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'11 Rice - Purdue week

Rice 24, Purdue 22
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Redshirt freshman DE Zach Patt puts pressure on Purdue QB Caleb TerBush in Saturday's action (PTH photo)
Two evenly-matched teams duke it out,  as highlights, mistakes on both sides boil down to last second kick -- blocked by Owls to win game

HOUSTON (Sept. 11) -- To everyone in the stands at Rice Stadium Saturday -- and we do mean everyone -- it appeared the Rice Owls' goose was cooked.

Down 24-22 as the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Purdue Boilermakers were lining up for what appeared to be a chip shot field goal, something their All-American placekicker, Carson Wiggs, could nail in his sleep.

"I'm sure everyone in the stadium thought it was over," Owl linebacker Justin Allen said afterwards. But he and his teammates had something else in mind. First, they exorted the crowd in the home west stands but their flapping arms appeared to raise barely a murmur. Face it, this game was over, although it frankly never should have come to that point.

Rice had executed two textbook touchdown drives to sandwich the halftime break, moved the ball late, overcome horrible field position throughout the game, and kept the Boilermakers out of the end zone the entire second half.

But they also missed a sure pick-six, fumbled away a third-and-one deep in Purdue territory, and executed a tepid set of called plays late in the game which appeared designed much more to try to avoid losing than to wrest this game away from their opponents. 

In their final possession, which began with 3:45 remaining, the Owls first jumped offsides; next plunged into the middle of the line two times, netting nothing. Then on third and 15, they ran the option to the outside, where a late, dangerous pitch netted but a two-yard loss.

Kyle Martens' ensuing punt was his least impressive on an otherwise stellar day in which he averaged over 50 yards a try, traveling but 39 yards and setting up the now pumped-up Indiana contingent almost at midfield.

Two straight Purdue counter plays yielded up big yardage and the Boilers suddenly were in the red zone, with a minute remaining and the Indianans’ sure-footed kicker calmly taking practice swipes on the sideline.

But the Owl defense stiffened, and Rice coaches wisely used their remaining timeouts in an effort to stem the apparent inevitability of the Boilermakers’ would-be winning drive.

It stood third and 11 for Purdue at the Rice 15 when the Owls called their last time out with 31 seconds remaining. The time out, it seemed, could have played into the hands to the Purdue strategy, for it could have given them time to run out the field goal crew, take windage and elevation, have a cigarette, tell a few stories, and then go out and win the game.

Yet despite the kicker Witt’s sterling accuracy record, Boiler coaches decided one more play was necessary to center the ball in the middle of the field to give their guy an even easier aim at the target.

Akeem Shavers picked up but a yard in squaring the ball precisely between the hash marks. As the clock ticked down, 25 seconds, 20, the Purdue field goal unit ran onto the field and calmly took their positions. There was no indication of panic, no sense of excessive haste, and adequate time remained on the clock to get an unhurried kick– in other words, no excuses.

Rice senior linebacker Justin Allen immediately noticed something, however, as the Purdue line took its down positions. "They didn't get proper splits," Justin said. "When I saw that, it was just like a light went off in my head."

"I saw that 'A' gap in front of me a little more open than I thought it would be, and I took full advantage and got skinny. We're always taught three steps and get your hand up."

The snap was true, the placement was clean, and the kick was headed squarely on target with the proper elevation.

But Justin had knifed his way through the aforementioned gap, squared up, leapt, and caught the ball on his forearm, with room to spare.

The pigskin caromed harmlessly away, and after a split-second  of stunned silence, the Owl players on the field, and on the bench, not to mention the student section and lower west side deck, all erupted in pandemonium.

Questions remained:  why did it have to boil down to that?

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Sam McGuffie tramples one Purdue defender while he attempts to shake off another (PTH photo)

A stirring victory for the Owls it was, and indeed a break of a ten-year-long losing skein against automatic-qualifier BCS teams. But inevitably the nagging questions remain, as to why it became necessary that the Owls so dramatically had to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The game throughout  reflected a hard-fought contest by two evenly-matched teams, as each side traded scores in the first half, Rice getting a field goal to open scoring at the 5:46 point of the opening quarter.

The 33-yard Chris Boswell effort capped a 13-play, 71-yard drive that was kept alive by a 13-yard Sam McGuffie run and a 22-yard key first down reception by Luke Willson.

But the Boilermakers stiffened once the Owls reached the red zone, and so, while taking the lead, the Owls had to do so while still failing to push across their first TD of the young season.

