then, on a key third-and-nine play, Kolb connected on the sideline screen to
Roshawn Pope, who rambled for 24 yards down the east sideline to put the Coogs back in
business once again.
Coach Graham told reporters afterwards he was particularly disappointed in that
turn of events.
"Late, they hit two screens on us, and both times we had a defense called
to stop the screen," he lamented. "Those were two plays that were critical. One
was third and 9; I think the other was second and 15. Every time it was third and long,
and they're calling the screen, we're calling a defense to stop the screen."
"Tonight, we just don't run the defense."
After a Rice timeout to reconnoiter, the next play, the Coogs employed a
misdirection to spring big Jackie Battle for 16 more yards to the Rice eight yard line,
and the Coog fans brayed like so many coon hounds on the chase.
But again the Rice defense rose to the occasion. Two Kolb passing attempts for
the end zone, one to Harvey, one to Avery, were defended.
Then on third and goal, Coach Briles tried to take a little edge off the Owls'
aggressiveness by running a backfield pass that worked more like a reverse play. It wound
up with the ball in Anthony Aldridge's hands, and he was able to outrun the Owl defender
who to his credit stayed home on the play to the flag.
Regarding Aldridge's winning TD scamper, Coach Graham said, "he made a
play. We had a guy there. He made a play. You've got to give them credit, they made some
plays down the line. And that was a great play by Aldridge."
Time became a factor when Owls went three-and-out
Still, there was 10:28 left in the game when the Owls fell behind, so time was
not a factor. But suddenly it became so when the Owls went three-and-out on the next
Houston moved the ball and ate clock, then, until the drive stalled out at the
Rice 28. From there, UH's T. J. Lawrence barely missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, and
Rice had the ball back, still down only a point, at their own 28, with 4:59 to play.
All the Flock needed was a field goal. And the U of H started out its defensive
series as if it really, really wanted the Owls to have a shot at one.
On second-and-ten, the Coogs jumped offsides. Then, next play, a UH linebacker
attempted to cold-cock Jarett Dillard about five seconds after the play whistle
blew, indicating an incomplete pass.
The resulting 15-yard personal foul infraction took the ball to midfield. One,
maybe two more first downs, and the Owls would be in field goal range.
On first down, Quinton Smith took the inside handoff, burst through the line and
suddenly found himself in the secondary. Almost! But dad-gum it, the Coogs' Rocky Schwartz
shoe-stringed Q after a 10 yard gain.
Still, things were looking up. Over three minutes still remained on the clock.
The timing was perfect for a closeout, chip-shot field goal to win the game for the Owls.
Coach Graham noted, "I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to win
when we got to that point in the fourth quarter, because the kids were in great
Could it have been that UH just made the plays?
But that's where the wheels fell off the track. Perhaps it was a matter of
excessively conservative play-calling, perhaps just dumb luck on part of the UH, or maybe
it was simply the case of the other guys' making the play when Rice didn't.
But the next Q running effort went for a loss of two. Then a second-down pass
attempt to Will Moss was off the mark. Houston called a timeout to ponder the situation. A
third-and-12 pass to Jarett Dillard was underthrown under heavy pressure. That made it
well, we'll let Coach Graham take over the narrative.
"The difference at the tail end," he said, "was, we went down
there and held them; we got the ball back, went down the field; and had a couple
miscommunications with our signals, called time out; had another miscommunication, called
another timeout that's coaching; that's our fault. That's my fault.
Coach Graham was discombobulated by the fact that the Owls had 12 men on the
field after the first timeout, necessitating the calling of their third and final timeout.
Houston had the play defensed in any event, and Chase's pass into a knot of
white jersies and blue jersies resulted in a rally-thwarting interception by UH's Ernest
Miller, and it was lights-out for the Owls.
The difference between the second quarter and the second half was a tale of two
games, inferred Rice quarterback Chase Clement afterwards.
