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'04 Rice-Hawaii week

Rice 41, Hawaii 29
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Bailey leads rushing onslaught
as 2-0 Owls run over Warriors

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Greg Henderson stiff-arms a Warrior and heads down the sideline for more yards

HOUSTON (Sept. 19) – The Rice Owls got the lead, lost it, took it back, and then kept it, all in most emphatic fashion here Saturday night in a rousing 41-29 win over the University of Hawaii, beginning the season 2-0 for the first time in three years and exhibiting the kind of character on both sides of the ball that can fire hopes for a big, big season in the hearts of long-suffering Owl fans.

It was a game that saw offensive superlatives, as the diminitive Ed Bailey set a rushing record for a Rice fullback in going for 234 yards in 37 carries. That total, in fact, was good for fourth on the all-time rushing list for a Rice runner – move over, Dickie Maegle, the Human Bowling Ball is headed your way.

Meanwhile, Rice’s senior quarterback, Greg Henderson, had a not-too-shabby night himself, rushing for 135 net yards, tossing two, big TD passes and rushing for three more.

In fact, though the fifth-year senior fullback from Klein provided the bulk of the acreage plowed, the senior quarterback from Wichita Falls proved the horse that took the Owls home to the barn, as, facing a 29-28 deficit with ten minutes to go in the game, Greg chomped on the bit, tucked the ball under, and led the Owls on two, straight touchdown drives, scoring both times himself to put the game away.

The Rice defense, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly standing on its laurels, either. Facing prolific Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang for the umpteenth time over the past five years, Rice’s senior defenders and their coaches knew they needed to make that porridge not too cold, but not too hot, either, as they judiciously mixed the occasional blitz with a solid game plan that emphasized containment, instead of heroics, in the defensive secondary.

Though Chang and his receivers got their yards, the Young Guns in the Rice defensive secondary had the best of them overall, eschewing overly risky tactics and concentrating on minimization of yardage- after-completion.

Rice DB Lance Byrd., who also had two long punt returns truncated by questionable blocking-in- the-back penalties, said the key was to be able to rein in Chang and not try to be the hero and win the game on any one play.

"We just stayed together, stayed poised," he told us. "He’s a great passer, as his records obviously show. He’s going to get his yards, he’s going to score some touchdowns on you. But if you just stay in your head, keep focused, and settle down, you can concentrate on making the push to stop him when you really need to."

"Basically, we disguised our coverages," Owl rover Terry Holley said. "We ran basic coverages and just tried to move around a little and confuse them at the snap."

Defensive front  turned in another impressive showing

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William Wood gets his hands up to attempt deflection of Chang pass

At the same time, Rice’s defensive front once again turned in an impressive performance, holding the Warrior rushing game to 7 yards in 13 attempts, while picking up five crucial sacks, all of which turned out to be drive-killers.

George Chukwu succintly pointed out the basic strategy employed by the Rice DL to hold in check what is, according to the stat books, the most prolific passing game in college football.

"What we did, was we stayed low – and we got off our blocks," he told us, surrounded by beaming family and friends. "You know, we showed them a little different look with the three-man rush by the front line, and we were just able to dominate the game from that scheme. We got into our gaps, and pursued the quarterback." 

The Owls didn't blitz as often as they did against the University of Houston, emphasizing, rather, a three-man rush by a rotating front four, with outstanding pressure being applied by DE’s John Syptak and Thadis Pegues, who together were credited with four of Rice’s five sacks on the night.

The Big Guys on the Rice defensive front were obviously having a good time out on the field – well, except for a few moments early in the fourth quarter. But they recovered smartly.

The final blow was struck by the Owl defenders after Rice had taken a 34-29 lead with 5:16 to play. Chad Price began the festivities by snuffing out the Hawaii kickoff return man at the 10. Then, on third and three from the 17, Chang tried a jailbreak screen that stayed firmly under lock and key, thanks to Buck Casson with assistance, once again, from Price.

The pumped Owl defense had been lifted by the offensive heroics of Greg Henderson the previous drive, capped by the exhortations of secondary coach Barney Farrar on the sideline.

Rice then went 80 yards in 12 plays to take the lead for good. Greg got 33 of those on a broken-field keeper that swept to the Hawaii 38. From there, Henderson and Ed Bailey took turns. But what was perhaps the strangest Rice offensive play of the season helped things along a bit.

Facing second and 12 from the Rice 19, Greg rolled right when the ball mysteriously squirted from his grasp. The loose pigskin bounced among several Rice and Hawaii players like a pinball racking up points, until the trailing back, Clint Hatfield, covered the ball at the Hawaii six yard line.

That made it first and goal, Rice, and, two plays later, Greg optioned left, cut back off tackle, and lept into the end zone, pumping his fists as if in a sense of redemption, as he bounced up from the turf.

