|'06 U C L A week
Coach Graham on the UCLA game...
Ja'Corey Shepherd post-game comments...
UCLA 26, Rice 16
Almost an ambush
at old Arroyo Seco
hang tough, but fall short
John Shepherd drew the start at QB for Owls under what
might be termed less than ideal circumstances, but put in a game performance (PTH
PASADENA, Ca. (Sept. 10) -- When Rice's Joel Armstrong had to be
helped off the field with an injury early in the first quarter of Saturday's game against
UCLA, little did the 45,000-odd Bruin fans present realize that they were getting a gift
that later would appear absolutely necessary in order for their leading men to eke out a
26-16 in over a determined Owl team.
With starting quarterback Chase Clement relegated to an
extras role due to his broken (or perhaps merely jammed) finger, and with Joel's only
being able to take the field at limited efficiency in the third quarter, the Owls lacked
the offensive punch necessary to win this shoot-em-up at Arroyo Seco.
But that doesn't mean they went down easily, instead scratching and clawing their way
to what almost became an upset of blockbuster proportions.
But in actuality, had it not been for the chewing-gum and bailing-wire Rice
found it necessary to cobble together an effective quarterback spot Saturday night, those
handsome lads from Westwood just might've gone home with their heads stuffed completely up
their tails, instead of merely half-way, as it turned out to be.
"I've never been so unhappy with a win," UCLA quarterback Ben Olson
Oh yeah? Talk to the guys at U of H. Looking back on it, they say they're
feeling mighty lucky to win by one over the Institute Boys.
Just like against U of H in the season opener, Rice once again spotted an
opponent to a two- touchdown lead, and then yet again roared back to keep the outcome in
doubt until the waning moments of the game.
Stat sheet not an indicator of defensive effort
This one had to be studied by officials in the booth; it was ruled UCLA receiver came down
in bounds for the TD (PTH photo)
Rice was able to stay in the game with tenacious first-half defense that
turned touchdown drives into field goals and kept the Flock within striking distance.
In fact, were it not for the Owls' inability to punch the ball across the goal
line after alert, aggressive special teams play set them up at the lip of the cup with a
fumbled punt, the score would've been 13-7 instead of 13-0 at the half.
A pair of recovered Bruin fumbles set up the ideal field position. First, on
second and six from the Rice 40, UCLA quarterback Ben Olson was rocked by Brian Raines,
forcing the fumble which was recovered by Dietrich Davis at the Owl 47.
When the Rice offense failed to move the ball, Jared Scruggs lofted a high
pop-fly punt which Marcus Everett, the Bruin deep man, unwisely tried to field inside his
10 yard line. The ball squiggled free and Chad Price charged in like a man possessed,
first knocking Everett away from the pill and then falling on it himself at the UCLA two
yard line and the Owls suddenly were sitting pretty.
With redshirt freshman John Shepherd at the helm, the Owls just couldnt
quite managed to push the ball over the goal. On first down, Will Moss made a nice catch
but couldnt evade two defenders; he was stopped for no gain.
Then, the Owls were flagged for a false - start penalty, which set them back to
the seven, a decidedly much more tricky situation.
Let us digress.
The officiating crew, it seemed to those strictly impartial observers from the
Bayou City, deserved an Academy Award nomination for their impersonation of an unbiased
arbiter of the game. While, on paper at least, both teams apparently were hit relatively
evenly with penalties -- the Owls getting flagged 10 times for 80 yards and the Bruins
eight for 70 -- it was the gendarmes' impeccable sense of timing that made them so
deserving of thespian kudos.
For it seemed that each time the Owls were positioned to fly high in taking
advantage of a momentum- changing turnover, or stop, they were brought down to the turf
with a thump via the yellow flag.
This was the first time. There were more in the second half. Ask Ja'Corey
Shepherd. Ask Andrew Sendejo.
At any rate, now facing second and goal from the seven, the Owls managed only to
fly backwards. What happened was, the UCLA defense simply put on the afterburners and
roared in each play, but the offensive prescription didn't manage to punish them for their
After a third down reverse play lost 12 more yards, Luke Juist missed a field
goal try from 36 yards out hey, that just wasnt quite far enough for Juice;
he needs to be outside the 40.
What a downer the failure to score was, for the Owls.
"You look back on the big play of the game, when you get the ball on the
two yard line like we did, youve got to score," Rice head coach Todd Graham
said afterwards. "Youve got to be able to punch the ball in. We do, and then
were winning going into the fourth quarter."
But more on that later.
Despite disastrous start on offense, Rice stayed in game
Brian Raines runs right through his blocker to down UCLA's Chris Markey for a loss (PTH
Rice had given up those first 13 points to the UCLAns very begrudgingly
and that, despite what proved to be a disastrous start for the Rice offense.
Coach Graham said that a last minute decision was made to hold out starting QB
Chase Clement, who still couldnt comfortably grip the ball with his either broken or
jammed throwing-hand thumb, depending on who you ask.