"Second quarter, we had a lot of momentum," he said. "Quinton
Smith made play after play. He got the momentum rolling for us. That was a good quarter
for us. That's the way we've got to play every quarter."
"(In the second half) we played a lot more conservatively," Chase
noted glumly. "We tried more quick, easy throws. We ran more."
"We just kind of let up a little bit."
Nonetheless, the new Rice mentor told the press he felt that the team had shown
up well, and had given themselves a foundation upon which to build.
"I think we showed signs tonight of having a great football team," he
said. "We turn the ball over on our own four yard line, and hold them to a field
goal. We shank a punt; they miss a field goal. So when we had to, we played well."
'It's just sickening to lose'
"I never thought the kids let the wind out of their sails. I thought the
whole night we'd win. But like I told them, there are no moral victories. It's just
sickening to lose. It sickens me to lose. And I really felt like we should've won the
game. I think our kids will tell you the same thing. They also know that, tonight, we beat
The Big Owl also had complements for his offensive coaching staff, especially
the wunderkind who's in charge of it all."
"I thought Coach (Major) Applewhite did a great job," he said.
"If you score 30 points, you ought to win the football game."
But defense was, is and shall remain the key to success, the Rice coach added
this season, and every season.
"I said before, that this thing was going to boil down to defense, and it
did," he said. "The thing is, I think we played good enough defense down the
stretch to win it."
The Rice conditioning program did its job admirably, Coach said. "Our guys
were never tired on defense. We roll people on defense. We had a few guys cramp a little
bit, but that's it."
"We didn't lose this game because of conditioning. We lost it because we
made critical errors down the stretch."
"We just made some mistakes down the line to let them back in it,"
Coach Graham summed up. "The biggest thing was, we let up. Tonight, we just didn't
finish. We've got to learn to do that."
"It's just one game. We've got to move on to the next week, and if we
correct our mistakes, there's no reason why we we've got some talented young men on
this football team. I think that showed tonight."
"But bottom line is, to win championships, you've got to play championship
defense. I thought our kids played hard on defense; did great things. But we can't give up
"But I'll tell you this we've got a football team."
"I'm proud of our kids. But we should have won it."
-- Paul T. Hlavinka
Preparation ... meet
Owls look to make
their own good luck
HOUSTON (Aug. 31) Its often said that good luck
is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
New Rice head football coach Todd Graham and his Owl team certainly will be
faced with a major opportunity when they tee off the 2006 season against cross-town rival
University of Houston at their new, improved version of Rice Stadium; kickoff is 8:05 p.m.
And nobody can accuse Coach Graham and his staff of shorting the Feathered Flock
of opportunities for preparation, as, since taking over the regime in January, and within
legal limits, they have drilled the Rice team incessantly, worked them on the weights and
conditioning like no one ever before, installed entirely new offensive and defensive
packages, put in a half a million bucks worth of state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment,
and, to top it off, raised and spent over $5 million on stadium improvements that
positively knock your socks off.
But all of that wont automatically produce a single first down, or a
solitary three-and-out, on the field, come Saturday.
Success on the gridiron will have to be demonstrated by way of the grit,
determination and will of 85 young men who don the blue and grey. Summer reading is over,
schools back in session, and the first weekly examination comes Saturday night.
If one listens to the surprisingly loud drumbeats emanating around the Bayou
City regarding this game, one would believe that the Institute Boys dont have a
cut-dogs chance as 13-point underdogs to a U of H team that, by all indications, is
going great places and doing great things this season.
Terms have been tossed about like, "Kolb for Heismann," "Run the
table," and "Theyll hang 50 on Rice."
And that kind of invective has come from none other than the local
sportswriters! You oughta hear what the wacky Coog fans are predicting!
Indeed, at least on paper, UH has a noticeable edge. For starters, the Cougars
return 10 of them on defense, although reasonable minds may differ over whether
thats an advantage or a disadvantage. Defensively, UH has not exactly been a
juggernaut in recent years. In fact, the only offense that theyve proven to be adept
at stopping is the good old triple option. We dont run that anymore, and the
UH assistant coach who was so skilled at defensing the Owls, Dick Bumpas, is gone.
