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'04 Rice - Nevada week
Frosh quarterback reached
his comfort  zone in a hurry

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"The coaches felt that, if we could just keep our turnovers down, we’d have a good game against SMU – and we did"

 

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"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"

 

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"Now, it’s become more second nature, and I’m 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 wasn’t 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. That’s 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 wasn’t an acceptable performance, Joel said. And when word came that he’d gotten the starting nod against SMU, he knew the first thing he needed to focus on.

"My main goal was to eliminate turnovers," he said Monday. "That was one thing I’d been having a little problem with before, and the coaches felt that, if we could just keep our turnovers down, we’d have a good game against SMU – and we did."

Joel’s 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 didn’t."

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 against SMU.

"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 it’s likely that Greg Henderson will be back in action come Saturday at Reno, there’s no doubt that he’ll have a capable backup who’s ready, willing and able, chomping the bit on the sideline. That amounts to a huge dividend that’s emerged from Joel’s 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, it’s become more second nature, and I’m just concentrating on what I can do to help my team, any way I can. That’s the big difference to me."

It’s 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 you’re the leading ball carrier, can do to build confidence in one’s abilities.

"Sure. It’s given me confidence," Joel told us. "Coach being willing to put me in, in a variety of situations, it’s built confidence. Like when I got in late in the San Jose State game, it was anybody’s 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 Greg’s not ready for Nevada, or if Joe gets sent in Saturday for whatever reason, this time it’s going to be just all in a day’s 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 it’s hard to stay in sync, mentally, when you know you’re running behind the first teamers, and you’re not going to play unless something happens."

"But now, having been out there enough times to get a feel for things, I’m more into the game, at any given time. Having played helps me to be able to think about what’s going on out there in any given situation, and that helps keep me ready to play; I know, then, that I’m 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 doesn’t 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. We’re looking to win our first WAC game on the road, and we’d 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."

--P.T.H.


Interview:  Andray Downs
"We just wanted to make a statement"

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"We just wanted to prove ourselves, after the performance we had against San Jose"

 

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"All I do is try to find a crease and head up it. Now if I can just start avoiding running into those kickers!"

 

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"The talent level in WAC is such that we have to come ready to play, every game

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. He’s currently number two on the team with 32 tackles; but, beyond that, he’s ranked number two in the WAC in kickoff returns, with three over 40 yards so far in Rice’s 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 he’s rapidly grown in savvy and leadership skills with every game he gets under his belt this season. In that regarded, he’s 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, wasn’t it?

We just wanted to prove ourselves, after the performance we had against San Jose. That game didn’t 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?

That’s 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 we’re 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 don’t want to say that the San Jose game was a fluke. But it was a game that you really can’t 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 there’ll be no tomorrow. You have to forget about the past – and that’s 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 that’s got plenty of talent at the receiver spot....

I haven’t had a chance to study the film from last year, yet, but we know they’ve got really good receivers, good speed. And so we’ll have to come ready to play.

Q: Like Hawaii, or like U of H?

I’d say more a Hawaii-type offense than anything else. I don’t think we’ll 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 couldn’t 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!

 

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