"We made a game-time decision not to play Chase," he said. "That
was very difficult. And then (John) Shepherd goes out there and right away gets banged
around, dinged around. Then we put Joel (Armstrong) in there, and Joel gets dinged around
and suddenly youre playing two different guys at quarterback. But you keep
It looked for a moment that the Owls were going to have to send up a note to the
Rice faithful asking if anybody whod ever played quarterback had any eligibility
Dr. McReynolds, please report to the Rice bench.
As Todd mentioned, on the Owls' first offensive series, John Shepherd, who drew
the starting nod when it was determined Chase couldn't go, got his bell rung the first
play from scrimmage.
With Chase out, and what they perceived to be fresh meat handling the ball in
the Owl backfield, the UCLAns blitzed in as mercilessly as the Capital One Huns in the
attempt to rape, pillage, burn and create as much havoc in the Rice offensive scheme as
they possibly could.
Joel Armstrong came in to spell John after the first play, and he immediately
jacked up and moved the team, scrambling for a first down on third and long. But that's
when he, too, in turn, got his mugging from the Bruin defense (as in a knee to the
helmet). Rice at this point was down to one quarterback with experience under his
belt -- John Shepherd, who'd run the first play of the game.
The fans in the stands and the sportwriters in the press box apparently never
figured that out, instead merely assuming that, hey, these Rice guys are even worse than
they were last year -- and, man, this is going to be fun tonight.
In fact the Owls managed all of eight yards total offense in the first quarter,
and earned only four first downs the entire first half. Part of the reason for it lay in
the tenacity of the UCLA defense, which, after all, had virtually completely shut down a
prolific Utah offense the week before. But the UCLAns' task was made easier by the fact
that John Shepherd was thrown to the lions under the worst possible circumstances -- in
front of 45,000 noisy, hostile fans, with seemingly no one available to back him up, and
with a headache from taking a shot on his very first play from scrimmage.
Under the circumstances, he perfomed admirably, each of his throws being on the
It was to the Owls' credit that they refused to let those negative developments
get the best of them, resolutely keeping UCLA out of the end zone for the entire first
three quarters of the game, save for one pass in which JaCorey Shepherd
uncharacteristically got faked out of position -- and don't expect that to happen much
more this season, if at all.
The Bruins did, in fact, score the first two times they had the ball, but both
drives had all the vim and vigor of a split-T three yards and a cloud of dust.
UCLA reached the Rice 13 the first series, before George Chukwu dropped Chris
Markey for a loss to force the field goal.
Things looked as if they might quickly get out of hand next possession, when
UCLA swarmed into the Rice backfield on a third and 11 play and picked up the fumble at
the Rice 32. But the Owl defense was having none of that.
Thanks to key stops by Brian Raines and Chad Price, three plays netted zero
yards, and the Bruins Justin Medlock had to come in again and nine-iron another
field goal, this time from 32 yards out.
Late in the first quarter, then, Rice let UCLAs Chris Markey out of the
bottle, and he ran for 43 yards to the Rice 30, and with the Owl defense rocked back on
its heels, thats when the Bruins Ben Olson managed his TD strike over
JaCorey Shepherd, a nine yard fade route to a leaping Junior Taylor.
Thats all the scoring there was in the first half. Still, the partisan
crowd appeared to be just sure that the party would really begin in the third quarter. But
when it did, it was the Owls who were cooking and celebrating.
"You've got to pick your battles"
Center of Rice defense goes high in attempt to block Justin Medlock field goal try
Although the statisical battle was won by the Bruins, the box score didn't
tell the story of the game.
Rice's aggressiveness on defense was taken advantage by the Bruins via the run,
as the bulk of Chris Markey's whopping 205 yards on the ground was set up by trapping
blocking schemes that created running lanes through which the speedy Markey deftly cut.
But those same Owl defenders who were so often camped in the UCLA backfield were able to
make the big stop on offense more often than not, however, once the field got shorter.
And that same defensive strategy proved successful in limiting Bruin quarterback
Ben Olson to a mere 124 yards passing on the night -- a far cry from the 255 yards he
picked up via the air in last week's much easier Bruin win, a 31-10 laugher over Utah.
Local scribes naturally concluded the veteran Bruin man under was simply having
a major off- night -- it couldn't have been anything to do with the grit and tenacity of
the Rice defense, could it? Nahh....
"Defensive footballs not about what your stats are," Coach
Graham told a local writer afterwards. "The bottom line tonight is that we played
good enough defense to beat them."
"On defense, youve got to pick your battles. We invited them to run
the football; they did. They did some good things schematically; they came back and made
some great adjustments. Theyre a very well coached football team. But theres
not any question that our defense tonight gave them all that they wanted."
Going into the third quarter, the spirits of the 500-odd Rice partisans shunted
off in the northwest corner of the end zone were lifted when Joel Armstrong was able to
come back onto the field and guide the Flock after the Owls received the second-half
But Joel appeared unable immediately the shake off the rust that invariably had
accumulated on his quarterbacking mechanism, as the Owls went three-and-out on that
But once again the Rice defense rose to the occasion.
