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'06 Tulane game page

Tulane 38, Rice 24
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Defensive lapses, offensive gaffes
add up to bewildering loss for Owls

'They didn't do anything we hadn't worked on'

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Chase Clement crosses the plane to cap Owls' third-quarter opening drive (PTH photo)

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Lute Barber (L), David Perkins double-team Tulane defender (PTH photo)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (Oct. 8) -- Confession time.

How many Owl fans out there had penciled in this Rice-Tulane game as anything but a victory for the boys from South Main -- even before the season began?

How many followers of the Blue and Grey, so heartened by Rice's near letter-perfect performance against Army, were anticipating a relatively easy win over a Tulane team that, let's face it, was so hapless as to have been beaten by Rice last year, the only win on the Flock's 2005 dance card?

How many Rice supporters out there figured that the Owl defense was over the hump and ready to take on each and every C-USA team with commensurate physicality --   and saw an offense that would just get better and better every week with the new system now digested and a healthy Chase Clement at the helm?

Those Rice devotees who presupposed one or more of those assumptions had better be glad they didn't make the trip over to a hurricane-beleaguered New Orleans in anticipation of Rice Win No. 2. Or if they did, at least take solace in the fact that Galatoire's has reopened.

Rice head coach Todd Graham and his players could take no such refuge, and will now be left with a scant six days to right some serious listing and taking-on-water problems that seem to have developed in the week since the good ship Institute sailed past and swamped what appeared to have been a solid but overmatched Army team.

The saddest part about the situation was that team had weathered the miserable first-five-game part of this year's schedule, had come back from West Point with a great deal of momentum, and was all set to attract a reasonably large crowd of curious onlookers in next week's UAB game after going on a two-game win streak by taking Tulane, as the better ball club of the two.

Didn't happen though.

In a game that featured crippling Owl lapses and deficiencies on both sides of the ball, the Rice Owls were defeated 38-24 here Saturday by a determined Tulane team that seemed to have been just as successful with the schemes it threw up against the Owls as the Owls did with their strategies against the Army the week before.

Defensive breakdowns hurt worse than offensive shortcomings

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Bencil Smith made first three tackles of the game (PTH photo)

Coach Graham ascribed a lot of Tulane's successful offensive game plan to simple defensive breakdowns by his own men. "We played terrible defensively," he said. "I told the kids we had more critical errors in this game than any gave I've coached in a long time -- why, I don't know."

"We missed having Brandon King in there defensively. And we just blew coverage after coverage after coverage. And that's coaching. We didn't have them prepared to play."

Indeed, no matter the level of Rice's game preparation, every piece of gumbo the Green Wave threw against the wall appeared to just stick there, dead solid perfect. Especially in the clutch.

Take the opening drive of the game. Each time the Owls have teed it off this season, they've allowed a score on their opponents' opening possession. This game proved no different.

The Green Wave was facing third at eight at their own 27 after Bencil Smith made the first three tackles of the game, including a big stick of Tulane's Israel Route on the opening kickoff.

But on third and eight, Tulane offset a hard Rice line charge with a little draw play to running back Matt Forte, and he worked his way through the rugby scrum for a dozen yards and a first down.

From there, it took what Coach Graham referred to a three "uncontested" pass receptions for the Greenies to draw first blood of the game. The second of those was on a third and ten at the Rice 44 when Owl defenders appeared to have the Tulane offense once again on the ropes.

"We came out, made three critical errors on the opening drive to give them seven points, uncontested," Coach noted.  "They didn't do anything we hadn't worked on."

"Tulane's quarterback has a great arm and they've got great receivers," he added.  "But you've got receivers running around with nobody on them and making catches that were uncontested. Because we're blowing coverages, and that's just ridiculous."

Tulane's Lester Ricard, under scant pressure, hit a wide open Kenneth Guidroz on a slant pattern down the middle for 21 yards and a first down. Next play, he ran basically the same thing and hit another wide open receiver, Jeremy Williams, for 21 yards and the TD.

"We expected them to jam a lot but they backed off a lot," Williams said, regarding the ease in which Tulane receivers seemed to be able to pull in the receptions, downfield. "While they were doing that, it was easier for us to get away from them and break in."

