|'04 Rice - Nevada
Frosh quarterback reached
his comfort zone in a hurry
"The coaches felt that, if we could just keep our turnovers down, wed
have a good game against SMU and we did"
"I really make it a point to try and talk to each of them I want us to
be able to communicate; that helps things work out down the road"
"Now, its become more second nature, and Im just concentrating on
what I can do to help my team, any way I can"
HOUSTON (Oct. 11) For Joel Armstrong, the outcome was worth the
wait. In fact, it really wasnt all that much of a wait, when you get down to it.
The redshirt freshman quarterback from Longview earned the first start of his
collegiate career Saturday against SMU, when internal bruising caused Rice team sawbones
to hold starting senior QB Greg Henderson out of the game.
Joel had already shown what he could do a couple of weeks earlier, the very
first time he strode onto the field as a collegian. It was then, late in the Texas game
before 80,000-plus at Memorial Stadium, that he impressed friend and foe alike with a
sudden, 44-yard touchdown run. Thats as long a run the Texas defense has had pulled
against it all season.
Then last week in the Twilight Zone game against San Jose State, Joel came in
late to spell Greg again. That time, he was two for three, leading the Flock on two
touchdown drives, but coughing up the football one time.
That wasnt an acceptable performance, Joel said. And when word came that
hed gotten the starting nod against SMU, he knew the first thing he needed to focus
"My main goal was to eliminate turnovers," he said Monday. "That
was one thing Id been having a little problem with before, and the coaches felt
that, if we could just keep our turnovers down, wed have a good game against SMU
and we did."
Joels first carry from scrimmage against the Ponies resulted in a 61-yard
gain down the home sideline, setting up the Owls for a go-ahead touchdown that gave them a
lead they never relinquished.
"That was all the line," Joel said. "The blocking of the
offensive line made that play, I didnt."
In fact, if this were the pros, the young quarterback would be owing his OL a
collective steak dinner for the supporting performance they gave him and his fellow backs
"Oh, they really supported us," he said. "I really make it a
point to try and talk to each of them I want us to be able to communicate; that
helps things work out down the road. Yeah, but they seem to respond to me and to my style
of play; and they blocked just extremely well. Not only on that long run I had..."
So are you going to make sure you tell them that, he was asked.
"Oh, they already know that," he responded with a big grin.
Now, although its likely that Greg Henderson will be back in action come
Saturday at Reno, theres no doubt that hell have a capable backup whos
ready, willing and able, chomping the bit on the sideline. That amounts to a huge dividend
thats emerged from Joels performances in the past three weeks.
"It seemed that when I first went in there, my main concern was trying not
to make a mistake," Joel admitted. " I had to think about it too much. But now,
its become more second nature, and Im just concentrating on what I can do to
help my team, any way I can. Thats the big difference to me."
Its amazing what a 44-yard TD run against the University of Texas,
followed by two solid performances, the second of them in a starting role in a 44-10 home
win in which youre the leading ball carrier, can do to build confidence in
"Sure. Its given me confidence," Joel told us. "Coach being
willing to put me in, in a variety of situations, its built confidence. Like when I
got in late in the San Jose State game, it was anybodys ball game. So it was unlike
the situation in the Texas game, the week before. That was a different situation; you felt
there like the game was already out of reach. But against San Jose, I played at some
pressure points, and that really does help to build confidence."
So, say, if Gregs not ready for Nevada, or if Joe gets sent in Saturday
for whatever reason, this time its going to be just all in a days work for the
highly-recruited redshirt freshman out of perennial power Longview High School, long
considered a cradle of NFL stars.
"The scenarios are different, now, they are," Joel said. "In the
first couple of games, I was told to get ready, to prepare to play. But its hard to
stay in sync, mentally, when you know youre running behind the first teamers, and
youre not going to play unless something happens."
