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'06 UCF week

Rice 40, UCF 29
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Versatile Owl offense,
toughened defense
key late Rice onslaught

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John Welch skies high for ball, as defender manages to get in friendly tug at the small of the back (PTH photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. (Oct. 21) -- The Rice Owls exhibited a new-found versatility on offense and combined that with a newly-emerged mental toughness on defense in breaking open a 13-13 halftime tie, turning it into a 40-29 romp in the Theme Park over the University of Central Florida here Saturday.

The plot line in this game was as thick and twisty as a Russian novel, and the cast of characters just about as broad. There were plenty of close scrapes for the good guys, heroic performances by unlikely characters, moments when the result was in doubt, and, most of all, a happy ending that even portended the likelihood of one or more sequels. All in all, it was a good read; quite the page-turner for Owl fans.

Played before a crowd of just under 31,000 fans at the Florida Citrus Bowl, a rather decrepit old barn that reminded one more of a less-well-maintained Cotton Bowl than something one would expect from the center of the Disney universe, the game came off as ugly to the local folks as it did inspiring to the visitors. And those plot twists started with the opening kickoff.

When the Golden Knights won the coin toss, they chose to receive, figuring, one would guess, to show those bumbling Texans how a pro-style offense burns rubber from the starting line.

Only Owl kicker Luke Juist dribbled a little onsider a couple or three bounces down the field, and then pounced on the ball himself just as it went the requisite ten yards.

A huge, well it was sort of a huge mumble that coursed through partisan crowd, more in anger that the locals would let such a thing happen to themselves, rather than shock at the outcome.

"I wanted to show the kids something, too, coming out – that’s why we started off and bunted that opening kickoff," Rice head coach Todd Graham said afterwards. "I wanted to tell them that we’ve come here to be wide open; we’ve come here to win. We didn’t come here just to try."

The Owls immediately were able to move the ball, though not in huge gobs. Quinton Smith showed signs of things to come with an eight-yard carry up the gut, first play. Chase Clement then hit Jarett Dillard with a quick-out for four yards and a first down, and then scrambled for nine more, the next play.

The Owls reached the UCF 28 before bogging down, in part due to a couple of hard sticks by UCF pass defenders. But that put Luke Juist right in the middle of his favorite, 40-to-50 yard range, and, likely still pumped from his onsides kick recovery, he boomed his field goal attempt high and straight through from 45 yards out – it would’ve easily carried across the uprights from ten yards farther.

Rice defensive strategy:  allow the run, deny the pass

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Brandon King has got his interception, and he's eyeing his interference and striking out of for the goal line -- almost made it (PTH photo)

The Rice defensive strategy became apparent upon the home team’s ensuing possession – give them room to run all they want between the 20s; but clamp down on the vertical passing game and tighten up in the Red Zone.

"I knew that their offense was very, very good," Coach Graham insisted afterwards.  "And we gave up a lot of rushing yards tonight to keep them from throwing it – because it was tough matching up with those wideouts; they have great wideouts."

Sounds like a good ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ strategy, doesn’t it, Coach?

"I hate that ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ attitude; I never say that," he retorted. "But the thing you have to do, is be aggressive when you have your opponent on your side of the field. We did some of that tonight; we did some all-out blitzing for the first time this year, on early downs."

"The more times they’ve got to snap the ball, it’s my experience that it’s that more likely that they’ll mess it up," he added – not speaking specifically in terms of this UCF team, although the generalization fit quite nicely on them, this time around.

First possession, the Golden Knights held onto the ball for eight plays, but failed to advance past the Rice 42 yard line. From there, Brian Raines made a key stop on last year’s C-USA freshman of the year, UCF running back Kevin Smith, and then Courtney Gordon nailed a scrambling QB Kyle Israel for no gain on third and long.

The resulting punt carried only 25 yards, to the Rice 17, and from there the Owls set up shop once again.

First play, handoff to Quinton Smith, but no room to roam in the backfield, and he had to fight his way back to the line of scrimmage before going down.

Second play, same tactics, different result. This time, threading his way through traffic, and cutting laterally across the flow, Q popped loose for a moment, five yards past the line of scrimmage, and next thing you knew, he’d rambled downfield for a 41-yard gain – his longest run since that 80-yarder in the season-opener against the Coogs.