Purdue roared back to take a 7-3 lead, gong 80 yards mainly on the strength of a 43-yard scamper by RB Akeem Shavers, and a 24-yard first down strike from QB Caleb TerBush to Antavius Edison.

Like a boxer trading punches, the Owls came right back, moving 78 yards in 10 plays to wrest back a 10-7 lead. Most of the damage was done through the air, including a 30-yard beauty from TMac to Turner Peterson coming out of the backfield. 

Purdue scratched out two more scores to take a 17-10 lead late in the first half, however., picking up a 3 and a 7 abetted by good field position each time; the Boilers had to travel only 46 and 54 yards to tally those points.

But taking possession with only 1:48 left in the half, the Owls were able to milk the clock sufficiently in order to complete a 59-yard scoring drive to knot the count at 17 on the last play of the first half.

The drive was kept alive via a 25-yard crossing route to Charles Ross that set up the Flock at the Purdue 28. But the Owls were flagged for holding and had to go 20 yards for their next first down. On second and 15, TMac pinpointed a pass into the arms of Donte Moore in double coverage.

One play later, the Owls were forced to burn their last timeout of the half, facing fourth and one at the 14, with only 28 ticks left on the clock.

Tmac dived for the first down, and then spiked the ball on the next play to buy some time. He next scrambled for seven more to the Purdue ten, and then hit Luke Willson for six yards to the four and a first and goal. Then, another spike

So with six seconds to go, the Owls had another shot. Eschewing the sure field goal, TMac dropped back and threaded down the middle a laser beam to Luke Willson camped one yard deep in the end zone. Luke cradled the ball, but as he fell toward the end zone turf, the pigskin evaded his grasp and popped up in the air.

Never mind – what goes up, must come down, and this time the ball settled right back down in Luke’s hands, and the Owls had themselves a 17-17 tie going into the halftime locker room.

The clock management on that drive was by far the most expert – heck, call it brilliant – as has ever been exhibited by a David Bailiff-coached Rice squad. And as it turned out, the Owls needed every one of those seven points.

Owls took second half kickoff and made hay

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Tyler Smith evades his tackler and struggles for extra yardage (MA photo)

Rice took the second half kickoff and cranked right up again. As the Owls moved 80 yards in 10 plays, running backs Tyler Smith, Sam McGuffie and Charles Ross each got carries. And Taylor Cook picked up a key first down with a 12-yard reception on the wheel route.

With a first and ten at the Purdue 19, then, Taylor McHargue found Sam McGuffie all alone in the end zone, and zipped the ball right over, to give the Owls a 24-17 lead.

"That first drive marching down the field was huge," a grinning TMac said afterwards. "Coming out of the second half we did a great job of setting the tempo. When we moved the ball today it was because of the tempo. We'd hurry-up and try to get them on their heels. As long as we were moving, as long as the tempo was up, they were on their heels.. The offensive line did a great job all day."

 The remainder of the second half was a tour de force by the Rice defense. During that time, the Boilermaker offense was only one for eight on third-down conversions. The Purdue offense was able to rack up but one second-half field goal despite starting drives at midfield and at its 44-, 43-, 38- and 48-yard lines.

Again, the Rice linebacking corps was stellar, as, in addition to the game winning block, senior LB Justin Allen combined with Cam Nwosu to total 19 tackles on the day.

Not to be outdone, both DL Scott Solomon and safety Paul Porras picked up eight takedowns apiece. The Owls, in all, recorded four sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss on the day, usually in key, if not do-or-die, situations.

"The defense gave up a field goal in the second half and there was a safety. That was it.," Coach Bailiff pointed out. "That says volumes about how hard our defensive coaches worked this week to get the scheme we had and how hard the players played. They are a solid football team."

Second half defense rose to occasion time and time again

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Charles Ross makes catch while Purdue defender gets set to challenge (MA photo)

Twice after the Owls had taken the lead, the Rice defense stiffened after allowing Purdue initial yardage. The first time resulted in a 39-yard short punt to the Rice one yard line after Scott Solomon sacked quarterback Caleb TerBush for an 8-yard loss to edge Purdue out of field-goal range.

"Very seldom do you not take the points, but I felt that our team needed the momentum," Purdue coach Danny Hope said, attempting to justify the decision to eschew the long field goal attempt.

Sure enough, the Purdue defense held, and the Owls once again had to punt out beneath the shadow of their own goal posts.

This time, Purdue moved the ball to the lip of the cup, but in a dramatic flourish, the Owls held at the cusp of the goal line, a fourth-down Purdue rushing attempt coming up short by inches, as running back Akeem Shavers was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Rice 2 by linebacker Cameron Nwosu and safety Tanner Leland.