Last year, the UH defense allowed 27 points and 397.4 total yards per game, but,
hey, maybe those returning starters are on to something, this year. Anchoring the middle
of the UH line will be Cody Pree, who picked up 42 tackles and four sacks as a
freshman last year. While the DL is experienced, the strength of the UH defense appears to
be in the middle of the field, given that all four of last year's starting
That returning group of 'backers totaled 328 tackles among themselves last year.
Brendan Pahulu leads the group as, last year, he finished second on the team in both
tackles (94) and tackles for loss (9).
Coogs return game-breaker at free safety
Quinton Smith paces the Owl backfield -- and that's bad news for Rice's opponents
In the secondary, the Coogs believe the return of free safety Will Gulley,
who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is going to make it all turn out right.
Gulley posted 71 tackles and four interceptions in '04.
The Cougars' offense not only ranked 19th in the nation last season, but it also
led C-USA in total yards with an average of 438.8 per game. And, drum roll please,
for the fourth straight year, Kevin Kolb returns as the starting quarterback for Houston's
pass-oriented offense. And, hey, Kolb is rated by one service as being 72nd in
the overall Heismann Watch.
Think he might pull it out?
Kolb has made 36 straight starts and is already the Cougars' all-time total
offensive leader. In fact, Kolb is the NCAA's active leader in total offense (9,752
yards), passing yards (9,155) and completions (672). Last season, Kolb completed 60.5
percent of his tosses for 3,258 yards with 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
All three of last year's starting wideouts are back, including ace Vincent
Marshall. The 2005 First Team All- CUSA selection finished the '05 season with 71 catches
for 939 yards and six touchdowns. In the backfield, the Cougars must replace 1,000-yard
rusher Ryan Gilbert, but Jackie Battle, whos big enough to fill both halfback slots,
rushed last year for 408 yards and five touchdowns. Naturally, Coog fans expect him to
have a 200-yard game agains the Owls.
Special teams may be the one place where the Coogs pan out weaker than the Owls
-- on paper. The Cougars finished next-to-last in the nation in net punting and went just
13-of-22 on field goals last season. Ben Bell and T.J. Lawrence divided the kicking
chores in '05 and, although they struggled, they will once again be sharing time.
Justin Laird is will handle the punting duties after averaging a respectable 39.5 yards
per punt in 05.
"We have a pretty good idea of how they are going to respond in different
situations," UH head coach Art Briles said of his team. "I would like to think
that we are past the if stage and to where this is what it's going to
"We are in good shape as a football team. We have an issue or two in some
areas but we are ready to roll. We have good football players and we are ready to get them
on the field and let them play."
Same Coogs, grown older and (sic) wiser
Chase Clement showed during spring and fall drills that he's cool, collected, and ready
for prime time
But even given all that, the Coogs, at most, are still same team that the
Owls faced in their last game of the 05 campaign, grown a year older and wiser (if
such a term appropriately may be applied).
Houston did win that game, 35-18. But consider this: last years
Rice-Houston game was the swan song for then-Rice head coach Ken Hatfield. The Owls pretty
much had given it their best shot the weekend before, narrowly losing to division champion
Central Florida on a last minute TD pass after outplaying them for 59 minutes.
If there ever had been a time for just going through the motions and playing out
the season, that was it for the Owls. Disappointment reigned among frustrated team
members. The fan base had shrunk to its smallest level ever, as formerly ever-loyal Owl
fans found that watching Rice lose week in and week out was just a little more than they
Yet, given all that, the Rice team came into the game and nearly blew Houston
out of the park, early. The Owls roared to a 10-0 first quarter lead, stopping UHs
offensive series cold, and moving the pill via the infantry.
With the ball in Rice territory early in the second quarter, Quinton Smith
ripped off a long, broken-field run that left Coog defenders grasping for thin air and
then throwing down their helmets on the sideline, in disgust.