Took Owls two tries to punch in tying score

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Marcus Rucker delivers big hit on Tulane quarter- back Lester Ricard, producing turnover that would'a, could'a, should'a been a turning point (PTH photo)

The Owls came right back and moved the ball themselves, reaching as far as the Tulane 36, two big plays coming on completions to Tommy Henderson and Joel Armstrong.

But facing fourth and six from that point, Chase Clement got a heavy rush and had to hurry his pass to Jarett Dillard, and the ball went low, incomplete.

Only later was it learned that Chase was so hot in ripping the Army for 300 passing yards the week before, that he'd managed to sore up, if not slightly re-injure, the jammed thumb on his throwing hand, so he hadn't thrown a ball in practice all week.   Certainly it can be said that the Tulane defense did not see Chase Clement at his dead level best -- and that didn't help the Rice effort at all.

The Rice defense successfully forced a three-and-out on the next Tulane series, Vernon James ripping the Greenies' Andre Anderson for a loss of five on the third and ten.

The Owls took the ensuing punt and moved right on in to score and tie the game. After Chase hit Jarett Dillard down the middle for 14 yards to get things going, Quinton Smith and Chase Clement took it the rest of the way, Chase doing the scoring honors by scampering in from three yards out.

Owl fans were hoping, at that point, that they were seeing a reprise of the events of the Army game, but Tulane went a long way toward dispelling that notion when they responded immediately with a touchdown drive of their own that covered 80 yards in five plays. Ricard, with plenty of time to pass, was hitting wide-open receivers 15 or 20 yards downfield, while the Rice defensive coaches fumed on the sideline but the Owl secondary looking, er, out-'schematic'ed, to say the least.

In fact, though Coach Graham had attributed much of the Owls' defensive lapses in the passing to blown coverages in large part occasioned by the sidelining of starting cornerback Brandon King with an injury, it had to be more than that.

Rather, it seemed as if every move Tulane tried, worked to perfection. Every time the Owls blitzed, Tulane countered with a draw play or something else to punish Rice for its aggressiveness. Every defensing passing scheme the Owls ran, it seemed was anticipated by the Green Wave offense, who flooded the seams with wide open receivers.

It was almost as if Tulane's press box contingent had a copy of Rice's game plan, while coaches on the sideline were, dunno, maybe stealing the signals or something.

Tulane's no-huddle offense effective

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Quinton Smith en route to a 36-yard gain that almost went the distance (PTH photo)

But, nah, it couldn't have been as simple as that. Perhaps Tulane's no-huddle offense had something to do with the confusion apparently leveled upon the Owl defense just as Rice had done to Army by the same instrumentality the week before.

"We jumped in and went off the no-huddle offense the first couple series of the game after we got our first first down," Tulane quarterback Ricard noted, post-game. "Coach asked me if I was comfortable with the no huddle offense. Obviously, with our performance last weekend in the fourth quarter, I was more comfortable running a no huddle offense."

(Tulane had mounted a furious comeback against SMU with the hurry-up, no huddle offense, despite falling in the end, 33-28.)

"We just kind of wanted to change it up tonight. We are playing some pretty good teams and we have to catch them off balance a little bit and hit them in the mouth early. We figured the no huddle will be a key for us for moving the ball."

Early in the second quarter, down 14-7, the Owls made noise like, just as sure as the world, they were going to tie it up, when they advanced as far as second and goal from the Tulane four yard line. But Chase lost control of the football in a mixup in the backfield at that point, and had to fall on it for a loss. Then on third and goal he had to hurry his throw to a closely guarded Jarett Dillard.

So the Institute Boys had to settle for a 25-yard Clark Fangmeier field goal, but the thought was, OK, now we're back in the game.

Tulane fitfully moved the ball back downfield on the next possession. Coutrney Gordon got a big sack of Tulane's Ricard for a loss of eight at the Rice 20, and the Greenies couldn't advance beyond there. However, Ross Thevenot managed to finagle a rather anemic looking field goal attempt through the uprights from 45 yards out, so the Green Wave had salvaged three points out of the drive.

