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'04 Rice-UH week
   Rice 10, University of Houston 7
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Sterling defensive effort
leads Owls to huge win

Coogs' season comes crashing down before it starts


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Big George Chukwu stands over  vanquished UH quarterback

HOUSTON (Sept. 6) — The Rice Owls rode the backs of their defensive unit to a stunning, 10-7 win over the University of Houston here Sunday evening before 28,726 fans in Reliant Stadium,  leaving the blue half of them flushed red with ecstacy and the red side feeling mighty blue – in fact, pretty much black and blue all over.

And those were just the Coog fans in the stands.

The Rice win constituted a dramatic reversal from the 48-14 defeat that a befuddled, disorganized Owl team suffered last year in U of H Coach Art Briles’ debut. This time around, the Rice defense was anything but disorganized, as, on 32 out of 65 plays, it held the Cougars to zero yards or a loss, and kept the high-powered offensive attack out of the end zone until nine seconds were left on the scoreboard clock.

"Last year we had no clue what they were going to do," a giddy Owl defensive anchor, John Syptak, said afterwards. But not this time.

This time, "it was unbelievable. Everything clicked," added the junior defensive end, who led all Owl defenders with eight tackles and two sacks – though to observers it seemed as if he had many more than that. "We came out strong, and it was just beautiful."

Just how impressive was this Rice defensive unit’s performance?

"I’ve never, ever seen a defensive effort like that," Rice head coach Ken Hatfield said in a jubilant Owl locker room after the game. "I couldn’t have been prouder of our defensive unit of any I’ve ever been associated with. I thought they completely dominated the game."

Coach Hatfield heard no disagreement from UH head coach Art Briles, who saw the magic of his many-faceted offensive attack disappear like an amateurish sleight of hand before the Rice defensive onslaught.

"Last year when we played Rice, everything just kind of went our way," he admitted. "But we didn’t have things go our way this year – starting with the opening kickoff."

Owl defense demonstrated it was ready to play, from onsetf

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Rice QB Greg Henderson gets UH LB one-on-one

In fact, the opening kickoff – and the opening series in general – gave a strong hint of how the evening was going to play out, as the Owl kickoff team made something happen in a hurry.

After frosh kicker Luke Juist boomed a high floater right to the UH goal line, Owl defender Lance Byrd met Houston’s Ryan Gilbert at the 30 yard line with a crushing tackle, knocking the ball loose and then recovering the fumble himself.

The Owl offense thus opened up its shop doors with great field position, only to succumb to immediate, first-game jitters. You know the kind. You see it every year.

The U of H defensive strategy immediately became apparent, as they flooded the backfield with gap-shooting linemen and linebackers. When it worked, Greg usually was tackled behind the line for a loss before he had the slightest chance of getting the option in motion. When the Coogs guessed wrong, though, the result was at least modest success in the Rice running game.

Witness the first Rice possession. First play, Greg was sacked for loss of seven. Next play, he picked up nine. Then after the Coogs were flagged with a personal foul penalty, Greg scrambled for 13 yards to the UH 17. After Ed Bailey squeezed out three yards on first and ten, Greg got nailed in the backfield again, for a loss of eight.

"Sometimes we ran the other way and hit them for big plays," the senior Owl quarterback told us afterwards. "Sometimes, you know, we ran the option right into it. That’s just the chance we take, running the option."

The Owl offense wasn’t through sputtering, however, first picking up a false-start penalty on third and nine, and then losing possession and a chance at least to eke a field goal out of the turnover when Greg threw into double coverage in the end zone and UH’s Will Gulley intercepted.

Throughout the remainder of the first quarter, the ball stayed in UH’s end of the field, however, as the Rice offense couldn’t get untracked, while the UH offense was non-existent. The Coogs tallied exactly one first down in the first quarter of play, but the Rice offense couldn’t take advantage, even though benefitting from Houston’s offensive immobility and the block of a Coog punt  by Andrew Cates.

Two Rice field goal attempts were off the mark – first, Brennan Landry’s try from 43 yards out barely missing, wide left, and then distance kicker Luke Juist’s first FG try of his college career getting enough distance from 49 yards out, but hitting the goal post and bouncing away, no good.

That’s how the first quarter ended. It was 0-0, but Owls had had a chance to be up 13-0. Veteran Rice fans wondered just how badly those squandered opportunities were going to wind up haunting the Institute Boys later in the game, when the vaunted UH offense inevitably found itself.

Owls finally crank up offense in second quarter

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Mike Falco gets the pitch and threads the needle down the sideline

But the Rice defense was having none of that, extending the shutout for another quarter in emphatic fashion, while Henderson and Company finally were able to ease back on the choke and throttle up sufficiently to garner a 67-yard, nine-play touchdown drive.

