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'06 Florida State week

Florida State 55, Rice 7
'Noles show just how
offensive a Bowden-
coached team can be

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Owls' Brandon King gives chase to FSU ball carrier (PTH photo)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Sept. 23) -- A decimated Rice Owl squad hung around early, but faded over the run of the course here Saturday, falling 55-7 to a Florida State team that was desperate to prove to its carnivorous fans that it was sufficiently skilled and adequately coached to be able to pile on the points against, well, against somebody.

In this case, the victim was a Rice team that has now endured a veritable Bataan Death March of top-ranked opponents over the past three weeks.

After being given a scare early, and then given half a chance to run up the score, FSU head coach Bobby Bowden did just that, acting, one would presume, to bolster the precarious position of his son, Jeff, as the beleaguered Seminole offensive coordinator.

Beleagured, good ol' boy Bobby and son Jeff were not, this particular evening, as, while sprinkling in substitutions, they kept in the heart of their respective offensive and defensive units the entire game, throwing a long TD bomb to their 6-5 star wideout Greg Carr late in the fourth quarter, while nursing, at the time, a 47-7 lead.

Some football coaches would be p-o'ed over such blatantly chicken-feathers tactics. But not Todd Graham. This is a game for grownups, he retorted.

"That doesn't bother me a bit," he said. "You know, I don't worry about things I can't control. I don't want people to do us any favors. I want them to play their best and compete agains us at their highest level. So that doesn't bother me a bit."

Basic execution is not at acceptable level, Coach says

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Andrew Sendejo forces downfield fumble after FSU pass reception (PTH photo)

Coach Graham, instead, pointed to matters that he and his staff are firmly convinced they can control, and that involves things like tackling, blocking, and proper execution of the game plan.

"There were some sloppy big plays going on out there," Coach Graham said, "like just allowing the 6-5 kid to execute on us. Things like that were really, really disappointing."

Of course FSU did show against Rice the sort of  size and speed that stands the equivalent, or better, or anyone in the country. But one sensed from the Rice head man that he felt this Florida State team was not nearly so well coached as the one from Austin the Owls met the week before, and that, consequently, with proper execution, the Seminoles could have been had – maybe not often enough to pull out a win, but with sufficient frequency to avoid a second, embarrassing one-sided loss in a row.

Coach Graham also refused to give a nod to the depleted state of his team, injury-wise. "We played an extremely physical game against UCLA, and as a result of that game, we had some people banged up; and we’ve continued to get banged up," he said.  "But that’s part of football. Every team out there, four games into the season, is going to have its share of bumps and bruises."

One Owl who’s not showing an signs of slowing down is budding star wide receiver Jarett Dillard. Jarett came out on the floor of Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday and once again betttered his performance of the week before.

On the Owls’ opening possession of the game, Jarett made an acrobatic catch in tough coverage for 18 yards and a first down, the first play of the drive. After Joel Armstrong scrambled for 11 more, Jarett lit out on a flag route on first and ten from the FSU 32. It was a play-action pass and the Seminole secondary took the bait, leaving Jarett open for a relatively easy touchdown reception just as his momentum took him over the goal line.

That made the score 7-7 with 8:56 left in the first quarter, and suddenly the house was awfully quiet, even though the local folks’ team had previously scored with just about the same level of ease as did the Owls.

Always crucial plays, early in the game

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Owl linebackers double up on FSU frosh QB Xavier Lewis (PTH photo)

FSU had taken the opening kickoff and rolled – but one always tends to look for a play here, a play there that might have been a momentum-changer, and Florida State’s early success on offense was not devoid of a few crucial plays like that.

Take that first possession. Special-teamer Terrance Garmon had crushed the FSU return man on the opening kickoff, right at the 20. On first down, quarterback Drew Weatherford threw badly in attempting set up the screen pass in the flat – and right away, one could begin to hear the murmuring and a smattering of boos waft through the partisan crowd.