It was time for the Rice offense to move the ball again, at least in the endeavor of playing the field position game. But once again, it was as if the Greenies were reading the Rice offensive playbook. First, a quarterback draw lost one yard. Then a quick out to Tommy Henderson went awry. Then on third down, Tulane picked up the Rice blocking scheme, collapsed the pocket and down went Chase for a seven yard loss on the sack.

From the Rice 23, the Owls needed one of Jared Scruggs' patented boomers, but they didn't get it. Facing a scant rush, Jared sliced one off the side of his foot; the ball managed to reach the Rice 41 before slithering out of bounds.

Tulane struck again in two plays. First play, Ricard set up in the pocket, ate a muffaletta sandwich, had his nails done, and then hit a wide-open Damarcus Davis for 21 to the Rice 20. Next play, Ricard set up, took his time, and then hit a wide-open (fill in blank here with name of Tulane receiver and repeat as needed) Kenneth Guidroz for the last 31 yards and the score.

"We made the plays," Green Wave Coach Chris Scelfo said of Tulane's first-half efforts. "We were determined to run the football. Our offensive line was challenged quite a bit last week. We felt we were going to give them a chance up front and see what they could do right away."

The Owls were down 24-10, then, going into the halftime locker room -- hardly an impossible task to make up for a team that's come back before this season, once behind. Nevertheless, the ease with which Tulane had been able to strike offensively, once it got its mojo working, was unsettling to say the least.

"Still, I thought all we had to do is come out and play our game, in the second half, and we'd come back and win the game," Coach Graham said afterwards. Who knows, perhaps he was absolutely right on that score. But we'll never know.  The Owls could not be said to have played their game in the Superdome Saturday afternoon, except, perhaps, in fits and starts.

Rice took second-half kickoff and scored

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Jarett Dillard says 'come to papa' -- this touchdown reception gives him an eight-game streak (PTH photo)

The Owls did do the first thing they had to do in the second half to get back in the ball game, and that's take the ball down and score on the opening drive. And that, they did in impressive fashion.

Rice traveled 81 yards in 15 plays. Or perhaps more like 89 yards in 14 plays, because on first and ten from the the 19, Tulane defenders collapsed around Chase and nailed him for a loss of eight.

Things appeared to go from bad to worse when, on third and 19, the Tulane rush got to Chase again and he was apparently sacked for a loss of four more. But some Greenie goon got in an elbow to the side of the quarterback's head well after the play was blown dead, and the resulting personal foul call gave the Owls an automatic first and ten from their 33. And they immediately commenced to take advantage.

Rice worked the ball out to near midfield with a succession of running, or perhaps we should say, scrambling plays, for several of them involved gutsy runs by Chase Clement after being flushed out of the pocket.

But from there, he hit Jarett Dillard for 18 yards his biggest catch of   the day to that point and suddenly the Owls were knocking at the door.

Chase scrambled for 16 more yards reaching the Tulane 14 before fumbling the ball out of bounds. From there, he hit Joel for seven and then Jarett for the score in successive plays, to bring the Owls within striking distance at 24-17.

Tulane responded with s single first down on their next drive, but then the Owl defense stiffened to set up what turned out to be the decisive play sequence of the game.

After two incompletions in the face of heavy Owl pressure, Ricard went to the well a third time but in so doing was chased all over the landscape by Marcus Rucker, who finally caught up with him and delivered a crushing blow at the Tulane 30. Ricard coughed up the pill,  and a convoy of Owl defenders was headed right for the caroming loose football, with nothing but real estate ahead of them.

DeJaun Cooper had the inside track, and had the ball bounced just an itty bitty bit more, it would have bounded into the big defensive lineman's hands and he'd have had the first touchdown of his college career, which would've tied the score, to boot.

But instead, the ball just slithered and died on the turf, so DeJaun did the wise thing by falling on it for the fumble recovery at the Tulane 25.

Turnover looked like big break, but wasn't

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DeJaun Cooper came up with fumble caused by Marcus Rucker -- one little bounce and he could've scored with it (PTH photo)

That turnover  appeared to be the big break that everybody on the Rice side had been waiting for. The Rice defense had come out much more aggressively in the second half and their approach appeared immediately to have paid dividends.