Greg Henderson and Ed Bailey were the sole ball carriers on that series, with the highlight being Ed’s 25 yard rip to the Houston 33 – a run that almost broke for the distance.

Greg also had a nifty, 19-yard scramble that, on second and 11, took the Owls to the UH 15.   Five plays later, Bailey squirted across the pay station from two yards out, and Rice was up, 7-0.

The UH offense, in response, went nowhere fast, as Rice coaches began to run in second-unit defensive players who responded with alacrity, particularly Buck Casson at LB and George Chukwu in the defensive line, both of whom had key second-quarter tackles.

It looked for a split-second as if the Owls again would be able to set up deep in Cougar territory, when UH's Donnie Avery badly muffed a Jared Scruggs punt, but the Coogs' Bryant Brown was somehow able to wrest the loose football away from several converging Owl defenders.

Thereafter ensued the only significant offensive production of the half for the Coogs, as, on third and 17 from the Houston 33, Kolb connected to the self-same Donnie Avery for 19 yards and a first down, as a collective groan emitted from the Rice fans in the west stands.

After a 25-yard completion from Kolb to coach’s son Kendal Briles took Houston to the Rice 23, the Owl defense stiffened again, however. Kolb managed a completion on first down that went for a loss of two, thanks to Owl defender Lance Byrd. Two more passing attempts under a heavy rush fell harmlessly to the turf, and on fourth and 12 from the 25, the usually reliable Dustin Bell  had his 42-yard field goal attempt partially blocked by DeJaun Cooper.

Owls fly, flutter in opening third-quarter possession

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Syp comes on fast to cause Kolb more misery"

Rice, having lost the opening coin-toss, was to receive the second half kickoff, and Owl fans were remembering the adage about that first second-half possession’s being the most important of the game.

Spirits were lifted by a broken-field kickoff return by Andray Downs that carried 49 yards to mid-field. But on first and ten, that old first-game bugaboo again reared its head, as Greg Henderson made an errant pitch that was recovered by UH’s Ashley Subingsubing (no, you’re not seeing double) at the Rice 44.  Suddenly, things went from looking good to looking not-so-hot.

Yet again, however, the Rice defense was up to the task, pursuing UH quarterback Kolb with even greater fervor. "The real key to the game was disrupting the quarterback," Coach Hatfield said. "Kolb had to run a 40-yard sprint sideways sometimes and we really threw him out of rhythm."

First, Adam Herrin and Jeremy Calahan nailed UH’s Anthony Evans for no gain, and then Thadis Pegues stormed in to sack Kolb for a four-yard loss. On fourth and eight, then, at the Rice 42, Houston decided to gamble, and, just like the many Coog fans who were planning on picking up some easy winnings over the game’s three-point spread, failed in the effort, as Kolb, facing a fierce rush, had to run a 40-yard sprint sideways and finally throw the ball in the direction of nobody in particular.

It seemed as if that defensive stop made the statement that the Coog offense couldn’t avoid hearing. At that point, UH’s offense had garned a total of six harmless first downs, with under 60 yards total offense.  And, far from being worn out, the Owl defense, this time around bolstered by some solid backup layers, was as fresh as a daisy.

After an exchange of three-and-outs that portended yet another good field position, the Rice offense found itself setting up shop at its own 38, after a phantom hold was called on the punt return. Still, Henderson and Company once again dug deep to pick up a modicum of smash-mouth offense.

Two key plays on the ensuing drive involved, first, a seven-yard pass completion to Quinton Smith coming out of the backfield on third and six, and then a 23-yard scamper by Greg to the Coog 16 yard line. At that point, it looked like the machine was shaking off its first-game jitters, but, to credit the UH defenders, they once again rose up to keep the Owls out of the end zone.

Two straight shoot-the-gaps resulted in two- and five-yard losses for Greg, who never had the chance to get the option flowing in either case. Thus, a thirteen-yard completion to Ben Wiggins in the prettiest Owl pass route of the day, was insufficient to keep the drive alive, and the Flock, instead, opted to pick up the field goal on fourth and four from the UH 10.

Brennan Landry’s 27-yard attempt went squarely through the uprights, and Rice had a 10-0 lead, with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.

UH finally makes noise in fourth, but Owls rise to occasion

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"You're goin' down!" Thadis Pegues says to Kolb

The UH offense finally made some noise in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, however, as Kolb got found receivers open down the middle as the Rice linebackers converged to apply pressure. That pressure, however, resulted in another bog-down for the Coogs, even after a personal foul call against the Owls set them up at the Rice 28.

It was there that Thadis Pegues made another, key sack, nailing Kolb for a loss of nine on first and ten. UH got 14 of it back, the next play, Kolb going to Avery on the completion, but on a key third-and-five, Terry Holley came in on the safety blitz and shut down Kolb for a loss of two.