"We just put a great couple of drives together to come down and win the game," Greg told us, as the post-game fireworks display unfolded. "You know, it’s a championship drive (‘BOOM!’) and that’s what we were telling ourselves (‘POW!’), when we started on it."

"We had a lucky break or two toward the end, but that evened things out – and we ended up getting the win."

After the Owl defense’s ensuing heroics, the Rice started started again with a short field at the Hawaii 43 after UH’s Kurt Milne, under a heavy rush, punted for only 19 yards.

The clock said 3:41 at that point, but the Owls were not content merely to sit on the ball. Not when they had Ed Bailey to tote the mail.

Ed took four straight handoffs and put the Owls at the lip of the cup once again, his main thrust going for 20 yards to the Hawaii 12 on second and 13.

The punch-drunk Hawaii defense burned its last timeout with 1:32 left, but that just allowed Rice to regroup, as, on third and goal from the four yard line, Greg swept left, cut, and crossed the goal for his third time of the day, once again stamping feet and thrusting out his fists in relief.

But before all those later heroics, when Hawaii had taken a 29-28 lead with 10:12 left in the game, ‘fess up – how many of you Owl fans out thought, "here we go again"?

Owls could've easily folded tents -- but didn't

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Scott Mayhew greets Joe Wood in end zone after Joe's TD catch

At that point, Hawaii led despite a creditable effort by an ostensibly superior Rice team. But fumbleitis and a  strange call or two by the officials put the Owls in a position that would have caused many a previous Rice outfit to fold its cards.

Six times the Rice offense left the pill on the floor. Fortunately, on four of those six occasions, Rice offensive players were able to fall on it.

Indeed, it appeared the Hawaii defense was more interested in trying to play strip-the-ball than they were in making sound, sure tackles, for – credit the Rice ball carriers or no--  the Warrior defensive unit missed more than its share.

When the shoe was on the other foot in the second quarter, and Rice defenders forced a fumble that Andray Downs alertly scooped up and ran into the end zone, however, the gendarmes whistled the play dead.  Television replays clearly showed the ball had been fumbled, and that the Owlsl should've been awarded six points on that one.

But for Rice in the second half, two consecutive lost fumbles which terminated promising offensive drives turned what was developing as a going-away win into a near-disaster.

With a 28-19 lead and under three minutes to go in the third, the Owls were driving for a stake-in- the-heart touchdown. On second and four from the UH 32, Marcus Rucker took the handoff and powered  inside, but after a seven-yard gain, some Hawaii chap wrested the ball loose and the Warrior’s Kenny Patton fell on it to stifle the drive.

After an exchange of possessions, the Owl defense appeared to have Chang & Co. mired in its own territory. But on third and five from the Hawaii thirty, Chang zipped a 31-yard completion to Ross Dickerson, and the very next play, hit Michael Brewster on a short down-and-in across the middle where he picked up a seam and took the ball to the paint.

Next possession, the Owls turned the ball over again at the Rice 39 when Clint Hatfield, looking hale and hearty but a little rusty around the edges, couldn’t quite handle to Greg Henderson pitch that was slightly behind him. (Of course, that set up for Junior the redemptive act of making the drive-saving recovery a few moments later.)

In response, the Rice defense would hardly bend, much less break, but an untimely personal foul put the Warriors within field goal range and Justin Ayat put them ahead with a 25-yarder with ten minutes to go. 

Final score didn't show exent of Rice dominatiion

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George Chukwu has his eyes  on a sack

One could go back and count the ways why it never should have gotten to that point, and why the Owls should’ve never trailed by even one tick a team that they fairly well dominated on both sides of the ball all evening.

Reason number one: The Owls scored on long drives the first three times they got their hands on the ball, to take a 21-7 second-quarter lead. Sure, the Warriors had opened the scoring with a 90-yard drive of their own. But the Rice defense completely stifled the Warriors on their next three possessions, while the offense got cranked up in a way much more mindful of last November than two weeks ago at Reliant.

Highlights included the opening Owl drive, when, after eight straight running plays took the Owls from their own 17 to the Hawaii 30, the Hawaii defenders fell for Greg’s play-action pass and Rice tight end Joe Wood was 20 yards in the clear at the ten yard line when he wrapped up the ball and waltzed in for the score.

"That was just was just awesome," Joe said, of his wide-open TD reception, the third such of his career. "We’d been practicing all week. We planned to run it, and it worked out just like it did in practice. Couldn’t have been any easier for me – it wasn’t like I didn’t expect it."

It was clear from the onset that the Rice offensive line was getting the better of the Warrior DL, and in fact the Owl offensive line charge was as good as it’s been in several years.

First-time starter Rolf Krueger said it was simple. "It felt great to be able to out there and push some people around," he grinned. "We felt like we were better prepared. Big Greg (Wilson) and (Scott) Mayhew both did a great job

"We felt like they were on their heels a lot in the first half," said ‘Big Greg.’  "But in the second half they brought the linebackers up a little more and they gave us problems. We adjusted and played to our strength."