"But now, having been out there enough times to get a feel for things,
Im more into the game, at any given time. Having played helps me to be able to think
about whats going on out there in any given situation, and that helps keep me ready
to play; I know, then, that Im going to be able to help out the team."
After performing well before 83,000 on the road in Austin, the upcoming road
trip to Nevada, Navy and Tulsa doesnt seem quite so daunting especially since
the Owls were able to wash the San Jose game taste out of their mouths with the runaway
win over the Mustangs.
"That gave us something positive," Joel said, "something before
the road games to help you look forward to them. Were looking to win our first WAC
game on the road, and wed just come off a tough loss in San Jose. It just builds our
confidence to be able to travel after a win. We know that now, the next thing we have to
do is to be able to win on the road."
"We just wanted to make a statement"
"We just wanted to prove ourselves, after the performance we had against San
"All I do is try to find a crease and head up it. Now if I can just start
avoiding running into those kickers!"
"The talent level in WAC is such that we have to come ready to play, every
HOUSTON (Oct. 13) Rice safety Andray Downs has done double duty this
fall as both a force in the Rice defensive secondary and an exciting kickoff returner.
Hes currently number two on the team with 32 tackles; but, beyond that, hes
ranked number two in the WAC in kickoff returns, with three over 40 yards so far in
Rices first five games. His teammates would say that it stands to reason, because
Andray is very fast, and very sharp. He received all sorts of academic kudos before
graduating from Rowlett High in Garland, and Rice coaches were well aware of his speed and
quickness as a high schooler. As a redshirt sophomore, Andray's a returning starter at the
safety spot, but hes rapidly grown in savvy and leadership skills with every game he
gets under his belt this season. In that regarded, hes pretty much graduated from
the young guns group of Owl secondary men and taken his place more among the
senior leaders such as Terry Holley, Clifford Sparks and Raymorris Barnes. Andray spoke to
reporters earlier this week.
Q: Well, this week was a lot better than last week for the Rice secondary,
We just wanted to prove ourselves, after the performance we had against San Jose. That
game didnt show how well our secondary is capable of playing. We just wanted to make
a statement against SMU. Obviously, San Jose had good receivers, and good quarterback
play. But the talent level in WAC is such that we have to come ready to play, every game.
We know that we are going to have a challenge every week, so we just have to prove
ourselves every week.
Q: Playing with injuries is part of the game, but how much trouble is it for
you guys to have to rotate in and out and not necessarily be playing with the same crew
all the time?
Thats very important. We have to be able to rotate. Cliff (Sparks) is
actually playing a little bit of corner, as well, for instance. And I think at this point
in the season were somehow just going to have to get everybody back there healthy,
to give us the best chance to make a run for the WAC championship.
Q: Did the SMU game get you guys back to where you were, confidence-wise,
after the first two games of the season?
Well, definitely, it increased our confidence to have the kind of performance we
had against SMU. We dont want to say that the San Jose game was a fluke. But it was
a game that you really cant explain. To play in the secondary, you have to have no
conscience; you have to be able to play every game like there was no yesterday and
therell be no tomorrow. You have to forget about the past and thats
what we did, Saturday.
We have the leaders in Terry Holley and Cliff (Sparks). The more games we win,
the more the younger guys get their confidence up, as well. That helps a lot.
Q: You go into Nevada this week against a team thats got plenty of
talent at the receiver spot....
I havent had a chance to study the film from last year, yet, but we know
theyve got really good receivers, good speed. And so well have to come ready
Q: Like Hawaii, or like U of H?
Id say more a Hawaii-type offense than anything else. I dont think
well see anything quite like U of H for the rest of the season.
Q: Talk about returning kicks a little. How much of it is the guys in front
of you making lanes and how much of it is just your natural instinct, running to daylight?
Oh, definitely, I have to give it to my blockers, because without them, I
couldnt go anywhere. All I do is try to find a crease and head up it. Now if I can
just start avoiding running into those kickers!