First play, from the UCLA 31, the Bruin quarterback rifled down the middle,
and JaCorey Shepherd was there to make the pick.
"I gave up that touchdown in the first half, so I knew I had to come back
and make a play," JaCorey said afterwards. "I was sitting back and I read
the quarterbacks eyes, and I just broke on the ball."
This time, the Owl offense wasnt quite there yet, but "Juice"
was. On fourth down from the UCLA 28, Luke Juist came in and calmly booted a 45-yard field
goal attempt that was straight and true, once again proving the theory that Luke is the
St. Jude of field goal kickers -- only if it appears to be a lost cause, is he able to
guide the ball through the uprights.
Though that three points seemed measly at the time, the fact that the Owls had
gotten on the scoreboard did something to further tarnish the UCLAn's perceived self-image
of defensive invinceability previously so forcefully emphasized by their second
quarter goal line stand.
Owls roared back with 78-yard drive
Jarett Dillard comes down with 15-yard TD reception in third quarter to put Owls within
six (PTH photo)
For when the Owl defense next played bend-but-don't-break on the next UCLA
drive, limiting the Bruins once again to another Justin Medlock field goal, this time from
51 yards out, the Owls roared back with a picture-perfect, 78-yard drive next time they
got their hands on the ball.
During that drive, Rice seldom needed to go beyond second down, getting
first-down distance on every play save for two. Key pickups were by Quinton Smith, rushing
for 13 yards to get the ball near midfield, and Jarett Dillards 14-yard completion
to the UCLA 34.
A couple plays later, Jarett was wide open on the fade route and cradled the
ball to his chest for the touchdown from 15 yards out. Suddenly, Rice was totally and
undeniably right back in the middle of things.
And the partisan UCLA crowd, always ready to give a big boo, this time
wouldve let the local boys have it, were they not been shocked into virtual silence
by the turn of events.
Remember, last year, UCLA scored touchdowns the first seven times it got its
hands on the ball. This year, suddenly, it was the middle of the third quarter, and still
anybodys ball game.
JaCorey Shepherd recalled, "We were very excited. We had all the
momentum. I mean, we shut the Rose Bowl down. We had the Rose Bowl quiet. So that
made us very excited over on the sidelines."
Things got even quieter a moment later when Chad Price once again hunted down
his man and took away the ball. This time, with UCLA operating from the Rice 38, next
possession, Chad chased QB Ben Olson all over the place, finally corraling him back at his
own 41, where he promptly coughed up the pill and Chad grabbed himself another one.
At that point, the partisan crowd, a surprisingly surly ensemble of boo birds,
foul-mouthed townies and rout-hungry alumni, were disposed to absolute silence.
One the sideline, Coach Graham admonished his defense, who'd just picked up the
turnover, that "we're going to win this game."
As the Rice offense readied to take the field, OL David Berken was telling his
fellow linemen, "Keep on hitting and then hit some more. These California guys don't
like to be hit hard. They'll roll over."
At that point, one would have expected a well-executed first play would have set
up the Owls for a go-ahead drive on a short field, but that's where the zebras decided to
take center stage.
We all are aware that somewhere, somehow, an offensive holding call can be made
on just about every play that involves delayed action in the backfield. The Owls
first play from scrimmage here did, and the Flock was whistled for a holding call that
made it first and 20 instead of first and ten, and somehow that upset the apple cart when
it came to momentum.
The Owls failed to convert the first down, punted out to the UCLA 13, and from
there, the Bruins Chris Markey once again found a seam in the line on a trap play
that went for 36 yards, and the Owls had lost both their field position and their mo.
Justin Medlock converted another field goal at the end of that Bruin drive, this
time from 34 yards out, a minute deep into the fourth quarter.
Fade route ruled in-bounds put UCLA up by 16
Rice's Quinton Smith couldn't be tied down for whole
game; kept Owls in it with 48-yard fourth quarter TD jaunt (PTH photo)
The Owls failed to move the ball on the ensuing possession, punted out,
Markey got loose again, and then came another, shall we say, interesting call. It
was a questionable fade route from Olson to Brand Breazell from 18 yards out that made it
26-10, Bruins, with 8:19 in the game. Rice challenged the play, and the replays seemed to
show that the receiver was out of bounds before he had full possession of the ball, but
the man upstairs apparently lacked the gumption to overruled the call on the field.
But still Rice didnt pack it in. Aided by a key block from Mike Falco, who
also had three gut-check kickoff returns, Quinton Smith got outside and dashed down
the sideline for a 48-yard TD run a moment later. That brought the Owls back to
within 10, 26-16, so the Flock went for two, given that there was only 5:38 left on
On the two-point try, Jarett Dillard appeared clearly to have been interfered
with as he went up on his own fade route, but the no-call loomed large, for it took the
pressure off the Bruin defense as the Owls thusly needed two scores to come back, instead
The Owls did go for the onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff, but werent
able to come up with the ball.
That took the wind out of the Rice sails, and UCLA was able to run out the clock
and escape what would have been an upset defeat of epic proportions.