A makeable field goal try was missed, once again, by the Coogs’ Dustin Bell – this time, barely wide.

At that point, there was only 8:46 left on the scoreboard clock, so it was clear that if the Owl offense could just halfway play the possession game, the Flock was going to be home free with a victory.

But nothing ever seems to come all that easily for the Owls. The Rice offense succumbed to first- game swoons once again, assisted by some gambling UH defensive stunts that again thwarted the execution of the option. Rice had to punt out, and Houston had the ball at its own 31 with 7:55 remaining.

But how many times do we have to say it? The Rice defense once again met the challenge, Thadis Pegues knocking the ball away from a would-be receiver on first and ten, and then Chad Price coming in on the safety blitz to sack Kolb for a seven-yard loss.

So on third-and-22, Kolb threw up a ruptured duck about 25 yards downfield generally in the direction of the Rice bench. There, Terry Holley was playing right field, and made the interception diving for the ball just short of the sideline. When the Rice bench erupted, signaling ‘interception’, that was when the folks in the stands dressed in red started to make a bee line for the stadium exits.

Hey, folks -- Bailey did cross the plane

At that point, the Owls were able to crank up the grind-it-out possession game, and, if the truth be told, a more poetic result would have been that Ed Bailey’s desperate, fourth-down plunge for the end zone be signaled a TD, and Rice would have gone home a 17-0 winner. But, even though the undersized, but huge-hearted, Rice fullback appeared to have broken the plane, the refs were out of position to see the score, and, indecisively converging on the pileup, bought the UH defenders’ stealthy push-back of the ball to about a foot away from the goal line.

So Houston had the ball back at its own one-foot line with 2:44 left, still down only 10-0. There was still time for a miracle -- or a calamity, depending upon one's perspective.  And the Rice defense, having played in-your-face aggressively all evening, finally opted for playing the percentages and fell into at least somewhat of a prevent mode.

Consequently, instead of pushing the ball downfield, U of H dinged away with short passes and a run or two, and the clock ticked down to under a minute. Owls on the sideline readied an igloo full of gatorade for which to drench Coach Hatfield, but had to hold off on the coronation when Kolb went for 22 and 15 yard completions, and then, facing third and ten at the Rice 33, threw up a floater in the direction of the flag, where UH’s Vincent Marshall made an improble, falling-backwards catch that landed him out of bounds about a foot from the goal line. But the gendarmes awarded him a TD – guess maybe his loose chin strap brushed the flag or something.

Thus, though the Owls’ magnificent defensive effort was  slightly sullied by the loss of a shutout, there remained only nine seconds on the scoreboard clock. When the ensuing onside kick was  grabbed by sure-handed Andy Hall, the Boys from the Institute could begin celebrating. in earnest.

"That’s a potent offense," Coach Hatfield reminded his team afterwards, "and to hold them out of the end zone until nine seconds to go..." his voice trailed off in speechlessness.

"It seemed like we were dominating the whole time, but at any point,  they could have been in the game," DE John Syptak added. "We really tried not to let them get the big play."

Coach Hatfield had a ready response to Syp’s reflection. "That’s why you give it everything you’ve got, one play at a time," he said. "In a game like that, any one play could have turned the outcome around. If we’d had rested, just any one time – that score would’ve been the other way around. But we didn’t rest."

quot;That’s the heart of a champion."

Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter editor

Quick Notes

Rice (1-0, 0-0 WAC) won its fourth straight game with its 10-7 win over Houston to win the Bayou Bucket for the first time in three years…Rice coach Ken Hatfield is now 52-60-1 in his 11th season on South Main, and 165-122-4 in his 26th season as a college head coach. Hatfield is now 10-4 vs. Houston, 4-4 as the Rice coach... Rice's win breaks a two-game losing streak to the Cougars, but Houston still leads the all-time series by a 22-9 margin... Rice is enjoying its longest winning streak since a five-game run during the 1999 season. Rice also had a four-game winning steak in 2001... Next for the Owls is the 2004 Rice Stadium and Western Athletic Conference opener against Hawaii on Sept. 18 (7 pm).

Lagniappe:

• The 17 points in Sunday's game is the lowest total in Bayou Bucket history. Previously, the lowest total was 21 points in Houston's 21-0 victory in the first game for the Bucket in 1974.

• Rice is now 61-30-1 all-time in season openers, 5-6 under Ken Hatfield.

• Sunday's win was Ken Hatfield's 52nd as the Rice coach, equaling Phil Arbuckle (52-30-8 in 1912-17, 1919-23) for second place on the Owls' all-time list. The leader is Jess Neely with 144 wins during the 1940-66 seasons.