Once again backed up to their own goal, the Institute Boys, however, gave up their first allowed safety in many a moon as Purdue’s Joe Holland and Kawann Short teamed to drop Charles Ross in his own end zone.

The Owl defense did not get discouraged, however, and subsequently stopped the Boilermakers at midfield.

Moments, later, the Owls appeared to be driving for a game clinching drive as they faced third and one at the Purdue 26. The call, however, appeared to be a play-action pass, and as TMmc completed the play fake and pivoted, he ran right into Purdue’s Robert Maci, who’d penetrated the Owl backfield unmolested.

The resulting fumble killed the Rice drive, and gave new life to the Boilermakers. Indeed, it was the first and only turnover of the game – the Owls still have not garnered a single fumble recovery or pass interception on the season – and it appeared as if it could be a game-changer.

"They did a good job getting up field and they got in my face on my turnover," TMac admitted. "I should have taken the sack and secured the ball."

Purdue did perk right up and move the football. On second and one from the Rice 41, TerBush hit his speedster wideout O. J. Ross on the slant. Ross had plenty of room to roam and looked as if he might be able to thread his way down the sideline all the way to the end zone, but he stepped out of bounds at the Rice 13. "My shoe came off my foot and I just lost my balance," he later explained.

That’s when the Owl defense rose up, however, as Jared Williams first nailed Purdue’s Ralph Bolden for a short gain. Then Scott Solomon got the drop on the Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush for a sack of minus-one yard. Next play, receivers covered and under a heavy rush, TerBush scrambled for a yard or two and the Boilermakers had to settle for a field goal, bringing the score to its final margin, at 24-22, and setting up the aforementioned end-of-game Rice heroics.

"It was a hard-fought football game," Coach Bailiff noted afterwards. " If we continue to eliminate mistakes and play hard, we'll continue to prove we're a pretty good football team.

"Winning in college football, that's hard to do. Your margin of error on offense, defense and special teams is so slim. We made some errors today and we're still getting out of here with a win."

--P.T.H.

Rice home opener on tap
Owls, Boilermakers both in dire need of non-league win
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HOUSTON (Sept. 8) – Let’s not belabor the point, but just a whole heck of a lot is riding upon the outcome of the Rice Owls’ Saturday home opener against the Purdue Boilermakers.

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What with Rice’s being the only Division 1 team in the land to have scheduled all of its non-conference games against BCS automatic-qualifier schools – and opponents Baylor, Northwestern and this week’s foe not exactly slated to experience off-years this season – at least one win against the non-league AQs would appear to be imperative, in order for the Owls to have a realistic chance to get to a bowl game in 2011.

Prognosticators say the Owls’ best opportunity for that win is coming up at 2:30 this Saturday afternoon, as the Flock tees up against the Boilermakers under glaringly clear skies and the thermometer expected to read in the upper 90s.

After losing its last six games of the 2010 campaign, Purdue opened at home with a narrow, 27-24, escape over Sun Belt entrant Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders aren’t exactly chopped liver, though, having been to bowl games in the past two seasons (GoDaddy.com in ‘10; New Orleans Bowl in ‘09 with a 10-3 season record and a league championship.)

With the rugged Big Ten league schedule facing them, a 2-0 start would go a long way to propel the Boilermakers toward collecting enough scalps to earn a bowl berth themselves.

The last time Purdue played the Owls, in like manner they escaped with an early-season 21-19 win. That was back in 1998, and, coincidentally, the game marked the coming out-party for a fellow who probably owns the most storied name in Purdue football history, at least in recent years.

That was Drew Brees, late of West Lake Hills, Texas, who came in to toss two TD passes to lead the Boilermakers to a come-from-behind victory.

This year, the quarterback situation for Purdue appears to be more comparable to that experienced by the Owls, post-Chase Clement.

Robert Marve was Purdue’s starting quarterback going into last season, but early on suffered a torn ACL and was out for the year. He’s said to be back and ready to go against the Owls Saturday, but Purdue head coach Danny Hope says his starter this week will be last week’s starter, junior Caleb TerBush. And then there’s talented sophomore Sean Robinson also waiting in the wings.

"We'll make a decision, as the week goes on, who the No. 2 quarterback will be," Coach Hope said at his Monday press conference. "Right now there's no question who the No. 1 is; it's Caleb TerBush."

Coach Hope insisted there is no quarterback controversy in West Lafayette, not, anyway with TerBush’s performance last week, when he tossed for 219 yards and two touchdowns against Middle Tennessee State, including a game-winning 35-yard strike to Junior WR Antavian Edison.