But next play, FSU’s Luther Booker took a delayed handoff, appeared to be contained after a short gain, but squirted through a small hole and managed to get ten yards and a first down.

Crucial play.

That got the Seminoles rolling, and roll, they did, moving 80 yards in eight plays for the initial, 7-0 lead.

After the Owls’ score, FSU punched right down the field again, but appeared to have bogged down just outside field goal range, facing a third-and-10 from the Rice 33. But that’s when Weatherford hit their stud wideout, Carr, on a slant pattern over the middle for a first down at the 20, and Florida State rolled into the end zone once more, from there.

The Owls responded by moving the ball again, themselves, and doing so in precisely the same way they accomplished it on the previous drive – by going the aerial route to Jarett Dillard. Two big receptions had the Owls facing first and ten from the FSU 44, and once again the crowd started to mutter.

But at that point, Joel was sacked for a loss of nine yards, and that effectively snuffed out the Owls’ offensive momentum.

Crucial play.

But the Rice defense immediately forced a turnover which promised to get the Owls back in the game once more. FSU’s highly-touted freshman quarterback, Xavier Lewis, came in and scrambled until he found his receiver 20 yards downfield. But at that point Andrew Sendejo put on the big hit and the ball popped free, where it was recovered by Brandon King at the Rice 47.

Once again, the Owls cranked it right up, via the air. Again, the receiver was Jarett Dillard, and he rambled 17 yards to the FSU 36. From there, a Q Smith dive into the line produced zero yards, and Joel had his second-and-ten passing effort intercepted by the Seminoles’ Marcus Ball, who looked like he might take it all the way back the other way before his was shoestringed at the Rice 15 by Tommy Henderson.

That saved the Owls four points, because the FSU offense went nowhere from that point. The big play was a four-yard tackle for loss on Florida State’s Luther Booker by Brian Raines, and that meant FSU had to settle for the chip shot field goal by Gerald Cismesia.

At that point, the score stood 17-7, with just over 11 minutes remaining in the half. The Rice defense had shown signs of stiffening against the run, and the offense was getting at least some production, despite its inability to move the ball on the ground.

FSU had to kick and bite for next two scores

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Coach Graham said offensive line play was improved, despite injury issues (PTH photo)

Florida State had to kick and bite for its two additional scores of the first half, both commencing with a short field after Rice went three-and-out deep in its own territory and then punter Jared Scruggs not getting the distance on his punts that we’re used to seeing.

Marcus Rucker was a terror on the first of those two FSU drives, making three big sticks in a row to force a 53-yard Gerald Cismesia field goal attempt. Naturally, with the kind of luck the Owls have been having all season, the desperation boot found the uprights, to the delight of the crowd, which, moments before, had started to boo again after the Seminole drive bogged down.

After Rice took the ensuing kickoff and 1-2-3-kicked, FSU started with possesion at midfield and took the ball in to score in six plays. The Owls thwarted one more Seminole scoring attempt before the half ended, and the score at the midway point, 26-7, was not exactly disastrous – if the Owls could only tighten up on defense and get that running game going in the second half.

Any successful halftime adjustments, however, appear to have been made by the Florida State brain trust, as FSU managed to convert big plays into four second-half TDs to complete the rout.

No sense in rehashing those Florida State scoring strikes, but we can talk a little about the fourth-quarter offense that the Owls were able generate.

It appeared that when FSU began to sprinkle in substitutions on the defensive side, the parity between the two teams rapidly began to equalize. It was then that Rice could get its ground game rolling just a bit, in person of, naturally, one Quinton Smith, who had a very quiet, 104-yard game after gaining virtually zero yards in the first half.

The Owls put up two nice-looking drives of 56 and 76 yards, respectively, in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, those took place after Rice had incurred a 47-7 deficit, and both bogged down at the FSU six yard line, when the Seminole coaching staff flushed the first teamers back onto the field and did everything they could to hold that line.

Rice could’ve easily gotten a couple of field goals out of those two possessions, but somehow they would’ve been beside the point.