The Rice offense failed to convert, however. On first down, Quinton Smith was nailed for a loss of two. On second and 12, Chase misfired to Jarret Dillard (one guesses that throwing thumb was really throbbing, by then). A third-down attempt aimed at Tommy Henderson near the sideline also went awry, and then Luke Juist, usually deadly on his field goal attempts from between 40 and 45 yards out, missed this one wide left, though with plenty of leg.

Then, bang, bang, went the Tulane offense again, and suddenly the Owls were down by two TDs once more, 31-17. The big play was that little delayed draw, once again,   to Matt Forte. Rice appeared to have the play defensed but the Tulane ball carrier sidestepped a couple of Owl defenders and then took the ball for 64 yards to the Rice one yard line.

"We knew exactly what they were running on that play. Our pants weren't down at all," Coach Graham lamented. "We actually signaled in 'read zone', and brought the linebacker blitz right there. It was just blown assignments. It was simple stuff, too."

This was a Tulane team that was ranked last in the league in rushing, coming into its game with Rice. Nevertheless, Forte ripped the Owls for 178 yards on the ground, as season high not only for the Tulane scatback, but also against an Owl team that had faced some pretty formidable ball carriers in UCLA, Texas and Florida State.

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Jarett Dillard was held to 'only' six catches on the day, but increased his streak of games with TD receptions to eight (PTH photo)

It was to George Chukwu's credit that the big DL lumbered all the way down the field to make the touchdown-saving tackle on Forte, but it was to no avail as the Greenies punched the ball across the goal line, two players later.

But never let it be said that this Rice bunch has any 'quit' in it. The Owls took the ensuing kickoff and drove the ball 85 yards in ten plays, scoring on their best-looking drive of the game.

Chase connected with his big tight end, Taylor Wardlaw, for two key catches on the drive. Then, he threw a perfectly-placed ball to Joel Armstrong, who was headed for the flag. The Tulane defender leaped and managed to get a hand on the ball, but Joel reacted quickly enough to snag the pigskin with his left hand as he fell backwards, and wrap it up for a 27-yard scoring strike.

So at 31-24, with a minute to go in the third quarter, it wasn't over yet. Not quite, anyway.

Only Tulane responded with a 78-yard drive of their own on the next possession, Ricard hitting Forte from eight yards out for the six points.

That was Ricard's fourth TD pass of the day, which he accumulated while at the same time rolling up 344 yards through the air most of it, Coach Graham would be quick to note, by way of hitting wide-open receivers.

Still not checking it in, however, the Rice offense struggled mightily to put more points on the board in response, reaching as far as the Tulane 20 before losing the ball on downs, and then advancing the ball to midfield before Tulane's David Skeehan made an over-the-shoulder interception of a Chase Clement deep pass-- his first oskie in 83 atttempts.

"It was a different game," Coach Graham explained afterwards. "It was a lot more 'man' coverage; a lot more pressured on the quarterback, and they did a better job of defensing us."

"But we could've scored at least two more touchdowns."

"The biggest thing tonight that was disappointing was all the mental errors and critical mistakes defensively."

"Still, the kids never gave up. And it's not the players. We continue to get great effort. Maybe it's the growing pains of learning a new system, I don't know. We just got beat tonight -- we got outcoached and outplayed."

--Paul T. Hlavinka

Box score, statistics....

Todd Graham on Rice's loss (part 1)... wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)
Coach Graham discusses the the Owls' mistakes, and how
to correct them (part 2)...
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Owls look to sustain current
momentum against Tulane


After that stomping of Army, Sammy's got blood in his eye for the Greenies....
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HOUSTON (Oct. 6) – You know, that Army team that the Rice Owls went out on the road last Saturday and thrashed, 48-14, was not a bad football team. It wasn’t a bad football team at all.

Army dough-popped Baylor on the road; it had Texas A&M positively on the ropes at a ‘neutral’ site of San Antonio before the Ags managed to be saved by the bell and escape with a 28-24 victory.