• This year’s Bucket game was Rice's second ever to be played on a Sunday. Previously, the Owls beat Texas 19-17 on Oct. 16, 1994.

• Sunday's game was Rice's third at Reliant Stadium. Rice is now 2-1 at Reliant. Previously in the stadium, the Owls beat Louisiana Tech 37-20 on Oct. 5, 2002, and lost to Texas 48-7 on Sept. 20, 2003.

• Rice was held scoreless in the first quarter Sunday afternoon, breaking a streak of 20 consecutive quarters in which the Owls have scored. The last quarter in which Rice had been held scoreless was the fourth in a 31-28 loss at Fresno State on Oct. 25, 2003.

Ed Bailey's 25-yard run in the second quarter was the longest of his Rice career. He had had 12-yard gains both as a sophomore and as a junior.

Andray Downs' 49-yard kickoff return to begin the second half was the longest by an Owl since Clint Hatfield's 78-yard return at Louisiana Tech in 2001.

Brennan Landry's extra-point in the second quarter was his 41st consecutive PAT. His last miss was as a freshman in 2002.

• Rice blocked two kicks Sunday afternoon. Andrew Cates got a hand on a UH punt, and DeJaun Cooper deflected a long Cougar field-goal attempt.

• Rice played most of Sunday's game without two starters in the offensive line. Center Ross Huebel (knee) and guard Micah Meador (shoulder) left the game in the first quarter. Neither player returned to the game, and their status for the Owls' Rice Stadium opener against Hawaii on Sept. 18 is to be determined. Cotey-Joe Cswaykus replaced Huebel and James Pitman replaced Meador. Also out Sunday were starting wide receiver Marcus Battle (back) and running back Thomas Lott (hip).


Season opener kicks off at Reliant
Owls hope to solve
UH offensive equation

04sammynshasta.jpg (52756 bytes)HOUSTON (Sept. 3) — The Owls and the Pussycats take to sea in a beautiful, pea-green stadium Saturday in the annual Administaff Bayou Bucket Classic marking the season opener for both Rice and the University of Houston.

After Houston humbled the Owls, 48-14, in last year’s Bucket clash in Robertson Stadium, Coog fans will likely settle for nothing less than a convincing blowout this year in Reliant, as evidence of adequate progress of Art Briles’ program as he enters his sophomore year as UH’s head coach.

Rice fans, on the other hand, will be looking, not necessarily for a win, but more importantly, evidence of little or no fall-off from the level of play the Feathered Flock exhibited in easily winning out the last three games of the ‘03 season.

So the pressure’s on the Cougar side, moreso than on the Blue and Grey, to come out with guns blazing.

"We didn't do very well against them last year," Rice head coach Ken Hatfield admitted, "so we hope we do better the second time around. I know that Art (UH Coach Briles) didn't have all of his offense in that he wanted in. This year, he's been able to expand some of his offense. We just have to be sound and able to adjust to anything new they may have."

Senior Rice cornerback Raymorris Barnes told us to expect the Rice secondary to do a lot better job of making adjustments to the varied looks of Houston’s offense.

"It’s a lot easier," he said, "especially after you’ve had a whole season of seeing their personnel; seeing the things that they do from the different formations; the type of plays that they run. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be seeing from them the exact, same type of offense this year. It only means that you are able to see pretty much who they are; what their base is, their foundation – that this is what they’re going to be coming out of, a lot. It’s easier because now you have in your mind the personnel that they have."

"Playing them last year, we had no idea. This year, we know who they’ve got out there – and pretty much what kind of tendencies they’ll have. Then we’ll just have to play hard and play fast. They’re no different than Texas; they’re no different than Hawaii – they’re just a football team. And we’re a football team. And we’re going to be ready to go out there and play our hardest."

Lott to sit out UH game

The Owls are reasonably healthy, but not completely so, going into Sunday’s game, which kicks off at Reliant Stadium at 4:00 p.m.  The squad avoided major, season-ending injuries to any of its players, but a nagging hamstring pull will sideline leading Owl rusher Thomas Lott for the UH game.

"The guy we're missing will be Thomas," said Coach Hatfield following Thursday's workout. "Here was a guy who averaged 7.3 yards per run last year, and that was big."

Quinton Smith will step in and take the starting role at the trailing halfback position, and he’ll be backed up by Marcus Rucker. Neither of those guys are exactly slouches. Q. picked up 142 yards rushing last year in his only start of the season, leading the Owls to a near upset of Fresno State on the road. Marcus came on strong at season’s end, as well, garnering over 300 yards rushing on the season and averaging just short of six yards a carry.

"It will give other people a chance to step up,"  Coach noted. "Quinton has done a great job and he's earned the right to start."