The Owls drove relentlessly down the field and, with goal to go, were at the
point of going ahead 17-0, when a UH defender managed to wrest loose the ball from the
Rice running back just inches before he crossed the plane.
The apprehensive looks coming from the UH bench said it all: John Wall scores,
and its game over -- we quit. (This reporter was standing right there.)
But instead, UH drew inspiration from the sudden reversal of fortune, marching
98 yards in eight plays, so that instead of 17-0, Rice, it was only 10-7, and the East
Enders were right back in the ball game.
Four more Owl turnovers later, it was still 28-18, UH, early in the fourth
quarter. But a sixth turnover put a knife in the back of the Owls, as moments later, Kolb
connected on an 80-yard TD pass to Vincent Marshall with six minutes left in the game, to
put it away for UH.
But, you know, that wasnt exactly a thermonuclear wipeout of the Owls,
even in their compromised, get-it-over-with condition. Switch the turnover ratio, from
6-0, Houstons favor, to 6-0, Rices favor, and that so-called hapless Rice
squad likely would have come up with the five-touchdown win that many Coog fans have
already written down for themselves, this Saturday.
Better, or worse than last year? Wanna take a stab at
New Rice head coach Todd Graham has his team in great physical shape and seemingly
well-prepared for the season opener
Are the Owls better, or worse, than they were on that benighted November
Lets take a wild stab at that one....er.....ahh....ehh.....better?
Owl fans should find substance for such a contention by taking a tour through the current Rice depth chart. Start with running back
Quinton Smith. Q simply tore the hell out of the UH defense last year, whereupon those ten
returning starters spent most of their time grasping frustratingly at thin air when trying
to tackle him. And this year, he gets to go one-on-one, instead of merely trying to beat
the UH student body to the outside, with everybody in the stadium being able to anticipate
every play call.
At slotback, Mike Falco has drawn the starting spot over Tommy Henderson,
though, of course, both will play. This is finally prime time for Mike Falco. Hes
healthy, experienced, and as fit as hes ever been Owl fans have been waiting for a
total breakout game on Mikes part, for the past three years. Saturday, they just
might get it.
The starting wideouts are Jarett Dillard and Joel Armstrong, two guys who
reached that spot in very different ways. Jarett was clearly the best receiver on the team
as a true freshman last year. All during the spring and August workouts, hes been
sparring mightily with Rices top pass defender and his good buddy, JaCorey
Shepherd. JaCorey is as good as anybody Jarett will face all year.
As for Joel, its clearly a case of a yhoung mans being too
talented to be kept off the field. Although perhaps he doesnt meet the classic
passing quarterback mold, he does meet the classic winners mold. Far from pouting
over his removal from last years starting QB spot, hell be looking to
vindicate himself in any way he can.
Rice's starting quarterback, sophomore Chase Clement, may not wind up setting
the world on fire with his stats, but ran the spread with aplomb in high school, passing
for 3,000-plus yards. And he played in all 11 Rice games last year. Two things
he does not lack are confidence and cool.
The starting OL looks like this: Krueger, Heos, Wilkinson, Berken, Barber. Not a
weak link among them, and solid backups are behind them in Talbert, Hamilton, Perkins,
Miller and Thompson.. No pot guts in that group. And as far as "having to learn how
to pass block" is concerned, Rolf Krueger sets the matter straight on that score.
"We already know how to pass block," he says.
Defensively, the new-fangled three-man defensive front goes two deep with
equivalent talent, and they all can play. The top three get the edge on experience and the
size/speed ratio. That would be Chukwu, Cooper and Gordon, all three veteran hands who
wont exactly be trembling at the sight of Houstons 330-pound OLs. And those
guys are backed up by Cary, Wood and Davis, who can all play the game with strength and
If theres an if on defense, however, it probably would be at
the linebacker position. This is a key spot in the defensive configuration, if the Owlsare
to be functioning relatively smoothly this year. It would be nice to have four Abominable
Snowmen-types to fill out the spot, but the accompanying SAT scores cant cut
Instead, the Owls have a stock of excellent, motivated -- if slightly undersized
-- athletes, including converted running back Marcus Rucker, whos had his game face
on since April. Marcus is just itching to be the hitter, instead of the hittee, and
dont be surprised if Saturday he winds up the game leader in tackles.