The Owls continued to move the ball steadily and reached as far as the UCF six yard line. But there, facing fourth and two, the Rice staff decided to take the sure three points – and given the fact that they wound up with 40 on the evening, one is not inclined to quibble at that.

If, however, the Golden Knights had taken the ensuing kickoff and jammed the ball right down the Owls’ throats, one would have been concerned that the audacious opening strategy and the nice run of yardage managed only to put six points on the scoreboard for the Feathered Flock.

And whereas UCF was, indeed, able to move the ball, the Rice defense exhibited a hitherto undemonstrated stinginess, once the home team got into scoring position.

"We’ve really been focusing on red zone offense and red zone defense, because it really boils down to scoring," Coach Graham told us. "It doesn’t matter, first downs and all that stuff -- I mean it boils down to scoring."

Yup. We score. We keep them from scoring – or at least scoring less than we. And then the resulting statistics are for the losers to ponder over and question, ‘what if?’

Twice, UCF was able to take the ball down the field, aided largely by the stylish running of their ace running back, Kevin Smith. But both times, the Rice defense grew more successful as the field grew shorter. The result: two Michael Torres field goals evened the score at 6-6, five minutes into the second quarter, and at that point, both sides could’ve been justified in saying, aw, heck, we should be up, 14-6.

Next time Rice offense started, it finished

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Take a look at the size differential, add in a little of what UCF seemed to be able to get away with, and that makes the Rice defensive effort all the more impressive (PTH photo)

But then, the Rice offense turned a page. The next time around, they finished. Next possession, the Owls drove it 79 yards in 11 plays, Chase Clement throwing for the last ten yards to a wide-open Joel Armstrong on third and nine.

It should be mentioned that, were it not for a UCF bonehead play, however, the Birds might not’ve gotten good and started on that drive.

Rice faced fourth and four at its own 27, and looked to have to punt the ball away. What’s even worse, Jared Scruggs got off a 48-yard boomer that was fielded by UCF’s return ace, Joe Burnett, who ran like a man possessed, threading his way down the visitors' sideline as far as the Rice 15.

But as J. Fred likes to say...’however.’ First, UCF’s Javid James plowed into Jared after the punt went off; and second, a UCF blocker speared an Owl defender, allowing Burnett to break loose for the long run. Net result: a personal foul call on roughing the kicker, and the Owls were set up with a first-and-10 at their own 42.

The Owls rolled in for the score from there, getting two key completions from Chase to Joel Armstrong and a 20-yard scramble from Chase and third and six.

On UCF’s ensuing drive, facing second and 10 from his own 20, QB Israel completed a swing pass to the self-same Javid James, who coughed up the pill when he was blasted by Ja’Corey Shepherd at the 28. The loose football bounced tantalizingly on the grass with several Owls having a shot at it, and nothing but green space between them and the goal. But when the smoke cleared, UCF’s Patrick Brown was camped on the football and the Knights retained possession.

After an exchange of possessions, the Knights wound up with the ball at their own 14, with only 1:47 remaining in the half. Two plays yield six yards, and ate some clock. Then on third and four, Israel connected with Rocky Ross wide open down the middle, and he scooted for 55 yards to the Rice 25. At that point, surrendering only a field goal would have been a moral victory, but the Knights were not through yet.

Next, Israel hit his lanky receiver Mike Walker for 23 more yards down to the Rice 2. It took three tries from there, but on third and goal, the UCF quarterback hit Ross again on the quick slant, and that tied the score at 13 as the teams trudged off for the halftime locker room.

That missed fumble recovery opportunity rankled the Rice staff. "We talked about it at halftime," Coach Graham said, "about how we’d had the ball on the ground the first half and didn’t get the turnover, and I told them, ‘OK, it’s the second half; it’s zero-to-zero, so it’s going to boil down to how we play defense and what we do in the kicking game.’"

And the second half didn’t exactly start out swimmingly for the Owls. After an 18-yard completion on the sideline to Jarett Dillard moved the sticks one time, the Owls failed to move thereafter, and had to punt it away.