But Scott Mayhew told us afterwards that the heart and drive of Rice’s undersized fullback had just a little bit to do with his success on the day. "The fullback did awesome, man," he said. "We finally clicked up front the way we’ve always known we can. But Ed fought for, what, two-hundred-something yards; I mean that’s just awesome."

After a big John Syptak sack helped the Warriors to a feeble three-and-out, the Owl offense cranked up again, the Owls took it all the way on the ground, going 60 yards in eight plays, the last 17 coming on an Ed Bailey smash up the middle.

Next Hawaii possesion resulted in another 1-2-3-kick, this time courtesy a key sack of Timmy Chang by Thadis Pegues on first and 10 from the UH 22.

This time, setting up 59 yards away after Lance Byrd returned the punt as far as the Rice 41, the Owls got as far as the Hawaii 14 in four plays before finally sputtering for the first time all evening, as UH linebackers shot the gaps to disrupt the flow. But on third and 17, Henderson dropped back to pass and Joe Moore found a tiny crease between two Hawaii defenders, deep in the end zone.

That was all he needed, as he made a thread-the-needle catch for the touchdown – and when was the last time you saw the Owls do something like that?

Hawaii got back in game, took lead -- but faded

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Ed Bailey shakes off Hawaii defender and rolls for some more

Rice defenders couldn’t keep Chang down all night, however, and he brought Hawaii back to within a touchdown with a 66-yard drive, all but three of those yards coming through the air, to make it 21-13 four minutes deep into the second quarter.

That was a lot of action in 20 minutes, so the Rice offensive machine decided to grind it a little more slowly, next time out. When Rice set up, second and two from the Hawaii four yard line, it looked as if the Owls would go all the way for the fourth straight possession.

Hawaii gambled on defense, and it worked. While the UH defensive front never made any particular headway all night against the line charge of the Rice OL, a stunting 'backer or two did serve to mess up a handful of plays in the Owl backfield. Still, on fourth and five from the Hawaii seven, it looked as if it were time for a chip-shot field goal.

But for some reason the Rice sideline hesitated, and the play – and the field goal team – were late getting in. A Brennan Landry try from 24 yards out went squarely through the uprights, but unfortunately the kick took place a second or two after the 25-second clock expired. Then, on Take 2 from the 29-yard line, the Owl placekicker shanked one, wide right, and the Owl drive went frittered away.

That’s the way the teams went into the dressing rooms at the half, in any event, and hopes nevertheless ran high, as the Rice offense had never once really been stopped, and the Flock was getting the ball to start the third quarter.

Remember that Hatfield axiom about the first possession of the second half’s being the most important one of the game? Well, judged by this contest, it doesn’t hold much water.

For on the opening drive of the third quarter, the Owls came out in a broken ‘bone and went absolutely nowhere, twice in a row – really, for the only time the entire evening.

Rice’s flubbed lines in this opening scene included a false start, a delay-of-game penalty, and Drew Clardy’s only high snap of his career (that was nevertheless snagged, barely, by Jared Scruggs who then managed to get off a 19-yard punt in the only Rice punt try necessitated by this should've-been- one-sided game).

"They did a better job in the second half because they'd seen us running the plays over and over, and not just their scout team," Coach Hatfield explained afterwards.

In any event, that flub let Hawaii get back into the game, as Chang and his receivers managed to piece together a 41-yard drive that brought them back to within 21-19, five minutes deep into the third quarter.

Things began to look even worse the ensuing possession when the Owls subsequently sputtered again, facing third and 13 at the Rice 17. This time, a play action pass pitted recently-healed Owl pass-catcher Marcus Battle against Hawaii DB Abraham Eliminian. Although the Hawaii back did everything but take a tire tool to Marcus, heading downfield, the ace Rice receiver hauled in a one-handed catch 55 yards downfield – and that broke the momentary spell.

Forget the 15-yard interference penalty – the Owls were now in business at the Hawaii 28, and that huge reception rocked back the UH defenders just enough to allow the Rice ground game to start anew.

From there, it was Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, and, oops, Henderson in for the score from five yards out.

That made it 28-19, Owls, and should have begun a second half rout, would it not have been for two untimely fumbles. Oh, well, let's not get greedy.

The victory was Rice's fifth straight, the Owls' longest winning streak since the 1953-54 teams won six consecutive games. Rice has started the season 2-0 for the first time since 2001.

And next week?  Let's just cross that bridge when we come to it.

Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor

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Hawaii had 56 passing plays (counting the sacks).  How many holding calls?   Zero.


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going-away present

Bout will feature Rice
defense, Hawaii offense

HOUSTON (Sept. 17) – The Rice Owls take on the Hawaii Warriors at Rice Stadium Saturday, 7:00 p.m., in what may comprise the curtain-call for the brief, but competitive series between the two teams.