Todd Graham tried to assume the air of a frustrated coach in defeat in his
post-game news conference, but instead he could not help projecting the beaming air of a
proud papa. You see, to his way of looking at it, those few loyal Owl fans who fought
their way through Southern California traffic to the Rose Bowl Saturday evening just might
have witnessed the Birth of a Football Team.
"I wasnt surprised. I knew we could defense them," Coach Graham
said. "We have a pretty good secondary and ran a pretty good scheme against them. To
go out and play like we did against a team like that shows that we have the makings of a
"When we scored, we go onside kick. Were coming to win. The thing
that weve got to do as a program is get turnovers, get the ball back for our
offense. We did that tonight."
"This teams dangerous. Were going to win a lot of football
--Paul T. Hlavinka
Owls to test UCLA on the road
New attitude to meet
HOUSTON (Sept. 7) -- The Rice Owls are packing their bags and
heading west to La-La Land to meet UCLA Saturday in the Rose Bowl for the second year in a
row, although this time, they have a solid game under their belts, new coaching, new
training, new, er, schematics, and a whole new attitude.
That attitude apparently has held up just fine this week despite the
Owls' depressing one-point loss to the University of Houston in the Institute's home
opener Saturday. The 31-30 defeat, by the way, was said to be the Coog's biggest road
comeback ever, as they trailed by 16 points with just over 17 minutes left, and yet
managed to squeeze out a come-from-behind victory.
But demoralizing as that may sound to Owl fans, Rice head coach Todd Graham says
he, his staff and his team are through thinking about that game, and for that matter,
they're through talking about it, too. Nobody expected to be 12-0 on the year, especially
after having won just once in the Owls' last 18 tries. Rather, it's a week-by-week
proposition, and each game is up for grabs, no matter how exalted the opponent, Coach
"This Rice team can win any time it steps on the field," Coach Graham
said Monday. And apparently he meant to include the next three games, roadies (or virtual
roadies) against UCLA, Texas and Florida State.
An alert paramedic immediately took Todd's temperature, and, whaddayaknow, it
was 98.6. He apparently really believes that stuff.
Well, it is a matter of belief, he avers. But before that, it's a matter of
"These kids, with all the training they did in the spring and summer
when we are in any game, and it gets down to the fourth quarter, we are going to have an
opportunity to win," Todd noted, "because the other night, we were not tired.
And our defense played a lot of snaps."
"Our players are in shape. Coach (Yancy) McKnight has done a tremendous job
-- and that's in six months."
Rice clearly showed improved product against UH
Anyone who ventured within the confines of Rice Stadium last Saturday and
that includes wearers of the blue and grey and of the red and white as well could
agree that the product Rice is putting on the field this season is a far cry better than
that which was seen during last fall's 1-10 campaign.
And that's a good thing, because with the next three neighborhood bullies coming
up, it's going to take a superhuman task just to stay in the ball park. And that starts at
the Rose Bowl Saturday night.
The Bruins lost half their starters on offense and defense from last year's 10-2
campaign, but, like a certain baseball team we know, apparently they don't rebuild
they just reload.
In that regard, studying game films from last year haven't proven to be all that
much benefit for the Rice brain trust, Coach Graham said. "I've looked at films
of seven or eight of their games from last year," he noted, "and they don't help
much at all."
"They have a different quarterback, different running back, different tight
end. Defensively, they have a totally new defensive coordinator. They're very much a
The Bruins are led offensively by 23-year-old senior Ben Olson, whos back
on the field after time off taken for missionary work. The plus on him is his maturity, in
addition to his deft passing touch.
Olsons favorite target last week was big tight end, Logan Paulsen, who had
five catches for 90 yards in the Bruins season-opening, 31-10 win over Utah.
Olson went 25 of 33 passes for 318 yards and three TDs in his debut as a
starter. A total of 10 Bruins caught passes against Utah.
UCLA added 107 yards on the ground, led by Kahlil Bell and Chris Markey. The
Bruins did not commit a turnover and did not allow a quarterback sack.
Defensively, UCLA allowed just 287 yards, 79 in the second half when it
outscored Utah 17-0.
The Bruins played nickel and dime packages extensively against the Utes' spread
offense and allowed just 175 yards passing and 112 yards rushing. The rushing total was
the lowest by a Bruin opponent since Wyoming had just 76 in the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl.
Utah is expected to contend for the Mountain West Crown this year (apparently
the league has decided against retiring the trophy and handing it to TCU permanently). But
Coach Karl Dorrell's bunch appeared to have little trouble with the Utes, winning
going away in a game in which the Utes lost five fumbles and went 0-for-11 in attempts to
convert on third down.
"To shut down any offense from not converting any third downs tells you
something about the potential our defense can be," Coach Dorrell said Monday.
"I'm very pleased about that, being 0 for 11 for an offense to convert on third down.
That's a very impressive statistic."
Uh, yah, it is.