UCF responded by grinding out a 12-play, 65-yard drive, courtesy the pumping hamstrings of Kevin Smith. Smith carried the mail as far as the Rice seven yard line, but there, on third and two, just as it looked UCF would nail a TD, Courtney Gordon penetrated the Knight backfield and took Smith down for a loss of two.

It was another display of resolute toughness by the Owl defense, and the resulting 26-yard Michael Torres field goal didn’t look nearly as bad, at 16-13, as it would have, had the Owls fallen behind by a full touchdown.

The questions was, how would the Instititute Boys respond, now, having fallen behind for the first time in the game.

The answer was: with alacrity – indubitably.

Q bounced, picked up a seam -- and was gone

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Jonathan Cary (L), Vernon James jump for joy after Owl fumble recovery (PTH photo)

Facing third and two at the Rice 31, Chase handed off to Q, who bounced off a couple of tacklers in the middle of the line, picked up a seam, and sprinted 69 yards for the score, and suddenly the Owls were back on top, 20-16.

Post-game, Coach Graham said he’d challenged Quinton at halftime. "I thought Quinton was running hard, but you know there’s a difference between running hard and just refusing to be tackled," he said. "And Q responded. I said, ‘hey, there doesn’t have to be a hole there for you every time. You know, make one.’" And so he quite obviously did.

Then it was time for the Rice defense to pick up the pace. Thanks to aggressive defense by Vernon James, George Chukwu, Courtney Gordon and Marcus Rucker, UCF’s next offensive possession went nowhere.

Ja’Corey Shepherd fielded the ensuing punt, and took it 22 yards down the sideline to the Rice 47 – one zig instead of a zag, and he’d have had his first career punt return TD. But no matter, as Chase completed three straight passes to Tommy Henderson, Corbin Smiter and Jarett Dillard, and that had the Owls camped out at the UCF 26.

From there, Jarett circled out of his wideout spot and rolled toward the post. UCF had one man out of position, and zoom-boom, just like that, the Owl phenom had snagged a TD pass in the middle of the end zone – the tenth straight game in which he had accomplished such a feat.

"The safety bit on the play fake, and I ran my route," Jarett said, "and I saw I was wide open, and I was just hoping, ‘hey, Chase, throw the ball good,’ and he did, and, hey, there it is."

With a 27-16 lead, the Owls had fairly well dominated play for most of the third quarter, and on into the fourth. A DeJaun Cooper recovery of a UCF fumble forced by Vernon James at the Rice 20 looked to be the coup de grace. But moments later, another Joe Burnett punt return breathed life back into the Golden Knights.

Stalled at midfield, but with a chance to pin back UCF near its own goal line, Jared Scruggs tried to punt underneath the ace Knight punt returner. But Burnett caught the ball on the fly like a center fielder, and set off on a crazy-quilt pattern up the field. He must have run over a hundred yards, but counting north-south distance only, he managed to cover 50, to the Rice 31, before finally being hauled down by Chad Price.

With the short field ahead of them, UCF was able to take it in for the score, Israel going once again to Owl nemesis Mike Walker for the last 20 yards and the TD. The play was reviewd by the press box gendarmes, for it looked as if the receiver might have been juggling the ball as he crossed the end line. That review proved inconclusive – but what was not reviewed was the push that Walker gave Brandon King as they crossed arms and legs contending for the ball near the flag.

Though the Knights failed in the ensuing two-point conversion, suddenly it was 27–22 and thoughts of the previous week’s game entered the minds of the Owl defenders.

"Last week, we let (UAB) come back in the fourth quarter," linebacker Brian Raines explained after the game. "You know, we allowed them to put the game in jeopardy for us. When it seemed like it that same thing might start happening again, we said, ‘no, we can’t put our offense through that again.’ We had to do our share to win the game, too."

"After last week, we were upset with ourselves for letting that happen. So we just made sure we were going to come out and just do better today. And we did a lot better competing compared to last week."

That they did, as the Owl defense played its role to the hilt, while the offense did likewise.