Coach Randolph is starting a true freshman at one of the LB spots, and that
would be Andrew Sendejo, a 6-2, 210-pounder from Smithson Valley. Andrew got there the
old-fashioned way -- he earned it.
Vernon James is something of a surprise starter at middle linebacker, having
barely edged out Lance Luedeker for the number one spot on the depth chart, though you can
bet Lance will play as well. Lance has held his own since the first game of his freshman
year, and, frankly, its a good sign that the competition at linebacker is
sufficiently strong that hes currently filling a backup spot.
Brian Raines rounds out the starting four at linebacker, and hes had
simply excellent spring and fall drills. He came up huge in the spring game and excelled
in the mock game scrimmage held Saturday before last.
In the secondary, with Chad Price, JaCorey Shepherd, Andray Downs and
Brandon King holding down the starting spots, will the Coogs really be able to "hang
50" on the Owls without hardly even trying? It's sure tempting to lay down a bet on
The Owls kicking game is hardly an unknown factor, in terms of the
potential of the two main men, Jared Scruggs, at punter, and Luke Juist, as place kicker.
Both have the talent to excel, although Jared has been by far the more consistent
performer of the two. The skills of both of them will need to be honed to a fine edge, for
the Owls to be able to pull down a win on Saturday.
So if you dont feel better already, take the Owl
depth chart, put your index finger on it, and go down the list one more time.
This is not a "Bottom Ten" team. Theyll prove that Saturday. The
question is, will they be a 1-0 team as the clock strikes midnight September 3?
It all depends on the happenstance of just a little bit of good luck --
the 'preparation meets opportunity' kind.
--Paul T. Hlavinka
Editor & Publisher
Owls worked hard all spring, summer -- now, it's the fans' time to put in a little effort
by merely attending their home games, starting Saturday
so show up!
By Mark Anderson
HOUSTON (Sept. 1) -- With the local media noise level reaching a fever pitch,
it's definitely football time in Texas. And for football fans in the city of Houston, that
means a great opening game Saturday night between Rice and its cross-town rival University
of Houston Cougars.
Last year, the Owls were on the way to what appeared to be an easy victory over Houston
in the last game of the season, but a key turnover converted what would have been a 17-0
Owl lead into a mere 10-7. That wrested the momentum away from the beleaguered Owls. And
the Coogs never offered to give it back, scoring four more touchdowns and causing five
other turnovers to defeat the Owls.
But this is a different season. The team has a new head coach in Todd Graham.
Coach Graham appears to have brought with him what this team has neededmental and
physical toughness. Coach Graham refers a lot to "the hard edge." It's something
Rice staffers sometimes say the players did not have much of last year, but do have this
Rice starting quarterback Chase Clement faced the press
Monday. The interview.... (PTH
Another thing Coach Graham appears to have brought to Rice is a sweeping
change in attitude. It is no longer acceptable to lose, nor is it acceptable to act as if
winning were not a possibility in any game -- and that means UCLA, Texas, and Florida
"We will win" is a sign that is seen not only in the football offices,
but in the hearts of the players themselves.
Punter Jared Scruggs, when asked about the possibilities of this season,
answered by saying, "we've come too far and trained too hard for it (winning) not to
happen. It's not a matter of possibility; it is going to happen."
That's the punter, folks. That's not the quarterback.
So how can the Owls have opening day and longer success this
season? These will be the keys for the Owls, not only against UH, but every team they play
Get the ball into the hands of the playmakers: For Rice,
there's a worthy list of playmakers. Leading the pack are Jarrett Dillard, Joel Armstrong,
Quinton Smith, and Mike Falco. This quartet of players has the ability to turn any play
into six points. If Rice is going to win, these four will undoubtedly need to be at the
center of what happens.