The Owls have won three out of the five contests that have taken place between the two schools since Rice saw its membership in the formerly 16-team WAC become truncated in ‘98, thus necessitating a yearly series with a school that’s literally half a world away.

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Owlook

Two of those wins were gained by the Flock in the islands, one of them a 38-19 laugher in ‘99 but the other a 27-24 come-from-behind thriller the next year.

Hawaii has won the last two bouts, however, and the Owls are bent on returning the favor with a going-away present as they depart the WAC next year for a more regionally-rational Conference USA.

"It's been an exciting game every time we've played them," Rice head coach Ken Hatfield allowed, "and I look for this one to be the same way."

Last year wasn’t a particularly memorable effort by the Owls, however. In a game in which the Rice defense scored two touchdowns, and in which the Owls had the chance to take a lead early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors wound up winning going away, 41-21.

"We blocked a kick, Brandon Boyd returns a fumble back, a lot of big things happened," Coach Hatfield recalled. "But we lost."

"We hope to play better than we have," the Hat said. "We have played in a catch-up role, almost every time we’ve played them. We’ve played well at times, but last year we didn’t. We got behind, yet we came back with a chance to go ahead, really, in the fourth quarter. I just hope that, offensively, we can hit on a few more cylinders than we did in the opening ball game."

Hawaii’s full-throttle offensive attack begins with senior quarterback Timmy Chang. Chang was actually mentioned as a possible Heisman candidate, before the season started. But the Warriors stubbed their toes at home against 1AA Florida Atlantic in the season opener, and such talk immediately subsided.

Nevertheless, the Waipahu, Oahu, native is 2,218 yards from breaking former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer's all-time NCAA passing record of 15,031 yards, and with any kind of season this year, he stands to break it.

Chang and the 10 returning starters on offense, hope to rebound this week and return to national status having averaged 488.1 yards of total offense (1st in the WAC, 6th nationally) a year ago.

Will it be 'run and shoot' -- or  'chuck and duck'?

The basis for that offensive production comes from the fertile imagination of Warrior head coach June Jones, who, along with former Houston coach John Jenkins is credited with developing the ‘run and shoot’ – sometimes derisively called the ‘chuck and duck’ – offense.

The Warriors run a complicated offensive set, for sure – but it’s no more complicated than the one the Rice defensive unit managed to stymie in a 10-7 win over cross-time rival the University of Houston, in the Owls’ season opener.

"You've got to spread out and cover a lot of people," Coach Hatfield, speaking of this week’s opponents’ approach to the offensive game. "Unfortunately, in playing Hawaii, Timmy Chang does such a great job. A couple of years ago, we focused so much on Timmy, you may remember, they came in and ran the ball really well. They beat us running the football. We're probably the only ones they really ran the ball on much that year."

"The biggest challenge is being able to play both the running game that goes with the great passing and the explosiveness that they have. Hopefully, we've played each other enough and coached against them a long time, so I don't expect a lot of surprises in the game from either side."

Speaking of the running game, the Warriors bring to the table a big ol’ boy to carry the football for them. His name is West Keli’ikipi, and he totes the scales at 6 foot, 270 pounds. The native islander (is it a no-no to say that? No harm meant) averaged 6.7 yards per carry last season, and he’s got last year’s entire offensive line returning, to protect the little fella.

So the Rice defense will pretty much have to ‘play it straight’ and not completely ignore the run in favor of the pass.

"You just have to be able to lock arms and get people to the ground," Coach Hatfield told reporters. " A lot of people butt tackle and try to hit people so hard, they forget about the fundamentals. If you do that, you're not as good as you can be."

"(Hawaii) is explosive on every down – it’s not just early in the ball game. They can score from just about anyplace. They’ll run the same offense from their one-yard line coming out, to your one-yard line going in."

"The real key will be to tackle well."

"Chad Owens is as good a receiver as there is in the country. With the receivers they have, we have to tackle good and get them on the ground."

Hawaii a little more green on defensive side

On defense, the islanders are little more on the green side, returning only three starters from last year’s Hawaii Bowl entrant.

"They do have some freshman in backup roles," Coach said, "but they’re playing a lot of people, they’re rolling a lot of people. But, you know, the two interior defensive tackles weight 324 and 299 – so they’re not exactly tiny. You know they’re pretty stout." 

One key to be on the lookout for, the Rice mentor said, is who wins the turnover game.

"The biggest fundamental thing that you have to do is get a turnover," he proclaimed. "It makes a difference in our game, because the people are so proficient that, when you get a chance to come up with the ball, if the ball’s on the ground; if you get an oskie or a tip-off, you’ve got to come down with the ball."

"Too many folks – you watch and see – miss an opportunity to get a turnover, and that eventually turns out to be the difference in the ball game."

"People are so proficient offensively, so when you get a chance to come up with the ball, you have got to come down with the ball. When people miss an opportunity to get a turnover, that eventually will be the difference in the game. We've got to work on that: we can't just knock the ball down, we have to come up with it."