The Boilermakers finished with 420 yards of offense against the visiting Blue Raiders, including 201 on the ground. Their offensive output included a 98-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, in addition to Edison’s last minute score. Justin Siller led the Boilermakers in receiving with five catches for 55 yards.

The Boilermakers have a potent place kicking attack in Carson Wiggs, who scored the Boilermakers' first points of the 2011 season, hitting a 50-yard field goal in the first quarter and adding a 47-yarder in the fourth quarter against MTSU.

Defensive stars for PU against Middle Tennessee included senior LB Joe Holland, who collected a career-high 14 tackles, including eight solo takedowns, junior LB Dwayne Beckford, who grabbed his first career interception for the first takeaway of the 2011 season, and soph corner Ricardo Allen, who blocked his first career field goal to seal the win.

If you run both teams’ stats through the computer, the result shows two evenly-matched opponents. In fact, the Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Boilermakers as all of a one-pint favorite over the Owls Saturday.

"I think we will have an opportunity to win this football game," Rice head coach David Bailiff said Monday. "We are a mature football team. We are a talented football team. We have to put it all together. You look at Purdue's roster. There are a lot of juniors and seniors on that football team also. They came back late in that game to beat Middle Tennessee at home. That is a proud program. We are going to have to give it our absolute best."

One thing’s for sure – it’s going to take a bit of a better performance by the Owls’ undisputed first-string signal caller in order for the Rice offense to be able to produce enough to come out with a win.

Against the Longhorns last week, Rice QB Taylor McHargue was only 14-for-29 passing for 79 yards, although he avoided both sacks and interceptions. It appeared at times he rushed the pass or failed to pick up secondary receivers when in fact a host of bad-breathed UT defensive linemen were not necessarily breathing down his neck. Of course there were 100,000 orange-clad fans in the stands screaming at him at the tops of their lungs, but never mind that.

Coach Bailiff was quick to come to TMac’s defense after the Texas game. "That was only his fifth college start," the Rice head man pointed out. "We tried to give him a game plan for success. At times he exceeded expectations and at times he pressed. There were some moments in there where he looked like Taylor from last year and there were some passes that got away from him where he wasn't fundamentally getting his feet set. I know he is disappointed in the performance. He expects more out of himself and so do we."

This week at home, he’ll face a much more sympathetic setting in the friendly confines of Historic Rice Stadium. Too, it’s not out of line to expect that he’ll get more backup from his usual supporting cast.

Last week, Owl superback Sam McGuffie, hobbled with a knee brace, was in for only two plays, but Coach Bailiff said he’ll be 100 per cent and ready to go at length against the Boilermakers.

Similarly, Rice wildcat-back Jeremy Eddington was a non-factor against the Longhorns, whereas he ran like a man possessed in his last two outings in Rice Stadium, both November wins for last season’s Owl team.

Owl fans may remember the turnaround Joe Tiller made at Purdue after moving over from a successful run at Wyoming. No small part of Coach Tiller’s success lay in his ability to recruit well in the state of Texas. Similarly, Coach Hope says he’s excited to return to Texas where the pickins are rich and, naturally, there’s a big Purdue alumni base in Houston, to boot..

"When we had Drew Brees on the team we got a lot of publicity in the state of Texas and we did very well recruiting Texas," Coach Hope noted. "We went back to Texas this last spring and rallied up a lot of Purdue football advocates in Dallas. We're glad to be playing there (in Houston)."

Rice Coach Bailiff was upbeat about the Owls’ prospects in Saturday’s home opener – in no small part because he knows that Texas game could have ended up quite differently, had the Owls not committed a plethora of first-game errors.

"We are a good football team. We are looking forward to eliminating the mistakes we made this week," he said. "You know, that is the key ... improving each week. There is no doubt with this football team, we will get over here today and make improvements. We are looking forward to playing Purdue Saturday.

"Gallery Furniture and Rice have teamed up and are letting the first responders in the game for free. I think that is great for Mattress Mac (Jim McIngvale) to support the veterans and the policemen and the firemen the way he does. What an amazing man. I'm glad he has chosen Rice to team up with."

Lagniappe:  The John Churchill Chase cartoon up at the top and on the front page comes from the football program for the Rice-Purdue football game held at Rice Stadium Oct. 4, 1958.  Apparently Purdue came in as a major national power that year, and the Owls lost to the Boilermakers, 14-0, before a crowd of some 60,000.00.  Nineteen fifty-eight was the year of highest attendance ever for Rice football, it having attained per game average attendance of just over 58,000 -- among the top six in the nation.  How times have changed.

 --P.T.H.

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