In that regard, Jarett Dillard was sanguine. No big deal, he said. "Scoring would have just put numbers on the board," he noted.

"If we had scored seven points, yeah hey, we would have lost by such-and-such amount now. But that doesn't matter. A loss is a loss."

Coach Bowden showed what he was made of, fourth quarter

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Bobby, you certainly are a piece of work -- or a piece of something, anyway (PTH photo)

Between those two red-zone drives, the Seminoles put up some points as a result of a bit of pure chicken ca-ca on part of coaching icon Bobby Bowden and Son. And don’t let Todd Graham tell you otherwise. Or Coach Bowden, for that matter.

You be the judge: On third and six from the FSU 43, with four minutes remaining in the game, FSU frosh quarterback Xavier Lee basically aired out the ball, throwing as far downfield as he could, where the tall wide receiver Carr was able to snake it in over the outstretched arms of an Owl defender, and then criss-cross the entire gridiron and make to the opposite flag for a 57-yard TD pass.

"That was actually a possession play, and the boy (the Rice defender) fell down," Coach Bowden defensively told reporters after the game. We really didn’t mean to, ya know.

Horse-feathers. Local scribes seemed to just have one question for Rice players and coaches after the game – who was better, Florida State or Texas?

Ol’ Bobby’s been around the block more than a few times. He knew that the most effective way to shut up the local boo-birds regarding son Jeff’s lack of production in the offensive coordinator role, would be to beat up on this Rice bunch worse than Texas did. And Coach Bowden can count high enough to know that 55-7 is worse than 52-7.

Coach Graham said the day was not a total loss, however much so it might have appeared to the Rice faithful.

"We’re actually improving and getting better; it’s hard to measure," he said afterwards. "We’ve played three really good football teams the last three weeks in a row, and the last two football teams have been the two best."

"Our kids were feeling, in the first quarter, that they could do some things on Florida State. They made some adjustments on us. But I guarantee, there ain’t nobody quitting. I’m down there on that sideline and can see that none of our kids are quitting."

"Our kids want to win, and we’re going to."

"We’re going to. We’ve just got to continue to get better."

--Paul T. Hlavinka

Coach Graham on the FSU game....wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)
Jarett Dillard:  'I had a bad game...'wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)

Dad-gum it, it's a Bowden time
Rice takes on third straight juggernaut
in Florida State
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TALLAHASSEE , Fla. (Sept. 22) --  Now, we know it's tempting, but whatever else you say about them, don't call them the "Criminoles."

Sure, they've often been painted with monikers like that in the past.  But this week, the Rice Owls travel to this football-crazy, steamy outpost of the Deep South to take on a college football team that's been more appropriately synonymous with the words "success" and "winning" over the 31-year tenure of   coaching icon Bobby Bowden.

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Uh, except for about the past five years.  During that time, the natives have become restless.

Last week, the Florida State Seminoles lost in their annual father-son grudge match, the eighth annual "Bowden Bowl," featuring son Tommy at the helm of the Clemson Tigers, versus papa Bobby at his familiar spot on the floor of ballfield-turned-small city Doak Campbell Stadium, before a crowd of 83,000, but apparently growing smaller and more restive by the week.

The final score of that game was 27-20, but it followed on the heels of a narrow Seminole victory the week before, a 24-17 squeaker over supposed patsy Troy State .   The 'Noles own a season-opening win over archrival Miami , but they easily could have been 0-for-3 at this stage in the season for the first time since Bill Peterson was a pup.

'Noles are 2-1 -- but it's a dissatisfied 2-1

Instead, they're 2-and-1, but it's a dissatisfied 2-and-1. In fact, the Owls are catching the Seminoles under the worst possible circumstances. Rice has come off three brutal games, two on the road. In the first two, Rice was in it all the way, falling 31-30 to Houston in a game Rice absolutely should've won, and then going down 26-16 to UCLA on the road in a contest where Rice's quarterbacks were hampered or out for the count the entire night.