Avoid injuries: Let's face it injuries are a part of the
game of football. If Rice is to win, they must avoid two things lingering or
season-ending injuries, and more specifically, injuries to key offensive and defensive
Manage the game: Coach Graham has praised Chase Clement for his
game management throughout the spring and fall drills. Now it's time for Chase (with the
help of his coaches) to do it in real time. Chase has a good head about him, and he
doesn't have to thread the needle unnecessarily in this offense. Coach Applewhite has
already been a huge influence on Clement. If Clement can simply execute the offense
without making critical mistakes, that will go a long way for Rice to becoming a winner
Avoid turnovers: The offense needs to avoid turning the ball
over as it did last year. At the same time, the defense needs to step up and begin getting
turnovers. Part of playing championship defense (Coach Graham's phrase) is being in a
position to get turnovers and reacting to the ball.
Defensive Intensity: Coach Paul Randolph came from Alabama to
Rice because he felt that the defense could play and win here. The defense will be
expected to be aggressive, to hit hard, and complete their tackles. It will be up to the
defense to get the ball back into the hands of the offense. That is Randolph's goal for
this defense do your job, do it in as few plays as possible, and get off the field.
Special teams play: The special teams, with Coach Phillips in
charge, will be expected to be aggressive as well as well-disciplined. The special teams
must be aggressive in going for blocked punts and kicks. At the same time they will need
to be well-disciplined in order to get the ball in good field position and not incur
needless penalties in returning punts or kickoffs that will negate good field position.
Fan support: What it all boils down to is this: Rice fans need
some kiesters in the seats! The players have gone all out this off-season working harder
than ever before, becoming the best-conditioned Owl team in some time. They will play just
as hard, be assured of that. What will really help, starting against UH, is to have Rice
fans of both long-time and recent duration, plus a decent measure of Houstonians at large,
to buy into Coach Graham's program early, and support the Owls every game this season.
Don't under-estimate what your presence and support does for this team. The
student body also would do well to make it a part of their weekly activities to be at the
games and support their classmates. Invariably, a richer college experience is the result
of such support, win or lose.
For Rice to win, these are the keys. There is no getting around them.
All right, Houston college football fans and especially all Rice fans
"Are you ready for some football?" If the answer is yes, see
you at the newly refurbished Rice Stadium on September 2nd!
You never forget your
Owls first win over UH
one for record books
Interception thwarts UH scoring bid in Rice's 1972 first-ever win over Cougars (Rice
HOUSTON (Aug. 30) It seems scarcely possible to have been so
long ago, to those Feathered Flock members of a certain age who can recall when the
University of Houston was just a glorified community college on the wrong side of South
Main Street, instead of the sprawling urban megaversity its become.
In 1971, when Rice actually sponsored the U of Hs membership in the
Southwest Conference, some old grads tossed and turned in bed -- or in their graves, as
the case may have been. The deal was that UH would not begin round-robin league play until
1976. But six months later, the Owls and the Coogs nevertheless were lining it up on the
turf of Rice Stadium for their first football meeting ever.
The date was September 11, 1971, and the Institute Boys, led by first (and only) year
coach Bill Peterson, the master of malaprop, fell 23-21 to a highly favored UH eleven
before a Rice Stadium crowd of 62,000.
Most U of H supporters, and the bulk of the sportswriter community, were
surprised that the Owls could hang that tough against a Bill Yeoman-coached team that had
just recently perfected an offense they called the Veer.
They'd never come that close again, some red-clad boosters inveighed.
But a year later, the two squads were lining it up again on the floor of Rice
Stadium, once again as the first game of the season. Few gave the Owls a chance, in this,
the coaching debut of Rice head coach and occasional Crazy Man, Al Conover, whod
taken over at the spur of the moment from Bill Peterson after only a single season at Rice
when Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams hired Coach Pete away from the college ranks.