Boys from Westwood a handful on both sides of ball
Dennis Keyes led the Bruins with against the Utes with seven tackles (one for
loss) and two pass breakups while Chris Horton added five solo tackles. Rodney Van and
Aaron Whittington (two for losses) had four tackles each. Kevin Brown (two for losses) and
Nikola Dragovic, both returning from season-ending injuries a year ago, had three tackles
True freshman Alterraun Verner returned an interception for a touchdown and
recovered a fumble and Trey Brown made the fourth interception of his career.
OK, then, sounds like the Boys from Westwood are quite a handful on both sides
of the ball. So where do you go for help? Well, the aforementioned wholesale personnel
changes seem to leave only the video of last week's relatively easy Bruin win over the
Utes. "The Utah game is a great reference for us; that's what we're really looking
at," Coach said.
Must be painful to look at. Look, it's not like anybody said this game was going
to be a walk in the park, despite the venerable Rose Bowl's park-like setting. Last year,
UCLA led the Owls 42-7 at the half enroute to a 63-21 win. Actually, the Owls did play the
Bruins on equal terms for a quarter, at one time owning a 7-7 tie, but once the game
became a footrace the big hosses easily outdistanced the young colts.
Still and all, it's not so bad a place to be going for a first-ever road trip as
a head coach. And it's not all that daunting to be playing on the floor of the Rose Bowl,
or anywhere else, for that matter, Coach Graham said.
"There won't be any better setting to play a football game," he said.
"But when you're a ball player, and you love this game, though, it only has a
"I've coached games at Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Orange Bowl, Wisconsin
you walk out onto the field and look around, and you say, Aw this is pretty
neat, And then when the game starts, it's still a football game. And then you
UCLA Coach Dorrell says Rice playing inspired ball
The Owls are planning to strap it on and play just like that, and to hear UCLA
Coach Dorrell say it, the new coaching regime at Rice has earned his attention and
"(Rice) lost a very close football game last week," he noted.
"They were leading most of the game and couldn't quite close them out, but you can
tell this team that's playing now is really inspired. They're really flying around on
"Coach Graham has really got them playing hard on defense, and on offense,
they really have some weapons that you really have to pay attention to. They have a really
good tailback that can run and has very good speed. They have a quarterback that has some
experience and is very mobile, throws the ball well on the move."
"And it looks like it's a program that's really starting to blossom with
their first-year coach."
Coach Dorrell adds that he likes the attitude his squad has displayed during
fall practices and during game one last week.
"This (UCLA) team has something about them," he said, "that they
can see the issues that plagued us, they can see the potential shortcomings that happened
in the game where we need to correct. This team has a good deal of maturity in that
standpoint, so we expect to have a lot of progress made this week."
Coachspeak translation: "This Rice bunch is game bunch, but they don't have
any players. I'll be stunned if we don't beat the crap out of them."
It's one thing to be beaten, and yet another to be beaten up. With Texas and
Florida State on the horizon, the Rice staff has got to be concerned with the injury
factor, and may be expected to run more players in and out of action this week than last.
Against Houston, it appeared the Rice coaches wanted their most skilled people
out on the field at all times. But that appeared to catch up with them late in the game.
This week, if they don't give numbers 13, 44 and 81 a breather or two, they
won't have any vinegar left to spend against Texas the following week. Same goes for
numbers 31, 21 and, heck, the whole gang who played last week on defense.
"It's no question that staying healthy is one of our biggest
concerns," Coach Graham said. "It's a big challenge, because we don't have a lot
Regarding the keys to success on Saturday, the Rice mentor spoke both in
specifics and in generalities.
Specifically, Todd say, UCLA quarterback Olson has got all the tools.
"(Olson" is a very good quarterback," Coach Graham said. "They have
very talented tes. Theyve got a very veteran offensive line that doesn't make
"The key for us this week," he added, "is that we're going to
have to stop the run, because they're really going to pound it at us."
"And always the key for us," he said, "is that, each week the
kids are going to have to learn a little bit more."
Gentlemen, class is now in session.
TG: 'This team can win any
time it steps on the field'
Graham says effort was there, but Owls are determined to eliminate errors,
'Theres no way we should go into a game and have only three first downs in a half,
with the weapons that we have on our team'
'The game showed great signs of what we can be'
'These kids want to win. They should have won'
HOUSTON (Sept. 4) The mood around Rice Stadium Monday was,
well, it was just about what one might expect after the Owls stirring but ultimately
frustrating debut against the University of Houston Saturday. There was a sense of quiet
satisfaction over the effort that was displayed on the field, but it was tempered by what
appear to border on a sense of grim determination, certainly a bit of disgust, of anger,
over the games outcome.
"These kids want to win. They should have won," Rice head coach Todd
Graham emphasized, speaking of UH's last-gasp, 31-30 victory. And he went beyond that,
placing blame for the loss as if there were anyone on South Main who deserved
opprobrium squarely on the backs of himself and the members of his staff.
"As their coaches, we let them down Saturday," Coach Graham insisted.
"We lost that game because of coaching. Theres no way we should go into a game
and have only three first downs in a half, with the weapons that we have on our
"That comes back on me."