Last week, well, last week, a behemoth Texas team simply steamrolled the Institute Boys, and there just wasn't much the Rice coaching staff could have done to prepare for such an athletic agglomeration,  regardless of the banged-up level of their players.

"The thing we're going to get this week is more of the same," Rice head coach Todd Graham reflected.  "They're every bit as good as Texas on defense, if not a little faster. Their guys run as well as Texas ."

The Owls need to avoid digging themselves a two-touchdown hole something they've done each time in the first three games of the season, the Rice mentor noted.

"You get behind in a game and you start reaching for things," he said.   "And against teams like Texas and Florida State , you do not want to run any drop-back.  We've got to stick to what we can do.  The ball needs to be out there, quick."

The Owls will once again be facing superior beef with superior speed and quickness -- not a good combination, if the result of the Texas game proved any indication. 

"A great defensive football team, a great speed in the kicking game, that's what Florida State has,"  Todd said.  "They'll do just like Texas did.   They'll try and force-feed it down our throat."

"They've struggled a little bit on offense, but they're very talented there as well.  Their overall speed is the strength of their team."

"Whatever problems you create for yourself, you see it the rest of the year.  We've got to come out and play better against the rush."

FSU head coach Bobby Bowden indicated that the 'Noles would stick with the regular scheme against Rice-- why both to do anything different?  But that would not involve running right at the Flock, he said.  Rather, it would entail sending out several guys who could handle the ball and make yardage for you.

"We don't try to pick one guy and give the ball to him," Bobby told his press Monday. "We try to get four, five guys out to where they're in a position to do something for you.  We don't pick out one guy to try to beat you."

Texas appeared to have plenty of swagger when they took the field against the Owls at Reliant Stadium Saturday.  And why not -- they're only the defending national champions.

But Florida State has gone from being a perennial winner to only a usually-a-winner.  The Seminoles are 46-21 since the offensive coordinator's spot was taken over by a chip off the old block, Jeff Bowden, who, you guessed it, is the son of Bobby Bowden.

Seminoles have lost some of that swagger

That's caused the Seminoles to be taken down a peg or two, even in their own estimation, Coach Bobby said.

"The way the scores are coming out and losing as we have, I think you naturally lose some swagger," he admitted.  "In fact when I'm losing I don't want any dadgum swagger. I like to have it when I win. I really don't care much about it. I'm one of those guys that don't especially like that word. I like playing with confidence and courage a little bit more. Anyway we don't swagger like we used to - no doubt about it.

"When you are playing a game like (Rice)  where you are supposed to win it, you just want to do the best you can do and feel like it's a good sign. But to say you'll know everything about your ball team when you play somebody you're favored by 25 points, I don't know if you learn much about it. "

"It could be five games before we get a feeling. If we don't start to jell pretty soon, I'll really have to do some research. I meant to say soul-searching."

Wul, dad gum it.

 'Course, the Seminoles do have a statistic that's something to sweep under the rug.  In three games, FSU is averaging exactly 49 yards rushing per outing.   Last week against Clemson, in order to boost the running game, Coach Bowden kept game-breaking receiver Greg Carr on the sidelines for much of the  game

He later said that was a mistake, that won't be repeated again this week.   Against a Rice pass defense that was among the softest in Division 1A last year (but that was last year), Carr, who only has four catches for 38 yards with a touchdown on the year, is going to get plenty of looks from whomever is lining up at quarterback for the Seminoles.

Drew Weatherford, who's started thus for for FSU, is rumored to be moving over for a starting nod to backup quarterback Xavier Lee on Saturday.   Coach Bowden had wanted to give Lee some play reps against Troy, but the close score kept him on the bench.

But then again, whomever bows under for the Seminoles might only be required just to hand the ball off and get out of the way, giving a nod to FSU's powerful line and despite the anemic rushing figures delivered thus far this season.