Clinching score was earned by infantry

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Here's Q, making one of those holes where there wasn't one, per Coach Graham's halftime admonition (PTH photo)

Next possession, the Owls went 74 yards in 12 plays – all of it on the ground. Quinton Smith ripped through the middle of the Knight defense for the last 19 yards, and when he crossed the goal, he gave it a little uncharacteristic scissor-kick in celebration.

Any particular reason for that? Well, yeah, kinda, Q confessed afterwards. "I feel like I have struggled for the past four or five weeks," Quinton said, post-game. "It’s hard when teams key in on you. I talked about that to Dillard tonight, and he said, ‘yeah, it’s frustrating.’ But when you’ve got a great quarterback, and such a great receiver, that opens up the running game, and with the linemen working hard like they did tonight, we just were able to execute."

That play was the cherry on top of the ice cream, and, as much of the partisan crowd filed out of stadium, the Owls knew they had their third win of the season – and three victories in the last four games – all but sewn up.

After all, the Rice defense needed to add its own exclamation point, and they did so by virtue of Brandon King’s interception and return a moment later. Brandon got his revenge for the non-call on UCF’s previous touchdown, for this time, he was able to pick Mike Walker’s pocket for an interception at mid-field and thread his way down the sideline all the way to the UCF six before finally being pushed out of bounds.

"On the interception," Brandon said afterwards, "I told Coach, ‘They’re coming at me, they’re coming at me.’ I told him, ‘Coach, I’m gonna get you one, right here. This is fourth down.’ They threw it my way, then, and I got it."

Facing goal-to-go at the six, Rice played it conservatively. Two cautious handoffs to Quinton Smith didn’t yield much. But on third and goal, Q decided to make one of those holes where there wasn’t one, and he was able to surge across the goal, and that made it 40-22 with 1:29 left in the game.

The garbage-time touchdown that UCF scored on their final possession, culminating with a three-yard scoring strike from Kyle Israel to Rocky Ross with four seconds left, ought to have taken the Futility Award for most meaningless touchdown drive of the season.

And by that time, most of the UCF fans had long left the stadium, anyway.

Coach Graham said that the win put the Owls in about as good a position as they could expect to have been in at this stage in the season, given the way September played out.

"We’re just now starting to get healthy," he emphasized. "It’s the first time we’ve had every one of our offensive line in the game together. And now we get a week off, so hopefully we don’t have any injuries coming out of this game, and we can stay healthy."

"Our kids have played hard every game, but I think now that our kids are playing smarter. And the end result, you see. Again, I’m just excited that we’re able to handle success and go win two in a row."

With that, it fairly could be said that the Boys from South Main turned another page in Graham's Comprehensive Guide to Football Respectability.  And now this week, the Owls have a much-anticipated open date, time to set the book down for a moment and go for a brief dip.

--Paul T. Hlavinka

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It's called Attitude:
  Rice's Quinton Smith can't resist strutting his stuff at least a little bit,
once he safely crosses goal line to provide Owls with game-clinching TD (PTH photo)

Post-game interviews

06ucftgtn.jpg (25734 bytes) Todd Graham:   'It's an attitude.  You've got to have an attitude about what you're doing...'X
06ucf81tn.jpg (17810 bytes) Jarett Dillard: 'We've got so many options that we can go to now....'
06ucf15tn2.jpg (20503 bytes) Brandon King: 'Because of the injury I knew they were going to come after me....'
06ucf44tn.jpg (21479 bytes) Quinton Smith:  'We know that every single game we play, we have to win....'
06ucf31tn.jpg (22307 bytes) Brian Raines:   'We couldn't put our offense through what they went through last week....'

Sammy's got plenty of weapons to go to in tilt with Knights
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Owls seek another
milestone on route
to  the next level

ORLANDO, Fla. -- (Oct. 20) Last week, the Rice Owls appeared to have turned at least a slight corner in their quest for bowl team- level competitiveness, by swiping a 34-33 win from UAB literally in the last few seconds of the game. One might say they knocked on the door of respectability for the first time this season.

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This week, the Boys from the Institute get to pound on that door, as they take on the University of Central Florida Golden Knights at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando Saturday. A win against UCF would mean three victories in their last four games, and give the Owls a real chance to fight for a .500 record, or even better, between now and the final gun of the regular-season-ending game with SMU Nov. 24.