This season, the Cougars are reported to have amplified the wrinkles in their already-unusual and sophisticated offense. Last year, Houston ranked 12th in the nation in total offense (458.3 ypg) and rushing offense (215.5 ypg). The squad also boasted the 16th-best scoring offense (34.5 ppg), which produced seven games of 40-plus points. The Cougars were one of only six teams last year to have a 1,000-yard rusher (Anthony Evans), 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Middleton) and 3,000-yard passer (Kevin Kolb), and two of the three willl be on the field and playling Sunday.

If Kolb improves significantly over his performance last year, you may be looking at Heisman material. Last year, he broke every UH freshman passing mark en route to being the top- rated rookie quarterback in the nation.

"The thing that impressed me last year was his poise coming as a freshman," Coach Hatfield told reporters. "He was running a similar offense that he had run in high school. Art and his staff gave Kevin a lot of confidence and he responded. He did a tremendous job."

However, Kolb doesn’t have the experience in the offensive line backing he him like he did last year. Only two starters return from a year ago -- which may cause a problem in the team's complicated offensive set.

After all, they are Cougars.

Can Rice offense click in first game of season?

The key question for the Rice offense is, can it establish the run against a suspect Houston defense. The Owls typically have had trouble getting their option game untracked in the first game of the season, and the Coogs have been recently successful in shutting it down, at least partly, in recent years.

Last year, everybody ran on the Cougars except the Owls.  U of H ranked 103rd in rushing defense in NCAA Division 1A, at 208.7 yards per game. The Coogs return six starters this year, and the jury is very much out on the question of improvement. UH returns only two starters on the DL, but is more experienced at the linebacker and especially at secondary, where speed-burner Stanford Routt returns after earning All-America kudos in track this spring.

Rice brings a relatively experience squad, going into the game – considerably moreso than has been the case the past two seasons.

"We will have 18 seniors playing in the game this week, and all of them will play," Coach said. "We have good experience returning at every position. The only freshman that we definitely plan to play is Luke Juist, our kickoff man. We had about three 46-48 yard field goals in the scrimmage Saturday and he hit ‘em all. There's a place for him to play."

"Other than that everybody in the starting group played last year. Among our backups, we have about 20 that we redshirted last year. We are counting on them to provide good quality depth. The redshirt year helped them. They have good ability. That's been the real focus of two-a-days, for those players to gain enough confidence so they will be able to step in and help us right away."

Might the game be so close that it comes down to a long, last-minute field goal, requiring Rice coaches to choose between an experienced, but erratic veteran kicker, and the cannon-legged freshman?

Sayeth this old Owl:  'We'll take it.'

Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor

Interview:   Raymorris Barnes
'It begins this Sunday'

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Raymo has his game face on, against Texas last fall

HOUSTON (Sept. 2) – Raymorris Barnes needs little introduction to Rice fans. The D’Iberville, Mississippi fifth-year senior – he’s already received his BA degree and is enrolled in grad school – led the impressive cohort of student athletes who countered anti-athletics charges leveled by hostile faculty during the late spring athletics brou-ha-ha. Raymo’s rousing speech at a Rice Rally for Athletics was considered by many to be the high point in the fight – his articulate presentation and convincing argument augured well for the role of Division 1A football on the Rice campus. Now, Raymorris would like to place an exclamation point on his summer rhetorical campaign by making some big noises on the field, this fall. It would be great to pick up a league championship ring before graduating – but wait, this young man’s already graduated! He spoke to reporters Monday.

Q: Is everybody in shape to play?

Ever since the last game of last year, against Louisiana Tech, this team has been doing its best, preparing to be ready to play this season. The pre-season was pretty good; on a positive note, everyone pretty much stayed healthy. It’s the first year since I’ve been here – and I’m a fifth-year – that there weren’t any major injuries. No ACLs, no shoulders, or anything like that. Everyone pretty much is healthy, for the most part. We’ve put in a lot of time preparing ourselves, trying to get in shape, to give ourselves every opportunity to be ready, come Sunday afternoon.

Q: After what happened last year, is revenge on your minds?

You know, revenge makes it sound like you’re obsessing, like it’s the only thing you’re thinking about– just that one game. For this year, it’s not just about gaining an early revenge factor. It’s about us developing, getting better, finishing up strong, and getting the Western Athletic Conference championship. With the talk, this spring and summer, about football going away at Rice University, and then with the passage of Board approval endorsing Rice football and all athletics in general, now it’s up to us to show the community that we appreciate their support, and that we merit the kind of endorsement that the university administration has given us. So, to us, there wouldn’t be any greater good than for us to go out and have a successful, a great season. But to do so, we really have to start off ready to play the first game.