Both teams had an off-date last weekend, so both of them should have had plenty of time to work on each others’ tendencies. Hawaii has a few walking wounded, among them Justin Ayat (groin injury), the team’s first-string place-kicker; starting right slotback Se'e Poumele (stretched nerve in right hamstring), and the aforementioned Keli'ikipi (surgically repaired left knee).

But head coach June Jones swears they’ll all be fit and ready to play on Saturday.

The Owls, meanwhile, stand to be without the services of their top two running backs, as both junior Thomas Lott and soph Quinton Smith likely will be on the shelf with nagging injuries. OL Ross Huebel is also a definite ‘maybe.’

But the defense appears to be intact. And, no doubt, the defense, once again this week, will be the key to success for the Boys from the Institute.

Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor


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‘No issues with Hawaii’
Warriors good sports, but Owl OL wants
to hit a few, anyway -- all in good fun

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"When we got going last year, a lot of the defenses that were playing us actually started getting frustrated"

 

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"Especially against a quarterback like Chang, you definitely want to hold the ball as long as possible and keep it out of his hands, you know  – keep his minutes down as much as you can"

HOUSTON (Sept. 15) – The five previous bouts between the Rice Owls and the Hawaii Warriors have been hard-fought, close contests in which the Feathered Flock has more than held its own, regardless of the venue.

That’s why veteran Rice offensive tackle Scott Mayhew said he was so surprised at the, er, rather improvised ending to the Hawaii Bowl game last December that wound up with Houston Cougars and Hawaii Warriors appearing to use helmets as cudgels and chase each other all over the field en route to the locker room.

"We have no issues with Hawaii," Scott told gathered sportswriters earlier this week.  "Every time we’ve played against Hawaii, they’ve been gentlemen, sportsmen – you know, they just play a clean, tough game. The situation in the U of H bowl game came as a complete surprise to me."

But that doesn’t mean the senior from Nederland doesn’t want to get in a few timely blows himself, when the Owls meet the gang from the Islands on the Rice Stadium turf at 7 p.m. Saturday.

All within the Marquis of Queensbury rules, of course.

"It’s always fun just hitting somebody," he said with a grin. "I mean, that’s the reason you play offensive line, because you like to hit people. It’s pretty much fun if you can do that almost every play. It’s nice to pass once in a while, pass block and take a break – but it always feels good to hit somebody, even if it’s under controlled conditions and with pads on."

Scott and his cohorts on the Rice offensive front apparently did a bang-up job of that, for the last five or six games of the season in ‘03 – if the gaudy rushing stats of the Rice backfield were any indication.

"When we got going last year, a lot of the defenses that were playing us actually started getting frustrated," he said. "When we kept getting first downs, kept ripping off five-yard, ten-yard gains almost every play – that tends to really frustrate a defense. So that’s a position we like to be in. It can really work a lot in our favor."

Rice's offense sputtered in season- opening win

Despite Rice’s stirring win over the University of Houston in the season opener Sept. 5, the Owl offense wasn’t quite able to get that steamroller moving the way it did last November. On the day, Rice’s offense was limited to only 191 total yards in a 10-7 win.

"I mean it wasn’t all mistakes, you know – give U of H some credit," Scott emphasized. "They came out with an awesome defensive scheme. They played great, defensively."

"It was a little disappointing that we didn’t get more point production our of our effort the first week," he added. "But that just made us rededicate ourselves, this past bye week, to work really hard – and we’re really looking forward to coming out and showing what we can do on our home turf."

Hawaii is known for its high-powered offense, but head coach June Junes actually has built a solid defense that’s tough to move the ball against, Rice’s lead ‘road grader’ said. "Last year against them, we only scored one touchdown offensively," he reminded his questioners. "They do have eight new guys on defense, but they can’t be underestimated at all – they have a great defense."

Stoked by the win over Houston, it was with a slight sense of frustration that Scott and his compadres on the offensive line waited out the two-week run to game two, he said. Nevertheless, the timing wasn’t all that bad.

"Usually, we don’t like bye weeks, but this time around we had a couple of injuries on the offensive line," he said, "and it was nice to have the extra week to let some of these guys try and get healed up. So the bye week was actually good for the offense."

Scott added he hasn’t a clue whether his fellow lineman, Ross Huebel, who was injured in the Houston game, will be ready to play on Saturday. "I can’t speak for everybody," he noted.

Key to the game:  hold on to the ball

Regardless who’s out there for the Owls, the assignment is clear – hold on to the ball and win the time- of- possession game.

"We, as the offensive line, just want to go out there and dominate the line of scrimmage," the mechanical engineering major said. "Because if we do that, we’re going to have success on the short running plays. Then we’re able to hold onto the ball longer – and that’s going to be critical in this game, to keep the ball out of (Timmy) Chang’s hands.

"Especially against a quarterback like Chang, you definitely want to hold the ball as long as possible and keep it out of his hands, you know – keep his minutes down as much as you can. I’d expect that to be a huge factor in this game – our ability to hold on to the ball."