"We need to make sure the mistakes we made dont come back to haunt us
again. We lost because we didnt make the right adjustments as a coaching staff. I
told our coaches I expect perfection from us all. And we werent quite perfect
"You cant give up a 16 point lead, after youve worked so hard
to get it."
Coach added that he and his players were proud of the level of support displayed
by the Rice community for Saturdays season opener. "I think those who came to
the game saw a completely different look and a different atmosphere. Our fans were great;
the setting was just awesome."
Coach Graham lauded the effort his players gave on both sides of the ball.
"Our kids played every stinkin play to the end of the whistle,"
he said. "They gave incredible effort. Weve made tremendous strides with this
football team. This team can win any time it steps on the field. But
weve just got to learn how to finish, down the line."
"Our kids played extremely hard. We got complacent down there in the
"But the game showed great signs of what we can be."
The Rice mentor added that his staff wasnt surprised by anything that
happened, good or bad, on the field Saturday. Nor were they met by anything particularly
unexpected in the way of approach to the game by UH. "The game turned out exactly
like I thought itd be," he said. "I just kept telling the kids to trust
their training. And once we settled down, they played pretty well."
Graham said his players have made more progress in a short amount of time
allotted them than any group hes worked with. And that includes the Tulsa and West
Virginia, where the staffs were responsible for a couple of the biggest turnarounds in
By comparison, he noted, last year the conference champion Tulsa Hurricane, with
Coach Graham as defensive coordinator, gave up 429 yards total offense to this same
Houston team. Saturday, the Owls improved on that figure by a hundred yards or so.
And they didnt give up the long bomb, which was a major pre-game goal.
"If any of you had bet me wed not give up any one-play drives, Id have
said wed definitely win," Coach Graham added, somewhat nonplussed over the
He noted that the teams attitude was good when it returned to the field
for practice Sunday evening. "We had a great practice Sunday," he noted.
"The kids were flying around all over the field, and had a great attitude."
Todd Graham Monday press conference....
Coach Graham's Monday Q&A....
Quinton Smith (L), Brian Raines listen in on Coach
Graham's press interview Monday
'I really think it was a great move for me'
HOUSTON (Sept. 4) -- Rice's Brian Raines had an
auspicious coming-out party against the University of Houston Cougars Saturday night.
Participating in his first varsity start, Brian came up with 17, count 'em,
seventeen tackles -- a figure that puts him at the head of the class for Conference USA
after Week One games. The Lovett College sophomore was relegated to the defensive
secondary last year as a redshirt freshman for the Owls. He nevertheless played in
all 11 games and was credited with 25 tackles on the season. This year, he obviously
found it comfortable being back home at the linebacker spot, a position that he played as
a schoolboy at Houston Willowridge. And if there's a "Linebacker U." at
the high school level, it's got to be Willowridge, which also was the home of an Owl
linebacker more than a few Rice fans might remember -- O. J. Brigance. Brian told
press Monday that he was happy about the return to linebacker, but he felt only so-so
about his performance Saturday night (despite his league-leading number of tackles).
The linebackers have to play as the heart of the team, he said. The linebackers have
to lead. The way you hear Brian tell it, the linebackers have to be responsible if
the bad guys' defense scores any points at all. And we'll take that
attitude, any day.
'The game showed we have potential'
HOUSTON (Sept. 4) -- If the Owls had held on to beat UH Saturday night, there likely would have
been a newspaper headline somewhere reading, "Q'ed, Glued and Tattooed."
That's because Rice senior running back Quinton Smith, whom we all by now know as simply
"Q," was practically a one-man wrecking crew for the Flock's offense, rushing
for 108 yards, including a 52-yarder reminiscent of the running of the bulls at
Pamplona. Oh, and he also had a little 80-yard touchdown pass that was really more
of a running play, a flare pass from Chase Clement to Q circling out of the backfield, in
which he simply outran the entire right side of the Cougar defense. To top it off, Q
scored three of the Owls' four touchdowns on the evening. His performance means he
now leads the league in all-purpose yardage, touchdowns and scoring. Last year,
Quinton (as he's known to his mom) was the winner of the George Martin Award as the
Owls most valuable player, as well as the George R. Brown Award as
Rices top running back. How do you top that? We may just get to find
out. Looks like Rice sports officials will have to come up with another set of
awards to hand out to the Baker College senior after this season, especially if he
maintains the momentum he established Saturday night.
A Rice primer for
HOUSTON (Sept. 5) --
Not many UCLA Bruin fans may be familiar with Rice, its rank among American
universities, its history and its traditions, beyond a vague notion that its football
teams have been NCAA also-rans for decades, that it plays pretty darn
good baseball, and that the school's name appears to provide fodder for bad
jokes and shaky allusions to breakfast cereals.