"The fact that we could run the ball versus a really good defense like Clemson was a positive," FSU quarterback Weatherford said earlier this week. "It showed a lot on the part of our running backs and our o-line."

The implication: heck, we ought to be able to run all over that undersized 3-5 defense that Rice throws against people.

Owls are 'mighty beat up'

The Rice squad, in the words of 'To Kill a Mockingbird's Bob Ewell, like his homely daughter, Mayella,  is  "mighty beat up.  MIGHTY beat up."

Starting QB Chase Clement undoubtedledly will sit out another week in order to try to gain strength in his injured throwing hand.  That means Joel Armstrong will have to shoulder the burden at quarterback, and you know he'll have several FSU monsters (literally and figuratively) trailing after him on every play.

The Owl offensive line continues to play hurt, bandaged and bruised.   All-league runner Quinton Smith has a hand injury, as well.  Ja'Corey Shepherd, Rice's top defender in the secondary, took a beating in the Texas game.

The list goes on and on.   Should the Owls just show up, take their pay check, and as former coach Ray Alborn used to say, "Save the equipment"?

Fat chance.  Rice head coach Todd Graham's just not made up that way. He'll go all out against the Criminoles, er, Seminoles, which should make his squad probably all the worse for the wear win they finally face a beatable opponent, Army, on the fields of friendly strife at West Point, Saturday next.

--Paul T. Hlavinka

Focusing on Team, Not Individual Acts

By Mark Anderson

It has often been pointed out that there is no "I" in team. Perhaps the best illustration of that truth isn’t found in a team that was contending for another national championship, but the one that had to go up against it last Saturday. Many Owl fans may be struggling to find anything positive to take away from that day. But there are some things—some intangible changes—that have taken place that are worth bringing out.

Jarett Dillard had a career game for the second straight week) against the vaunted Longhorn defense. His 9 catches for 91 yards far and away out-distanced his teammates.

But Dillard wasn’t happy about it in the least. When asked about his coming out party against Texas, Dillard’s focus was not on the nine catches—it was on the team result. "Since we lost, they haven’t had much significance," Dillard remarked. "I probably had my personal highs in receptions and yards, but they really didn’t strike me like I wanted them to because we had a loss at the end of that."

On the defensive side of the ball, Marcus Rucker had a solid game against Texas, leading the linebackers in tackles. But Rucker didn’t dwell on how far he’s come so quickly as a linebacker. His attention was on what happened as a team. Marcus told the Webletter, "Whether or not I have a good game, whether or not other individuals have good games, if the team is not having a good game together as one well-oiled machine, then we’re not going to get it taken care of."

But there was something else that came out of the Texas game that should make every single Owl fan proud—this team didn’t quit until the clock ran out. That was not the case in Austin last year, according to Jarett Dillard. Dillard was very frank on this issue when he said, "Last year I saw half the team saying, ‘Well, what are we going to do after the game? Are we going to go home, or stay here?’ But this year, I saw people mad after the game and go back to the locker room and see people upset like I was. That made me feel better about the game, because last year after we lost, there wouldn’t be too many angry faces."

Dillard was not alone in that assessment of what happened. Marcus Rucker added, "Last year we had some guys, maybe some of them were inexperienced or something, but they were complaining that they weren’t getting time into the game," said Rucker. "I saw a lot of complaining. And this year, all you heard was, ‘Hey man, we’re still in this. We still have a chance. We can still get this. Even when we were down like 35 to something, we were like, ‘Man, if we just start, if we come together as a team, then we’ll get this taken care of..’ That was the best part about it."

Another bright spot for the Owls against Texas was the emergence of Evan Fentriss as a go-to guy. Fentriss caught three passes against Texas—the most of his young career—for 60 yards, including a beautiful 49 yard reception. But this came as no surprise to
Jarett Dillard. "Evan Fentriss is a good receiver, said Jarett.. "He was on my tail all two-a-days. I saw that he was a good player. That catch he made against Texas down the field, I mean, great catch—he focused on the ball and executed what he had to do."