"We have the potential on offense to do great this weekend – we just need to come out firing on all cylinders, hold onto to the ball and just run the clock."

To come out with a win, and be 2-and-0, 1-and-0 in conference, going into the Texas game would be a great start toward making the ‘04 season one for the record books, Scott concluded.

"It would be huge to beat Hawaii."


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"In the Houston game, we saw a lot of things that did work for us. Now, I think we've got to build on it"

 

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"If you just say, ‘well, we won the ball game – we’ll go out there and do the same things this week and win again’, it’s not gonna work"

 

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"That's what can happen right away, when you play that first game. Nobody is real sure what's going to happen, how a lot of players are going to play. After that, you can do a lot of coaching"

Bye week over,
time to focus
on a different UH

HOUSTON (Sept. 14) --  Rice head coach Ken Hatfield said he took a busman’s holiday over the Owls’ open-date weekend, watching what he said seemed like ‘hundreds’ of college and pro football games on TV. Not that it’s especially time to relax for the Rice mentor and his charges, for an extremely important contest looms at 7 p.m. Saturday in Rice Stadium when the Feathered Flock opens conference play with a battle against the Hawaii Warriors.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing like an exciting first-game win over one’s cross-town rivals to get the confidence level up . This Hawaii game is an important one. But, the Rice mentor told press,  you’ve got to shrug off what happened a week ago, win or lose, relax while you can  -- and take up the next opponent, single-mindedly,  one at a time.

"Anytime you win a game, especially a game like this against Houston, there's a lot of confidence built up," Coach Hatfield said at his Monday briefing. "But now, I told them, there's nothing on the bulletin board about Houston. That game was forgotten last week, on Thursday when we finished practice."

"Now the thing is to get on in and focus exclusively on Hawaii. But I think, in the Houston game, we saw a lot of things that did work for us. Now, I think we've got to build on it."

One thing’s for sure. There’ll be no resting on one’s laurels – or on one’s posteriors – for this Rice squad, going into the home-stadium opener.

"The real key for us is to take the approach, as for the mistakes we made in the Houston game, of really being diligent, and trying to improve," Coach cautioned. "If you just say, ‘well, we won the ball game – we’ll go out there and do the same things this week and win again’, it’s not gonna work. It’s not the same team that shows up from week to week. We have to start with the approach that we have to go out and earn the win, find a way to beat Hawaii. That's the whole key and that's where your senior leadership comes into play."

"People need to understand that, when things are good, they’re not quite as good as they seem; and when they’re bad, they’re not quite as bad as they seem."

Injury situation a question mark, Coach says

It seems the jury is still on out several, key players who were injured either during August drills or during the UH game. As deep as Rice is at the running back spot, Rice coaches may be looking for volunteers this week to plug the gaps left by the injuries of Thomas Lott and Quinton Smith.

"I'm not sure about Thomas Lott, whether he'll be able to play," Coach said.  "Quinton Smith, who started our game (against Houston), will not play, I know for certain, this week."

Lott, who led the team in rushing last year and was second in the nation in yards-per-carry, didn’t even suit out for the UH game, suffering from what has variably been termed a nagging hamstring pull or some kind of hairline fracture. Coach penciled him in as a ‘maybe’ this week – but one suspects that may be done as more of a diversionary tactic than anything.

And last week’s starter at the running back spot, Quinton Smith, is also out for the Hawaii game.

That leaves highly-regarded soph Marcus Rucker as the presumptive starter. Backing him up are two redshirts, Bio Bilaye-Benibo and Marcus "Bubba" Heard.. And don’t be surprised if a man or two is borrowed from the blocking back position, as well. Our guess: look for Mike Falco to get more than a few touches on Saturday. This could be his chance to shine.

"Hopefully, we'll get one or two guys back that we have not had because of injury," Coach said. "I do not know the status right now of Marcus Battle.. Some of the other guys, we'll just have to be on a wait-and-see."

Florida Atlantic's surprise win over Hawaii an object lesson

Coach Hatfield spoke a bit about Florida Atlantic's upset win over Hawaii in overtime, in Hawaii’s home opener Sept. 4. "It was not a surprise, watching the ball game," he said. " I knew some of the players Florida Atlantic had and the way they play. They still turned the ball over, but I mean they came up with one play, as it turned out, on fourth down and 11, the guy just makes a great, great throw. And then all of a sudden the let a guy come right up the middle on the extra point."

"And then they went into overtime and ran the ball well."

The third team in Division One to be called the Owls (after Rice and Temple) , FAU is coached by old pro Howard Schnellenberger, who knows how to win -- and did so regularly at Miami and Louisville.

"FAU had a good, good running back but what else they had was a great receiver, who’s about 6-4. And I think they kept Hawaii off balance a little bit," Coach said.  "The running back made a lot of good efforts, too. But to be honest with you, there’s not a lot of carryover from the Florida Atlantic game, for them, in playing us."