Believe us, we're not named after the crop, and we've already heard all the
bad jokes from the Aggies, years ago. Our university, in fact, is named after William Marsh Rice,
a wealthy Houston cotton merchant of the mid-nineteenth-century.
football game involving Rice and a large state university is by its nature a matchup of
David versus Goliath -- Rice's being by most counts the
smallest university in NCAA Division 1A football competition, boasting all of 2,750
Against UCLAs storied athletic history, Rice --
known as The Rice Institute until 1960 -- managed quite well for itself, for a few
decades, at least. Rice has engaged in a full slate of top-division intercollegiate
athletics since 1916, and its football teams, in the '40s and '50s, won Southwest
Conference Championships, made trips to the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls, and on at
least one occasion finished the season ranked as high as the number five team in the
During those halcyon days, university fathers managed to
get built the 72,000-seat Rice
Stadium, on the west side of Rice's 300-acre campus located about three miles
southwest of downtown Houston, in a neighborhood of stately homes and spreading live oak
Throughout the '50s, Rice's crowds averaged between 50,000 and
60,000 a game, and in 1958, the Institute finished third in the nation in attendance
behind Michigan and Ohio State. In 1974 the stadium played host to Super Bowl VIII, one of
only three on-campus stadia, extant, to have hosted the extravaganza -- Stanford's and
Arizona States being the other ones.
Yeah, you're right. All of that was, sadly, a long time
ago. And Rice's athletics prowess eroded drastically in the 60s and 70s,
although there indeed has occurred quite a metamorphosis (off the field, at least) since
January 1 of this year.
Rices football fortunes reached yet another
low ebb in 2005, a year which saw the Owls go 1-10 with their single win coming over a
homeless Tulane team. You may recall that
exactly one year ago, UCLA humbled the Owls 63-21 at the Rose Bowl. And you probably expect a mirror image of that game
coming up Saturday.
1-10 season in '05 led to new coach
But in January, Ken Hatfield resigned, and we hired a
new football coach by the name of Todd Graham since he had the same last name as
our Casey-Stengel-esque baseball coach, Wayne Graham, we figured it was a good bet. Waynes teams, after all, are perennial
entrants in the College World Series in Omaha and in 03 took the whole enchilada
against Stanford, by the way. Last year
we finished third in the CWS, and came home disappointed.
Todd Graham clearly aspires to the same kind of success
on the gridiron that his namesake has achieved on the diamond. To that end, he immediately raised some $6 million
in the first six months of his employ, simply by making speeches to small groups of alums
and buttonholing the more affluent among them -- and not letting go until they forked
over. He's that intense. With that, he
immediately effectuated a complete makeover of venerable
Rice Stadium, bringing it up to contemporary standards, big Jumbotron and all.
Todd spent half a million bucks on audio-visual
equipment alone, bringing Rice out of the mid-20th Century when it came to what he likes to refer to as schematics. He instituted a summer school program for his
players, keeping them together and on (or near) campus for the first time in school
And he went out and hired an energetic young staff, all
guys who know how to coach the game and engender a sense of excitement. One, for example, is former University of Texas
Major Applewhite, who at age 26 is the youngest offensive coordinator in Division 1A.
His efforts appeared immediately to bear fruit in the
season opener against crosstown-rival University of Houston.
The Owls were 14-point dogs, and most betting parlors had singled out the game as the lock of the
week laying the points, that is.
But Saturday night in Rice Stadium, the Owls surged to a
27-14 halftime lead, and were ahead 30-14 with two minutes left in the third quarter, when
their accursed fate caught up with them. UH
scored 17 unanswered points in the last 17 minutes of the game to eke out the Owls, 31-30.
Yet all who saw the game agreed that this is not the same Rice team that played
the role of whipping boy last year. More on that in other stories we post elsewhere
on this site.
Meanwhile, lets talk about what the coaches like to call
academics. So many of you out there would likely scoff at the mere notion that
Rice may be an academic institution mentionable in the same breath UCLA, that we feel
constrained to quote some statistics.
Rice shows up consistently high in national rankings
U. S. News and World Report:
Seems the annual U.S.
News ranking of American colleges and universities has become the single
most-quoted source in the "my- school's- better- than- yours" wars.
In this year's survey, just out, the UCLA is ranked 26th
among National Universities -- the Big Boys, the major research institutions, some
with unspeakably difficult undergraduate admissions standards: the Harvards, Yales,
Stanfords, MITs, and, yes, the UCLAs.
Not bad. But where is Rice ranked? Surprisingly, with
its paltry 2,750 undergraduates and 1,650 graduate students, Rice, too, is included
among the ranks of National Universities -- not tucked away among the Regional Private
Colleges, quaint little places like Williams and Claremont. And U.S. News
this year has Rice ranked number 17.
We think that's getting the shaft. In prior years, Rice
has ranked as high as eighth, and has never finished out of the top 18.
Why? Just read the magazine, if you're
Again, this final score just in: UCLA 26, Rice 17. Rice wins.
Princeton Review: The latest
release from the Princeton Review has Rice ranked even higher, listing it as number
three in the nation in the category "Best Overall Academic
Experience." The top three are the University of Chicago, Stanford, and
Rice. Rice was also ranked by Princeton Review as number one in the nation
in the categories Lots of Race/Class Interaction and Best Quality of
Kiplinger's Magazine. Here is a
survey result which particularly pleases alumni and university administration. A few years ago, Kiplinger's started an annual survey
which reviews American colleges and universities using the typical criteria, more or less
along the same lines as U. S. News -- but which adds economic value as a
significant variable. Since 1999 (when Rice was ranked number one in the nation in the
category private universities worth the price) our old Institute has never
been ranked lower than third.