This game also marked the coming-out party for the new R-Room situated on the south end of
Owls weren't big, but had some capable performers
Al Conover, Rice's head coach in Institute's first win over UH, never let things get dull
-- on or off the field
In the R-Room, the booze flowed thick, but on the field, the Owls were
thin, mighty thin.
At the quarterback spot was senior Bruce Gadd, whod had the distinction of
throwing 18 interceptions the year before in an understudy role to Phillip Wood. And it
was all up to Bruce -- he had no experienced backups.
The running back cupboard was even more bare, as hopes were pinned largely on a
true freshman named John Coleman.
Receiver was a spot where the Owls were relatively deep, featuring proven
performers such as Edwin Collins, Ron Arceneaux, Bubba Berg (sorry, George, thats
what they called you in those days), and Carl Swierc, who was destined to occupy yet
another footnote in Rice football history.
At tight end were Joe Buck and Gary Butler, who later went on to
all-conference status and earned some All-America mentions. Gary was the real deal.
So was Mark Williams, the Owls all-league place-kicker.
The Rice OL was expected to hold its own, with such proven performers as Ron
Waedemon, Sammy Johnson and Bart Goforth. In the defensive line, Larry Walling, Cornelius
Walker and the Medford brothers, Jody and Larry, held forth.
Behind the DL, the Owls had Rodrigo Barnes (who later played for the Cowboys),
LaRay Breshers and Richard Hollas at linebacker, and Bruce Henley, Donnie Bernshausen, and
Bill Chilivetis at defensive back.
Almost all of those guys were undersized though. Sound familiar?
The Cougars countered with quarterback D. C. Nobles, running backs Puddin
Jones and Leonard Parker, and receivers Robert Ford, Del Willingham and Robert Stanley.
New head coach Al Conover had been a surprise from the beginning of two-a-days.
"Work their asses off, but make the players feel like youre one of the
guys" was his motto.
Big Al's strategy: keep it simple, stupid
But his strategic philosophy for Game 1 against the Coogs was right out of
taskmaster Bear Bryants play book. Observers said he really only used five different
offensive plays, the whole game.
The Owls played conservatively, trying to keep the ball away from the
high-powered Cougar attack, which only a few years earlier had humbled Tulsa, 100-6. Yes,
Frosh running back John Coleman turned out to be a diamond in the rough who was
good for three or four yards each time his number was called. He finished the day with 24
rushes for 84 net yards. Owing to the just-instituted rule change allowing freshmen to
play varsity ball, Coleman was the first frosh to play for the Owls since 1946.
But when the Owls needed to cross the pay station, they did it through the air.
Capping drives of 58 and 77 yards, Bruce Gadd threw for two touchdown passes that almost,
but not quite, proved the measure of the Rice victory.
For when Bruce connected on a scoring strike to Edwin Collins with 4 seconds
left in the game, the score still stood 13-12, Houston.
There wasnt any such thing as overtime in those days. It was either go for
the win, or kiss your sister.
Big Owl Conover didnt even hesitate over going for the tie. Instead, he
called a basic trap handoff, with the ball being given to a converted defensive back, a
theretofore unknown named Preston Anderson.
Backup Rice offensive linemen John Paul Hershey teamed with stalwart Bart
Goforth for the blocks of their lives, and Preston Anderson vaulted over the goal line to
give the Owls a last-second, sweet-as-wine 14-13 win.
In the dressing room afterwards, Big Al was beside himself.
"I told you we were going to win," he said to nobody in particular.
"Some of you didnt believe me, but I told you we were going to win."
"We own this town! Cougar High is through!" Big Al bellowed.
This Rice contingent went on to finish the season 5-5-1, with wins over Clemson,
A&M and Arkansas a high water mark which stood until Fred Goldsmith bettered
the effort with a 6-5 record in 1992.
The Owls won over Houston only two times in the next 13 years, but that
hardly took away from the ecstasy of that sweet, sweet, first victory.