Q: Does anything in particular stick out in you mind, from last year’s UH game?

I remember being out there on the field, in utter shock and disbelief that this was actually happening. It was one of the worse nightmares you could imagine. I never imagined losing the game at all, really – and then to lose the game the way we lost it. It really stuck in my heart. I knew that wasn’t the Rice football team that I knew. It wasn’t until about five games later that that team actually came alive. It was once I saw the team start playing harder; once we all came together, and a lot of the younger guys stepped up and made big plays, that I was finally able to put the UH game over to the side, and start looking forward to playing each game coming up.

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Raymorris speaks to gathered crowd of Rice supporters at summer rally

Q: Did the UH offense take you off guard last year?

We did the best we could. We watched film – it was high school film. We didn’t have any college film; there wasn’t any. No matter who was going to be opening up with U of H, they were going to catch us off guard; the element of surprise would favor Houston. The main thing that was different was the speed of the game – it was a whole lot different than watching Stephenville High School. We can’t really say that the offense totally caught us by surprise; the speed of their offense is what caught us by surprise. On the high school films, we were watching it in slow motion. But, the thing is, no matter what kind of offense comes on out the field, the defense has no excuse – it should be prepared to adjust to anything, because that’s what playing defense is all about. You don’t know what kind of play they’re going to run. But you position yourself to gain every opportunity to make the play, when the time comes. Hopefully this year, we’ll be better prepared to go harder and faster. Then, no matter what they come out in – empty, or five in the backfield, it won’t matter – because we’ll just be trying to give ourselves the best opportunity to be ready to play.

Q: It’s a lot easier to have at least one game tape to look at, isn’t it?

It’s a lot easier, especially after you’ve had a whole season of seeing their personnel; seeing the things that they do from the different formations; the type of plays that they run. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be seeing from them the exact, same type of offense this year. It only means that you are able to see pretty much who they are; what their base is, their foundation – that this is what they’re going to be coming out of, a lot. It’s easier because now you have in your mind the personnel that they have. Playing them last year, we had no idea. This year, we know who they’ve got out there – and pretty much what kind of tendencies they’ll have. Then we’ll just have to play hard and play fast. They’re no different than Texas; they’re no different than Hawaii – they’re just a football team. And we’re a football team. And we’re going to be ready to go out there and play our hardest.

Q: Does their offense compare to any other you guys have faced?

Their offense is different; it’s unique, and I haven’t seen another offense like it. And of course you run across many different offenses, especially here in the WAC. If there was one that would be very similar, it would probably be Hawaii, because they throw the ball just about as much. The only difference is, Coach June Jones may come out with two wides, or a three-and-one, and it will stay that way. With Houston, they may come out with four on one side, motion three on the other side, ending up having five or six! That’s the only difference, it’s in the type of formations that they come out in. But as far as the extent of their passing game, it’s different on paper, but it’s pretty much the same to us, because in our league, the Western Athletic Conference, everyone throws the ball a lot. Except for us.

Q: UH comes in as a four-point favorite. Are you looking forward to the challenge of facing such a diverse offense?

Oh, yes, I’m very much looking forward to the challenge. We have a defense that we feel is fully able to make all the adjustments to different formations, to the different plays that they run. It’s a testament to the coaching, it’s a testament to your team’s discipline, to be able to accomplish the quick adjustments and be able to get into the right positions at the right time to be effective on defense. We’re looking forward to that, as a challenge to ourselves, to make sure that we’re ready to play. We’ve studied up, on our play book. We’ve gone over the proper checks, the proper audibles. Maybe it’s not so much a challenge specifically as to UH, but a challenge to ourselves, to make sure that we’re ready to play on Sunday.

Q: Have you been able to simulate UH’s offense with the scout team during fall practice?

I don’t think you can simulate it effectively. The best thing you can do is, by first looking at the footage, and then going out on the field and trying as much as you can to have down the responses you need to make as a defense, to the various plays, routes and positions that they run. I don’t even believe their offense is set up to run certain plays the same way every time – you get multiple outcomes from a single offensive set or formation. So the only thing you can do is study film, and do the techniques and the moves that you make, individually, as a defensive back. You make sure you do your reads properly. And when they come out, and they have four on one side and one on the other side, you’ve just got to rise above coaching and be a player.

It’s not so much that you can’t simulate it – it’s just that you’ve just got to be a player, at some point in the game.

If you play these three high-potency offenses at the beginning part of the season, what it does is really prepare you for the rest of the year. You feel like there aren’t any other kinds of offenses out there, that are going to catch you by surprise. When you play Navy, they run the option – well, we see that every day. We’ve got Houston, Hawaii – they throw the ball a lot. So when we play Tulsa, Nevada, we’ve already played against the prolific passing teams. Texas, on the other hand, is balanced with the run and the pass, and they can do both – just like Fresno State and Boise!