The deal is, the tuition at Rice is still no more
than about two-thirds of what it costs at an Ivy League School. And the financial
aid opportunities are exhaustive. So Kiplinger's concludes that, when you factor
in costs, a Rice education is simply among the best thing out
there to have. Bar none.
Now, we're not saying that Rice is "better"
than UCLA. Or vice - versa. There are some things a highly-accomplished and
-endowed state university can manage to do that a small, private school cannot. And
A few more statistics before we leave the subject for
good. Rice's average SAT score of all its scholarship athletes, in the most recent
compilation, ranked first among schools playing division 1A football. Rice's average
SAT for scholarship basketball players ranked first. Football ranked in the top
five. Rice has graduated a greater than 70 per cent range of its scholarship
football athletes every year since the NCAA started keeping records on it.
All that doesn't count for much, we know, among most of
the people who'll be populating the stadium Saturday. But we labor on in Division 1A
athletics, with our tiny enrollment and alumni base, our difficult and relatively
uncompromised admissions standards, and a paucity of respect from a sports media with
misguided priorities. Why?
Our alumni, fans, coaches, and student-athletes seem to
want to hang on to the outmoded notion that it has something to do with how you play
the game. Sure, we want to win. But we can enjoy a crisp, clear October game
day just as well, win or lose, so long as we continue to be competitive. And under
Todd Graham, we will be.
By the way, did we ever tell you about our 1966 GE College Bowl team?
Rice OC Major Applewhite runs onto the field with his team prior to Saturday's UH game
Owls did everything
but win the game
By Mark Anderson
HOUSTON (Sept. 5) The Rice Owls first game of the season has come
and gone, but there remains the temptation to look at the Owls 31-30 loss to UH and
say, "In the end, it was the same old story." But is it the same old story? Very
few of the Owl fans who were on hand Saturday night would reach that conclusion.
Last week, we talked about seven keys to this game. Lets review them and
see how they actually panned out.
Getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers: Quinton Smith had a night to
remember against the Coogs, rushing for 108 yards with 2 TDs and tacking on 87 more in
passing yards, and scoring another TD. Jarett Dillard was also a factor in this game with
4 receptions and a touchdown pass. All the points came through those two primary
Another important, yet overlooked item, is the balance of the offense against
the Coogs31 rushing attempts, 26 passing attempts (thats how it sorts out in
the box score after a few quarterback keepers and a few "get out of Dodge"
Avoid injuries: Other than some cramping issues, no injuries of note
happened Saturday night.
Manage the game: Until the last few minutes of the ball game, Chase
Clement and the Owls did exactly that. One interception in that last couple of minutes and
some timeout issues were there only times this area reared its head, and that, despite
Coach Grahams remonstrations over the two called timeouts on fourth down in the
Owls final possession of the game.
Avoid turnovers: An uncharacteristic Quinton Smith fumble with the Owls
backed up close to their goal line and a Chase Clement interception late in the game were
not the reasons the Owls lost this game. If the turnover rate were to continue at its
present pace, the Owls would still trim off 10 turnovers from last years showing in
this area. This was an area that the Owls showed significant improvement (there were six
turnovers in last years loss to the Coogs).
Defensive Intensity: Once the Owls got their bearings, the intensity was
there for all to see. Kevin Kolb was sacked for losses four times by four different
Owlsa tremendous improvement. When they werent sacking Kolb, they were
harassing him and forcing him to run for very modest gainsjust enough to avoid
getting another sack attached to the stats for the night. The defense, especially the
secondary, played well. When UH got its points in the end, it was simply because they were
able to make the big play.
Special Teams Play: For those who feel that Luke Juist caused the Owls to
lose this game, listen up: he didnt. While he did have that extra point attempt
blocked, he made a critical field goal, and also placed the kickoffs in key areas that
prevented long returns (except for the opening kickoff). Scruggs absolutely was great
puntingwith one exception, and you know which one that was.
The special teams coverage of punts and kickoffs, with the one glitch, was very
good against the Coogs. This area looks to be much improved from last year.
Fan Support: Hats off to the students! You were loud and a lot of fun to
watch as the game progressed. The alumni came out in drovesand if you ask anyone who
was on the sidelines, the paid attendance of 23,532 was a little short in our
guesstimation. Both lower decks were almost completely full, and there were some in the
upper decks as well as standing all around. Hope that you will all make it back to Rice
Stadium and support the Owls in their bid to surprise C-USA teams and become a bowl team.
Summary: September 2 was a date the Owls can be very proud of in many
ways. While the final result fell short of what we were all hoping for, its evident
that this team is going to be a good team this year. Lets hope for some of the good
things that happened tonight to continue, and a few of the glitches to work their way out
soon. This team did a very good job with these seven keys. Lets hope that it carries
forward to the Rose Bowl on Saturday.