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Owlook

So how does one explain the overwhelming onesidedness of the Owls’ win over Army at West Point? Was it simply the return of Chase Clement as quarterback. Was it the particular matchups that Rice and Army presented? Was the Army overconfident, especially after being staked a 7-0 lead on the firs possession of the game? A confluence of the planets? A fluke; a one-time thing?

It’s a futile excercise to try and reach conclusions by getting involved in the comparative numbers games. In any event, most of those questions will be dealt with, if not definitively answered, on the turf floor of the New Orleans Superdome Saturday afternoon at 1 pm, when the Owls tee it up against 1-3 Tulane.

The Green Wave’s only win thus far is a 32-29 victory over winless Mississippi State, a Southeastern Conference team nonetheless. Wave backers were indicating major disappointment over a home loss last week to SMU, 33-28, which put the Greenies, like the Owls, 0-1 in C-USA play.

The betting parlors have the Wave as 2 1/2-point ‘dogs to the Owls. With Florida State’s loss to North Carolina State on the road Thursday night, the oddsmakers must be more confused than ever.

One thing’s for sure. Tulane head coach Chris Scelfo is impressed with what he’s seen from the new-look Owls thus far this season.

"I think Rice is a very good football team," he told press earlier this week. "Defensively, they've been in every game they've played. The score hasn't always indicated that. They play a tremendous schedule and came out of it healthy, which is good for them. They went up to Army (and won big), and we know how hard that is."

Scelfo:  Rice on emotional high

"They're on an emotional high right now coming off of that game. It was a huge win for them. It's a game that again, is going to boil down to who makes the plays - the four or five plays - and who makes the least amount of mistakes. It's going to be very physical."

The Green Wave enters the Rice game averaging 311.8 yards of total offense per game - 65.8 rushing and 246.0 passing. Junior running back Matt Fort paces the Tulane ground game with 232 yards and a touchdown on 63 carries, and fellow junior Ray Boudreaux is next with 68 yards on 12 opportunities.

Senior quarterback Lester Ricard leads the aerial attack, completing 65-of-11 passes for 892 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. Eleven different Green Wave players have caught at least two passes through the first four games of the season, and senior wideout Damarcus Davis paces the bunch with 14 receptions for 192 yards and two scores.

Saturday's game between Tulane and Rice marks the 29th meeting between the two teams on the gridiron, and the Owls lead the all-time series, 15-12-1. Last season the Owls defeated the Green Wave, 42-34, in Houston – which we all oughta remember because it was Rice’s only win on the season.

The Tulane/Rice series dates back to 1916 when Rice earned a 23-13 victory. The Green Wave have lost their last three games to the Owls, and the last time Tulane won was in 1995, when the Greenies squeezed out a 17-15 decision at Rice Stadium. Tulane's last home win against the Owls came on Sept. 9, 1989 when the Green Wave won a nail-biter, 20-19.

"We still have to play with a lot of emotion, but it has to be controlled," Scelfo said. "We can't be too excited and it boils down to this: it doesn't matter what level you're playing on when you've got a chance to make a play, you've got to make it."

Todd Graham just glad to be playing teams with real students again

Rice head coach Todd Graham hasn’t had much to say this week about Tulane, but one can reasonably assume there’s a quiet determination on his part to promote the kind of effort that his staff saw from their charges last week in the Army game.

One thing’s for sure – it’s good to get over that monster stretch of body bag games and start playing teams that appear to be a reasonable matchup with Rice in the areas of raw talent and physicality.

"I don’t think there’s anything that did to help us," he said of the three-game stretch with UCLA, Texas and Florida State.

"I think playing people like Texas, maybe having another team on the schedule like a Texas Tech or a Baylor, I’m all for that," he added. "I think that does help you play better against good people."

"That’s what your kids want an opportunity to go out and play against. But back to back to back, and especially with a team like Florida State in there third, it makes it very difficult physically. Especially for a program in its first year like ours. That couldn’t have been worse scheduling, in my opinion."

Rice’s success on the gridiron Saturday against the Greenies still boils down to three things, Todd insisted..

"We’ve got talent on offense," he said.  "81 is as good as there is. 44 silently had a great game (against Army). They took away the run so catching out of the backfield he was very good.

"Offensively, the key is to let 16 manage the game; get the ball to the skill guys, and the offensive line to get better every week."