"We own this town! Cougar High is through!"
A bit crude, perhaps. But it does have a nice ring to it.
Errors or omissions? Please email us....
Some of those who played in Rice's first win over the
University of Houston:
press luncheon of Graham era
fixes spotlight squarely on Cougars
HOUSTON (Aug. 28) The first weekly press luncheon of the Todd
Graham era came off without
Extra Point Club kicks off
The Rice Extra Point Club held the first of its regular weekly dinner meetings of the
Monday night in the "R" Room--more
photos here . For a summary of the proceedings, check
Reinhold's report in Parliament (PTH photo)
press luncheon of Graham era
fixes spotlight squarely on Cougars
"I feel really prepared for what were doing,"
"Offensively, weve just got to take care of the ball"
"It was, like, Can you believe were doing this, you know, and
getting paid for it? I say that, even though its the hardest job weve
HOUSTON (Aug. 28) The first weekly press luncheon of the Todd
Graham era came off without a hitch at the R-Room here today, as the spotlight began to
focus in earnest on the upcoming season opener with the University of Houston here
Saturday; kickoff time is 8 p.m.
Owls Jared Scruggs, Andray Downs and Chase Clements each took the podium for a
press Q&A before Coach Graham held forth. Among them all, there appeared to be a look
and a feel of quiet determination. Certainly one could not detect any sense of self-doubt
"Weve come to far and trained too hard, for (winning) not to happen this
season," Jared Scruggs told the group. "Its not a matter of possibility.
It IS whats going to happen."
Last year, the Owls were six inches away from going up, 17-0 over UH at Jeppesen in
what turned out to be Ken Hatfields last game as head coach of Rice. A last-gasp
fumble negated a second-quarter touchdown drive that would have put the Owls up by that
measure, however, and then, six turnovers later, the Flock finally wound up going down to
the Cougars, 35-18.
But thats no indication that the Rice team will face any significant
talent differential with they tee it up with the Cougars Saturday night, Jared said.
"Talent-wise, I think were just as good," he noted. "And
also what we have is a great group of guys that actually binds together, and meshes well
together. We dont have just individuals on this team. Its going to be a
Coach Graham noted that, though Saturday will mark his first outing as a
Division 1 college head coach, his first head coaching job, at the 5A high-school level,
was earned when he was only 29 years old. So theres no case of heebie-jeebies for
Todd Graham, going into this season opener.
"I feel really prepared for what were doing," he said. "I
feel comfortable about it. I havent really thought about it a lot."
The public and the media overemphasize the changes made on offense and
underemphasize the changes Coach Grahams staff have made on defense, he said.
"Where progress really needs to be made in this program is defensively," he
added. And that, in fact, is what has garned the most of his attentiion during two-a-days.
"I do what I know the best," he said. "Thats why Ive
mostly been out there dealing with the defense, especially the defensive secondary.
Thats the area where Im most concerned about right now, and where my main
focus is right now."
"Offensively, weve just got to take care of the ball. If we do that,
we are going to put ourselves in a position to be successful."
Coach Graham confessed that he and the Cougars head man, Art Briles, go
back a long way together as fellow high school coaches in the same region, and are good
friends. "We actually did a little interview last night," Todd remarked,
"and (afterwards) sat out in the parking lot and visited for a little while and
talked. It was, like, Can you believe were doing this, you know, and getting
paid for it? I say that, even though its the hardest job weve ever
"I think the most important thing is that you remain poised, and you get
your kids ready. By now, weve just got to get ready mentally. And how we respond
Saturday is based on the need, at some point, for these gets to step up and start leading,
while we (the staff) have to step back."
"That takes a while. But the key for us is to stay in the game.
Theyre very talented over there. Theyve got great skill people; theyve
got a great quarterback. But the key is, just dont give them one-play drives. Make
them earn it; stay in the game; keep the game close; and well get better and better
Chase Clement Monday interview.... Coach Graham Monday
Coach Graham Monday q&a...