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the Texas game was the performance of Joel Armstrong. Armstrong was not even listed as a quarterback in the fall, yet came in against UCLA and played well, and actually even better against Texas. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 180 yards against a Texas defense that had nothing but harassing him on their minds. "We know Joel can run the ball, so we know if he’s pressured that he can weave and dip and can run with it or make a good throw with it and pass it," Dillard commented. "We have no negative effects with Joel at quarterback—maybe he can find that hole or throw it."

Some teams would fold the tent on their season after a loss like the Owls suffered last Saturday. But both Rucker and Dillard made it clear that the Texas game was only one game in the season. When asked how to put a loss like that behind them and look to next week, Jarett Dillard put it in simple terms—focus. "You have to mentally focus on what your assignment is, and do what you have to do, Dillard explained.. "It’s not anything special—there’s no special degree on how to mentally prepare for a game. It’s just you know how to do it. You were born with it. That’s what we have to do. We have to come out in the game time and play better in the game."

Rucker agreed, and pointed to how the Owls could learn from the Texas game. "All that has to do with mental focus, mental preparation," Marcus said. "I mean, Coach is telling us as a defense we can’t come out flat, thinking this is going to take a couple of snaps for us to get used to the game, We’ve got to go out there firing at them from the first snap. A lot of it has to do with your mental preparation, your focus, your intensity. If we go out there and stay focused from snap one, we’ll get it taken care of."

There’s no doubt in any Owl fan’s mind that this team has played the toughest schedule in the country. It’s been a difficult road, no doubt about it. But this team is learning some very important lessons in this stretch that will stand them in good stead for years to come. Nomatter what may come against Florida State, know as you watfch the game on TV that these young men are playing with a lot of heart and no quit in them, and are learning important lessons on what it means to be a team. Those lessons learned will serve this team well this season, because this team does not have an "I": in it. That’s something that all Owl fans can be proud of, no matter what the record might be.

Dillard a big hit, Rucker big hitter
in Rice offensive, defensive scheme

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Marcus Rucker


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Jarett Dillard

HOUSTON (Sept. 19) -- Rice sophomore wide receiver Jarett Dillard, in the space of three games, has turned into the ‘go-to guy’ in the Rice offense, bar none. Against UCLA, he set a personal record with seven catches for 81 yards; and then against Texas he bettered that, going nine receptions for 91 yards. He makes the automatic catch for key short yardage, and he also is primed to make the spectacular, athletic catch downfield if circumstances call for it and the ball is there. Even with talented defensive teams like Texas and UCLA obviously keying on him, he’s gotten his receptions. So one would hope that, when Chase Clement is ready to return to the quarterback spot, freeing up Joel Armstrong to play the other wide receiver spot – with both of them being ably backed up by frosh phenom Evan Fentriss, who looked great against Texas – the Rice quarterback may be in a position to distribute the ball a little more. If that happens, one might expect the number of Jarett’s catches per game to go down, just a bit. But at the same time, his yards per reception should drastically increase.

Marcus Rucker is a guy who just likes to be on the football field knocking heads. The Magnolia, Arkansas, native spent three seasons in the backup running back position. But when Rice head coach Todd Graham offered him a switch over to the defensive side going into his senior year, Marcus eagerly accepted the challenge, saying that he was tired of always having to take the hit (as a runner) and was just about ready to start hitting some people himself. During spring and fall drills, he played his way into the starting lineup, winning the Joe Davis award as the most improved defensive player during the spring. Now he’s firmly ensconced at the strong linebacker position and looking forward to hit some of what he Monday termed "big fat guys" time and time and game after game.

Both Jarett and Marcus appeared before the media at this Monday's press luncheon, to give their observations on the course of the season so far, and we herewith present their interviews.

Marcus Rucker interview....new.gif (908 bytes)wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)

Jarett Dillard interview....new.gif (908 bytes)wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)



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