Owl fans know the shorthand here. And as for the Greenie fan who asked for the Rice scouting report on the message board earlier this week; well, we’ll let him get out his media guide for interpretation.

--P.T.H.

'It's a new season'
Owls don't plan on letdown
against a 1-3 Tulane team

By Mark Anderson

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Rice players, coaches insist they'll keep up the pressure on Tulane Saturday (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Oct. 4) -- The Rice Owls are moving forward with their preparations against the Tulane Green Wave this coming Saturday. There are many teams in history that get an emotional win, like the one against Army on Saturday, and then have a letdown the following week.

Don't bet on that happening with Coach Graham and the Rice Owls.

Andray Downs will be the first one to tell you there are no plans for coasting this week. Andray was Dale Lloyd's mentor, and Dale is still on his mind. "We dedicated the season to Dale Lloyd, and one game isn't going to change that. I think just remembering him every week is going to help our team a lot."

Andray freely admits he was thinking about Lloyd as he ran back an interception for a 72 yard TD run. "I had a lot of thoughts going through my head. The first thought was to get by the quarterback, because he was standing right there. Just trying to score. . . and by the end of it, I knew that I was going to get in the end zone, I couldn't help but think about Dale Lloyd. I was there when he crossed the line in his last 100 that he ran that day. It just meant a lot to me."

But Andray understands there is still work to be done. And if he does forget, he gets an instant message from Coach Graham. "Personally, he's right behind me in practice every day, mentoring me, helping me to be a better player," said Downs. "He just knows his stuff. He and Coach Randolph as a team, they're something else. These guys, they spend a lot of time in the film room, and teach us how to study film so we can become better players as well."

Sound like a let-down in the making? Hardly.

Downs understands there is work to be done still. "Well, we stopped the run a little bit more this week than we did last week, Downs said. "I know we gave up 150 yards or so, but it's not 300 yards . That's the first thing and foremost is stopping the run."

Chase Clement operated with surgeon-like precision on Saturday against Army, going 29-39 for 299 yards and 5 TDs. But Chase knows that it isn't time to let down after one win. He pointed out that the Owls have a goal for the season. "The passing of Dale, that was definitely tough on us," said Chase. "We really wanted to go out and win for him. We've dedicated this season to him."

Chase explained why he didn't believe there would be a let-down after such an emotional win. "That was such a great game for us offensively and defensively, to build off of that, Chase explained.. "I know our confidence is up right now. Really, we're going to keep Dale in the back of our mind. We've dedicated this season to him and his family. We're going to work hard like he worked hard, so you know. . . we're going to finish this for him."

Coach Graham isn't expecting a letdown and revealed why he didn't believe there would be any easing up or loss of intenstiy among his charges.

"One of the things we talked about with Dale's passing is Dale was a guy that had incredible work ethic, and just the heart of a champion," said Graham. "We didn't just dedicate a game to him. We dedicated how we are going to live our lives, and how we're going to practice, and play, and do everything we do. I think that was something that helped us this week." He continued by saying, "I think this team has worked really hard. You know, when you've been through quite a bit, that's what builds character, and that was the thing I think motivated us this week."

Graham pointed to another reason the Owls should not let down  -- there's still improvement needed in many areas.

"I really think Tulane is a very good football team," Graham continued. "They beat Mississippi State, They've got a lot of talent and speed," According to Graham, there's things still to be accomplished. "we've got to go there and do a great job of being a disciplined, just keep building on the things we do, and don't turn the ball over on offense, and continue to improve on defense, and don't give up big plays on defense."

But Graham did point out one thing that above all else is the reason he believes there won't be any letdown. Graham shared the perspective of the Owls' staff and players when he said, "We're 1-0. I told them after that stretch we're starting a new season. Going into this Army game, that's the game we had to win, and the kids responded and we got us a win," said Graham. "Now we just have seven more to go. If the kids continue to get better, we'll be right in the middle of all seven of them."


Monday press luncheon audios...
Coach Graham, Andray Downs, Chase Clement on Rice's big win over Army....

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Coach Graham (part 2)
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Andray Downs
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Chase Clement
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