The Owls are struggling for consistency, for after exhibiting their most impressive showing thus far of the season in a 48-14 dismantling of Army Sept. 30, the Flock traveled to New Orleans to take on Tulane the next Saturday and got their tail-feathers picked, 38-24.

Rice head coach Todd Graham called his Owls "flat" against the Green Wave. In contrast,  against the Army the Owls were bubbling over with effervescence. So that must mean that last week against the UAB Blazers the Flock exhibited just enough spritzung to win.

They'll need a CO2 injection Saturday, then, if they expect to take the measure of Coach George O'Leary's Golden Knights, Coach Graham intimated.

"I'll guarantee you, we've got to go out and play better this week than we did last week, to have a chance to beat Central Florida," he said. "I think Central Florida has a better team than the one we just played."

To win with consistency, Owls must play with consistency

"To win with consistency in this league," Todd noted, "you have to have kids who do what they are coached to do, a hundred per cent of the time. And we're not there yet. But we do have a good team, a talented team, but no question the win over UAB was a phenomenal win, and we can be proud of that. But the key is,  each Sunday, to go to the next game, and forget about last week." 

"We need to get people healthy," he added. "This game is critical this week in that regard. If we get out and figure out a way to win somehow this week, well, then, we get a week off. And then maybe we can get some guys back (from injury).

The Golden Knights have suffered their share of injuries as well, and it's shown especially on the offensive side, where essentially the same lineup that scored at a 30-ppg-plus clip during last year's division champtionship drive has been scoring an average of more like 16 ppg thus far this season.

The Knights played well on the road in when Michael Torres kicked a a 22-yard field goal with six seconds remaining to lift the Golden Knights to a 23-22 win on the road at Marshall on Oct. 4. But last week at home against Pitt, UCF gained just 320 total yards and committed four turnovers en route to a 52-7 loss. The team has struggled inside the red zone all season and those struggles continued against the Panthers as the team was just 1-of-3 inside Pittsburgh's 20-yard line.

In the loss to Pittsburgh, the Golden Knights finished with just 110 yards on 42 rushing attempts. Their Kevin Smith was able to rush for 70 yards and one score on 20 carries and now has a team-best 473 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The passing attack was slightly better in the contest, not because of starter Steven Moffet, but because of backup Kyle Israel.

Moffet was ineffective in the contest, completing just 5-of-10 passes for 52 yards and also tossed an interception. Israel was much better in game and finished with 158 yards on 13- of-19 passing. Moffet's shaky performance looks as it if might have cost him his starting position, but Knights head coach George O’Leary is being coy about the situation.

"Right now, obviously, as we've done the past two weeks, we've got to evaluate who's actually moving the team the best in practice and go from there," Coach O'Leary said. "But it's not who starts, because they're both going to play. It's a matter of I like to reward people that do better than someone else."

"It is possible to play two quarterbacks and make it work," Coach O'Leary added. "Some of the other coaches get attached to playing one guy. I don't. I'm always going to play the guy at a position that gives us the best chance to win."

Moving on to the defense, the Knights are right down there with the Owls, stat-wise – at least partially a result of the rugged non-conference schedule they’ve been obliged to undertake as well, with big losses to both Pitt and Florida showing up on the record.

Given the schedule they’ve faced, UCF is giving up 416.3 yards per game and 29.2 ppg. The defensive unit is allowing 160.8 yards per game on the ground and have played even worse against the pass, permitting 255.5 ypg.

Last week against Pitt, Joe Burnett led the defense with seven tackles in the loss and now has a team-high 41 stops on the season.

UCF much better than record indicates, Coach Graham says

That 2-4 record and all those stats given up add up to a misleading impression, Coach Graham warned. "UCF is a challenge," he told press. "Their record is not indicative of what type of team they are.

"You have to look at who people are playing. Florida and Pitt between them have lost two games."

"The thing about them is that they've got receivers that are 6-3, 6-4, 6-6; they're going to throw the ball vertically, down the field." That presents a problem for Rice’s physically-compromised defensive secondary, he added. "We've got guys who are out there, who can't allow one-shot plays."