"They were not awed by Hawaii. In an opening game, it's the toughest game for any team to play. You just need to look no farther than College Station, to see the way (Texas A&M) played against Utah and the way they came back in their second game here, and manhandled a Wyoming team that had scored 53 points the week before."

"That's what can happen right away, when you play that first game. Nobody is real sure what's going to happen, how a lot of players are going to play. After that, you can do a lot of coaching. I think that's what happened. (Hawaii coach) June (Jones) and them got caught on the short end of one play at the end of the game. Even in the Texas game – one play makes a difference there, because otherwise, it would have been a big victory for Arkansas."

Rice’s seniors have learned those kind of lessons – mostly the hard way. So the Rice mentor expects them to have themselves and their underclassmen teammates ready to play on Saturday.

"I like our seniors," Coach said. "I know they know what they’re doing. They know how important this game is. And I expect our practices to reflect that this week."

--P.T.H.


Kicking game a big key
Hatfield 'couldn't be happier'
with Rice defensive effort

04uhslhat1vx.jpg (38551 bytes)
"When they see the score, they’ll remember the little things about the game that were really important to them"

HOUSTON (Sept. 9) – With the benefit of a couple of days’ worth of reflection, the magnitude of the Institute’s impressive, if not decisive, win over the University of Houston Sunday has not diminished in the mind’s eye of Rice head coach Ken Hatfield.

This win was a huge confidence-builder, he told us – not to mention being of possibly great importance when the bean counters add up the wins and losses at the tail end of the season to determine who’s going to get a bowl bid.

Well, Coach Hatfield didn’t tell us that last part; that would be putting the cart before the horse – but we knew he was thinking it.

"Any win’s a good win," Coach said, not unpredictably. "This one was an especially hard-fought win; we were just happy to be ahead at the end of the game."

How much sweeter it is, too, coming off the 48-14 loss to the Cougars a year ago.

"There’s no doubt about it," the Rice mentor quipped. "We know and respect Houston. We remem- bered the game very well last year. And all of the guys, the 18 seniors we have, were sure that all the younger guys knew about it, also. We were counting on them to do that."

Rice’s defensive coaches were running players on and off the field with considerable frequency during the U of H game, and that tack paid off in some impressive performances by second- and even third-unit men, Coach said.

"To be honest with you, I think the whole defensive unit performed extremely well," he said. But it was good to get some walking wounded back onto the field in time fo the season opener. That allowed the Rice staff to use its available depth on defense.

"It was good to get John Syptak back,for instance –he’d missed a lot of our two-a-days with a hamstring injury and we didn’t know if he’d even be able to get back," Coach Hatfield said. "And you know, Rob Daniel got back healthy – he’d also had a hamstring pulled during two-a-day period, and it was good for him to get back."

Every warm body helped; in fact, they all played well

"With us alternating a lot of people, it sure made things a lot better, and it gave us a chance to be a little bit fresher when we needed it, in that fourth quarter."

And the kudos litany went on from there..

"Courtney Gordon did a real fine job at defensive end; he’s been in a backup role. Also George Chukwu and William Wood, inside – both played well."

"We alternated a lot of people inside, with Jeremy Calahan and William. George provided great help for us in there."

Among the linebacking corps, starter Adam Herrin and redshirt squadman Steven Wood drew rave reviews. "Steven played well and also did a good job with all those guys who played on special teams. Steven is going to be an excellent player, at the inside linebacker. He’s already showed he can give us a lot of depth."

"There were so may difference makers," Coach added. "We had great leadership up front. Jeremy Calahan, one of our seniors, set the tempo. Adam Herrin, our starting linebacker, absolutely played his finest game since he’s been here. He was really ready, really prepared for this game and we were happy for him."

"And Terry Holley did a great job. I think our secondary did a tremendous job of not just giving up the big play, the kind that will kill you."

"We alternated our front. That was one big reason why we had great pressure on Kolb all night. And I think that was the difference in the game."

But the Rice coach attributed the most decisive role to a phase of the game which, in past years, has given him a case of the hives. "The thing that wound up making the difference in the end, I guarantee, is that we dominated the kicking game," he said. "Every kickoff, the punt team, the striker team, the field goal that we had to have; they didn’t get theirs – those were some big plays." 

Both DLs controlled line of scrimmage

Both defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage, Coach Hatfield said. And that meant for a close, low-scoring game, one in which the intensity of one’s defense is going to make all the difference.

"I couldn’t be happier with a defensive coaching staff and players that bought into a system," he said. "That’s a potent offense – and to hold them out of the end zone until nine seconds to go - - that’s as good a defensive effort as I’ve ever SEEN."

"We know the challenge ahead of us – to win the WAC. We start right away, our next game, with Hawaii. So we have a game with one of the teams picked in the top three of the league. We’ve got our work cut out for us."