So I don’t think it’s a disadvantage; I think it’s actually an advantage to play these three offenses right here in the beginning part of the season. It gives us a chance to examine every nook and cranny of our defense, what’s working, what’s not working, what’ll bend, what’ll break. And then that should make us prepared to do everything we need to do, the last eight games of the season. But still, it makes things a whole lot easier, and it lends the team a lot more positive morale, and makes a big impact on the season, to start off on those first three games on a positive note. And it begins this Sunday, at four o’clock, when we tee it up against the University of Houston.

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Greg Henderson and Rice Quarterbacks Coach John Bland see something funny going on during workout on the turf

Interview: Greg Henderson
'Ready to see some red'

HOUSTON (Aug. 31) -- Greg Henderson is "the man" this year at man under for the Owls, and he goes through August workouts knowing that during the season he’ll get as many minutes and carry the ball as often as his diminutive stature, but sturdy makeup, allow. After showing an amazing resilience last year going sixty minutes in several games when starter Kyle Herm was on the bench with injuries, now Greg’s Iron Man stamina is going to be an essential ingredient for Rice’s on-field success this coming season. Greg's had a good fall practice -- especially in the passing department, coaches say.  And he told gathered media Monday that he can't wait to just get out there on the field and air it out.

Q: Could you give us a scouting report on your upcoming season opener with U of H?

Defensively, they’re very fast and athletic. You know, they really put it to us last year; we couldn’t move the ball very well against them. We had some big drives, but just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. So we’ve studied the game film; we’ve made our corrections. Now, we’re just ready to play, ready to get out there.

Q: What about their defense concerns you most – or just jumps out at you?

They’ve just got a lot of speed. They were the second-fastest defense we played last year, behind only Texas. They’ve got a really good defense; they’re really athletic. They slough off blocks really well; they’re good at shaking their blocks.

Q: What has it been like, knowing that this is your team?

It’s been exciting, I have to say. You walk around the locker room, or the weight room, or after practice - you can see that the other players are looking to you to be one of the leaders on the team. Everybody’s kind of looking at me for guidance, especially the younger players. So it’s fun and exciting. And it really makes me want to get out on the field. Ready to see some red, and other colors – instead of just blue out there.

Q: To what do you attribute the team’s late season success last year?

We had a really slow start last year, and that got some people down. But we got back to basics, just running the option; when we began having some success with it, it picked the team’s enthusiasm up a ton, and we just carried that over into the spring. Having that end-of-season run, like we did, we think gives us a better chance to have a good start this year.

Q: Has the team been giving any thoughts to the fact that this is Rice’s last year in the WAC?

Oh, sure. Rice is leaving the WAC; that’s it; you have to figure they’ll never be in the WAC again. So we want to go out on top; we want to be remembered as the last team ever to win the WAC. That’s our main goal for this season.

Q: How do you feel about the state of the team’s confidence going into the UH game – compared to your three previous years?

I feel really confident; we have a a lot of people coming back, offensively and defensively. Everybody’s just extremely excited about this game coming up. Me, too.

Q: Is it a good rivalry?

It is a good cross-town rivalry. We see those guys around town; we run into them – at the mall, or wherever. I think it’s a really good rivalry. I’ve enjoyed the games with UH a whole lot. Hope to enjoy this one.


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"I think we know, this time around, much more where we stand, going into the game"

 

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"They’re still mighty good. They gained an awful lot of confidence with the success they had last year."

 

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"On the defense, they can take two out of three of ‘em, but they can’t cover ‘em all

Season opener more
of a known quantity

Coach: Backup Armstrong
will play, QBs to go all out

HOUSTON (Aug. 28) – The Rice Owls’ season opener with the University of Houston looms eight days away, but head coach Ken Hatfield and his staff are entering this year’s Bayout Bucket tilt with much less of a sense of mystery than they unavoidably experienced in last year's ignominious 48-14 road loss to the Cougars, in UH coach Art Briles' maiden voyage as a college head coach.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. In last year's case, it was more a matter of unfamiliarity's breeding confusion

The Owls were befuddled by both the defensive and offensive sets that UH threw against them a year ago, but the Rice coaching staff plans on having its squad squared away and ready to go, this time out.

"I think it definitely makes it a lot easier to prepare," Coach Hatfield told media. Last year’s game was on-job training for the Coogs, and they adjusted well. But the Owls didn’t.

"Last year, Art said they didn’t have all their offense in for the first game, because he was still in the process of introducing it to a lot of their players."

Then, too, there was a little matter of the outstanding performance of UH’s unheralded freshamn quarterback, Kevin Kolb. "You didn’t know how good he was going to be, coming in as a freshman," Coach said. "But he was great. And he played the whole rest of the year like he did in our game."