"They're going to be a challenge down the field. And then they're going to pound it right at you. But I do think this past week helped us, because UAB ran it right at us, too."

George O’Leary is one of the best coaches in the country, at least in the opinion of Todd Graham. "He’s done just a great job, and they are talented."

"They've got a big, huge offensive line. Defensively, same thing."

"They've had some problems with turning the ball over. But remember they were in the championship game last year."


Options, instead of option
Defenses now face a tough choice

By Mark Anderson

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Rice receivers coach David Beaty: 'Understanding releases, understanding structures, and how to release against different profile defensive backs, understanding how to catch the ball in your hands away from your body and why you do so, route running—all those things have to be taught, and it takes a little bit of time to do that'

HOUSTON (Oct. 19) -- Last year when Rice hosted UCF, they ran a very predictable offense—option left, option right. The only thing UCF had to worry about was containing Quinton Smith and Joel Armstrong. And although Joel Armstrong threw for three TDs that drizzly afternoon, everyone knew the key to the Rice offense was Quinton Smith—period. In spite of the fact that Armstrong threw three touchdowns, it was pretty obvious that when Rice ran the option play, the last option was the pass.

But not this year.

Unless your head has been buried in the sand, you have become familiar with the name Jarett Dillard. Jarett was a jewel that the new coaching staff uncovered when they scrapped the option as the primary weapon. As a result, Dillard is leading C-USA in catches (53), yardage (683), and TDs (11). He has caught a TD pass in nine straight games, dating back to last season, and twice this year has caught three in a game (vs. Army and vs. UAB). Without a doubt at the present moment, Jarett is the "go to guy" on the Rice offense.

Frankly, though, Jarett has always been that go-to guy as long as he has been at Rice. Jarett came to Rice under Ken Hatfield, and wasn't an option in the passing game. He was the only option in the passing game.

What's happening with Dillard isn't sheer coincidence or luck. David Beaty, the wide receivers coach and the passing game coordinator for Rice, says that coaching Dillard "is like a dream come true."

Coach Beaty says of Dillard, "He's obviously an extremely talented kid. His talent to me is the type of character he possesses. A lot of times when you are coaching talented kids like that, your job is not so much what he does on the football field, but how to control him off the field, and how to control his selfishness or unselfishness."

But Dillard goes beyond X's and O's, Coach Beaty noted. One thing that Dillard possesses and is beginning to display is leadership, he said. And something everyone is noticing about Dillard is his character.

"With Jarett, he's teaching me things on a daily basis. He's a great Christian example for our kids and the coaches. He's got an unbelievable work ethic. I don't think I've ever had him late or miss anything. He's always early, he's prompt, he's a tremendous leader, and he's out in front."

Jarett not the only threat

However, if you think the Rice passing attack is a one man show, the one in charge of coordinating the air attack would not agree with you. Joel Armstrong became a wide receiver late this spring. And Coach Beaty believes Joel has all it takes to be a very good one.

"We were really excited about the one-two punch he was going to give us," he said. "With Jarett and Joel together, along with Tommy Henderson and Mike Falco, and all the others we've got over there, we're really excited about him being there."

Beaty sees Joel as a work in progress. "We've been extremely proud of him coming back and really starting to pick up some of the nuances of playing that position," he crowed about Joel. "I think a lot of people think lining up at wide receiver is going out there and running and catching the football, when in actuality, there's a lot more to it than that."

"Understanding releases, understanding structures, and how to release against different profile defensive backs, understanding how to catch the ball in your hands away from your body and why you do so, route running—all those things have to be taught, and it takes a little bit of time to do that," explained Coach Beaty.

Beaty is confident that Joel's presence will make an impact on the passing game. "He's been working on an accelerated pace to get himself in a position to be a very effective receiver, and I'm very proud of him because he's getting there. He's going to be even better than what he is now when he gets more time at the position," revealed Beaty.

'Quiet contributors'

Another reason the passing game is not a one man show is Tommy Henderson. Coach Beaty had very high praise for Tommy. "Tommy is quietly racking up receiving yards. Sooner or later, I don't know how long that's going to be, they're just going to leave that kid wide open. When they have to cover him, that's going to open it up for the other guys as well," Beaty said of Henderson.