"The good thing is, we’re off a week. So we have a chance to get everybody rested and go back to the drawing board. But we’ll go back with a little more confidence than what we mainly had before this game."

In sum, he concluded, his Owl squad just went out there and found a way to win the football game. "This Bayou Bucket – for those seniors, this Bucket score will always be engraved on that trophy – this game will always be remembered by them, and the great job that they did.," he said.

So what kind of celebrations go on with that Bayou Bucket trophy, then? Only quiet reflective ones that occur within every Rice player that took part, Coach said.

"The biggest thing about it is that they’ll put the score on it. I told the team we’ll have the Bucket in our office there– up in our coaches’ offices – where the players come by each and every day, throughout the year. So it gives them a chance to get to see it."

"And when they see the score, they’ll remember the little things about the game that were really important to them. When you have something tangible like that, something physical – the players enjoy seeing it; certainly it will mean great, fond memories for the senior group, forever."


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"Never, ever, EVER have I seen one like that one"

Greg says, Job One done,
now Owl offense can make
necessary adjustments

HOUSTON (Sept. 7) – Hey, Owl fans – want some more good news?

Beside being able to revel for an extra, off-week over the Feathered Flock’s stirring victory over cross-town rival University of Houston Sunday, we now hear from Rice’s field general he believes those first-game offensive jitters should be pretty much digested and dealt with,  when the Owls tee it up next against Hawaii two Saturdays from now.

That extra time, it seems,  will give the Rice offensive unit and its coaches crucial breathing room to work out the kinks that were shown on the turf of Reliant Stadium in Sunday's win.

Indeed, the Rice offensive unit never did seem to be able to get up a full head of steam during the season-opening victory, relying instead on what many believe to be the performance of the decade by Owl defenders, to bring home the bacon.

Rather, the Rice offense performed just well enough to win – and that’s all a wishbone offense is ever expected to do. "Put just enough points on the board," senior quarterback Greg Henderson told us outside the locker room, "and let our defense stop ‘em. That’s what we did today."

Rice head coach Ken Hatfield said he tends to agree – especially when a team gets unexpected new defensive looks thrown at them by a talented unit, combined with some key, early-game injuries to its ‘road grader’ offensive linemen.

"Both defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage," Coach Hatfield said, post-game. "Offensively, they had some darn good folks across us. They gave us some things that looked a little different and made it hard to adjust. We lose two starters the first three plays of the game. We are mixing and matching things up. That’s what happens in a game. That’s why we need everybody to play."

"Sometimes, because of the 25-second clock the way it was, we ended up running uphill into a couple of their strong defenses. And when that happens, you just don’t want to lose yardage; you don’t want to turn the ball over. When that happens, you just take your lumps, and don’t try to make too much happen out of it."

The Wichita Falls senior said he concurs with that assessment.

"You know, they threw us a lot of defensive  stuff that we weren’t expecting out there," he told us. "They were shifting a lot, and we weren’t just real ready for it, but we made enough adjustments to be able to get by."

On the day,  Greg  turned in a creditable, if not splashy, performance for the Owls against Houston,  rushing for a game-high 74 yards and completing   three of seven passes for 28 yards

"It hurt, losing our two offensive starters (Ross Huebel and Scott Mayhew), there, right at the beginning of the game. But we made adjustments, we bounced back. And Pitt (James Pitman) played good, and Cotey-Joe (Cswaykus) played really well when they came in there after the injuries."

But, no worries, mate.  Rice never has been much of an offensive showcase in the first game of the season. This time out was really no exception, but the Owls won in impressive fashion nonetheless, riding the back of a defensive performance that drew plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from fans.

Greg said that he’d never before been associated with such an overwhelming defensive effort – not in college, not in high school, not in Pop Warner. "No. Never, ever, EVER have I seen one like that one," he said. "However many sacks we got – it’s just amazing. Give credit to that defense – they played AWESOME; they played really well."

With Rice on offense, from the sidelines it looked as if, when Coog defenders got to the quarterback, they were in the backfield immediately so Greg didn’t have time for the option to develop. It was a gamble UH took that often times worked, but sometimes didn’t.

"Right. Sometimes we ran the other way and hit them for big plays," Greg noted. "Sometimes, you know, we ran the option right into it, and that’s just the chance we take, running the option. They had a great scheme for us and they executed it well; they stopped us, but good, more often than not. But we put enough offense on the board, just to win."

Now, to be able to maintain winning ways against Hawaii Saturday after next in Rice Stadium, the key is going to be improvement in execution, reads, and instantaneous reaction to new defensive looks. The Owl offense can get the job done, no doubt, Greg said. "We’ll be able to get a better look at what UH did on tape this week, and with the extra time, we’ll be able to do some things to correct our mistakes and just react better."

"I know we can do better than we did.  We can work at making adjustments."

"But no matter how hard we work  the next two weeks – you can bet we're going to enjoy it."

 

 

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