It was a year which saw the Coogs win seven games and go to a bowl for the first time since '97.

"But the one good thing that comes out of their success," Coach Hatfield observed, "is that, in that kind of situation, you don’t change an awful lot. I think we know, this time around, much more where we stand, going into the game."

Still, UH offense is no less high-octane

That doesn’t make the job of prepping for the Coogs’ high-octane offense any easier, the Rice mentor warned. "It just is a big, difficult offense to prepare for," he said. "There’s a lot of different things they do, a lot of fun, new and innovative things that they run."

"Right now, we just know what their players have confidence in. Whereas last year, going into the game, we had no idea. And I don’t think they had any idea."

In retrospect, a couple of early mishaps really got the flow going against the Owls in last year’s operner, Coach said. "First were the two big punt returns they had against us early. In both cases, we outpunted our coverage. (Jared) Scruggs was a good kicker, we knew – but we didn’t know he was that  good. We outpunted our coverage. So they had two big punt returns."

"And then there was  pass to Middleton right down the middle of the field."

In same, Coach Hatfield was referring to a post pattern that Rice senior linebacker Jeff Vanover appeared to have well-covered, when he slipped and went down in the mud, leaving the UH receiver Brandon Middleton wide open for a 47-yard TD that gave Houston a 10-0 first-quarter lead.

"I think those were three big plays early, in the first half, that really took us out of the game," Coach Hatfield said.

And that doesn’t even mention the smashed ribs that Owl quarterback Kyle Herm suffered on the first series of downs. This year, Kyle is ably replaced at QB by veteran backup Greg Henderson. But that’s as far as the experience goes on the Rice depth chart. No other Rice quarterback has played a single college down of ball.

Yet, the skills and talent are there, Coach Hatfield said – and nothing will cause him to ease back on the role of the senior from Wichita Falls as an integral part of Rice’s offensive scheme.

"You can’t be any more careful," he said. "Because a lot of times, in the option offense, the defense dictates who they want with the ball. And so if you try to get where you’re a good, solid option team, you’ve got to get where its, fullback, halfback, quarterback – you don’t care."

"On the defense, they can take two out of three of ‘em, but they can’t cover ‘em all. You have to be ready to take whichever one they give you. That’s why you read the offense; you don’t block two key defenders, and so whichever one the defender takes, well, he can only hope that he made the right choice."

"But the running backs have got to be ready and the quarterback’s got to be ready."

Rice offense takes what it's given

Coach said he well remembered a couple years back when the Owls faced Colorado State in Rice Stadium. "They had just won the conference the year before," he recollected. "Well, Chad Richardson rushes for 197 yards in that ball game – because they kept giving him that one play, that little quarterback counter. They were playing a two-deep coverage and there wasn’t anyone pulling."

"So we just kept running it – until he got tired. Then we called time out, gave him some water, and told him to go back in there and run it again," he said, grinning.

And if your number one quarterback tires out or goes down, you put in your number two man – and you do so with confidence.

"With our offense, what we try to do is get people who are going to be ready to play from the minute they get here. You look back at the first year here, we played Chad Nelson; we had to play him. He had to come in when Josh LaRocca got hurt. And Chad, as a freshman quarterback, led us to a victory over Houston that allowed us to tie for the championship."

"Just the year prior to that, in the same Astrodome, he had championed Lewisville, when they’d won the state championship. So he was ready to play. He was confident; he had real ability. And he gave us a chance to win the championship."

"We’ve got guys like that now. Joel Armstrong, has redshirted – he knows our system. Two years ago he was the only quarterback we went after, that year. We knew his talent; we knew his abilities; we knew he was going to be good."

"We’ve got two freshmen coming in – Greg’s little brother, Tommy Henderson, is coming in along with Chase Clements. Those are two guys who we think can run and throw. And we’ll probably end up carrying one of those as a third-teamer. Hopefully we’ll be able to carry him all year; hopefully he won’t have to play, but still will be available."

Nope, the Rice Head Man said – he’s not going to change anything just because Greg is really the only experienced man at quarterback. "We will get Joel in there, as a backup, in the Houston game, quite a bit – because we do play a conference game early in the season, second week, with Hawaii."

"So we’ve got to get our backups ready to play."

"Ready to play" – that’s pretty much the key to a successful showing against UH, Coach Hatfield concluded.

"I’m looking for us to play better. I think we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on."

But he cautioned patience, on the part of Rice fans. After all, there's no reason to expect UH to be anything but a stouter outfit this year than last.

"They’re still mighty good," he conclused.  "They gained an awful lot of confidence with the success they had last year."

--Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor

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