"If you look at the receiving stats, you'll see a quiet 14, 15, 17 catches caught by Tommy Henderson and a quiet 250 yards that he's been able to contribute that nobody talks about that have a lot to do with our offensive output and productivity. I'm certainly proud of him at this point."

One thing that Coach Beaty is especially pleased about with Tommy Henderson is his versatility. He provided some insight as to how the coaching staff views Tommy when he said, "The biggest thing about him is that he has an unbelievable knowledge of what we're doing offensively. He can come in at any position at any time."

"I think the kid can go play quarterback if we needed him to, because he possesses an enormous amount of knowledge, a very intelligent kid, plus he's very coachable and does exactly what he's supposed to do."

Another quiet but steady contributor to the passing game is Taylor Wardlow, the freshman tight end. "Dean Jackson, our tight end coach, has done a great job of training Taylor Wardlow," Coach Beaty said.  "I'm really excited about what he's been able to bring to our offense. Those guys provide hidden yards that people don't know about," said Beaty.

Four more weapons, to boot

But apparently this is only the tip of the iceberg for the future of the passing game at Rice. There were four wide receivers that came to Rice as freshmen this year: Andrew Novak, Corbin Smiter, Evan Fentriss, and Torren Dixon. Perhaps it seems that these four have gotten lost in the shuffle.

However, Coach Beaty was quick to point out that simply isn't the case with any of these talented wide receivers. Beaty said of Novak, "He's been making great progress until he had an injury that slowed him, and he'll be back with us in a couple of weeks, hopefully."

"Torren Dixon," says Beaty, "is a kid that stepped in and had his first catch the other night at a crucial time for us down there in the last game against UAB. I know he was excited about that and he was excited to get the first one under his belt. He moved to a new position. He played C the other night, he'd been playing X, so I was proud of him. He had 100 per cent on the grading system. . . so moving to a new position, we were proud of him for that."

Coach Beaty also had high praise for Corbin Smiter. "Corbin  is a kid that is quietly stepping on the scene and doing a great job for us, not only from a mental standpoint, but physically, he's been a good blocker."

"He's done some great things on the perimeter blocking for us, and he's got one catch right now. He's going to be a kid to contend with."

Last, but certainly not least in this freshman class, Evan Fentriss has had a tough time breaking into the starting lineup. The reason why is pretty simple, according to Coach Beaty. "He's another kid that made some great plays against Texas over at Reliant that day." But the reason he's had trouble breaking into the lineup, Beaty said, was "because he's really playing behind Jarett Dillard, but we're training him at other positions and he should be ready to step in this week in other positions."

And lest we forget, there's another weapon in the passing game that's been on the shelf with an injury -- Mike Falco. When Mike is able to return, he will bring invaluable experience and yet another weapon to the passing game.

Tough choices for enemy defenses

So how will UCF play it this week? Will they concentrate on Jarett and double team him? If they do, that is going to leave someone open, and chances are, Chase will find that someone.

And if they think that Rice can't run the ball, and forget about Quinton Smith, Quinton may break one and remind everyone why he is so dangerous.

If they forget about Chase's threat to run, he may break a few himself. Just like Sammy in this week's cartoon, this Owl team is appears to be loaded with weapons -- all aimed at knocking off UCF this coming Saturday.

It should be a very interesting rematch, to say the least.


06ucfweektg1375.jpg (40869 bytes)
Coach Graham appeared relaxed but intensely focused at Monday's press luncheon (PTH photo)

Monday media luncheon audios:

Coach Graham: "We played better this week, especially against the run, but we've got to eliminate the big plays"wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)new.gif (908 bytes)

Jarett Dillard: "I don't think any of us were as nervous as we should've been"wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)new.gif (908 bytes)

Brian Raines:   "I just want to do my best to try and complete all my assignments, every game"wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)new.gif (908 bytes)




Man in demand
06ucfweekjdinterv464.jpg (56607 bytes)

Rice wide receiver Jarett Dillard is getting attention from local sports anchors now that he leads the nation in touchdown pass receptions.  Can Sports Illustrated be next?  (PTH photo)


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