Tulsas 34-7 shellacking at the hands of Bowling Green (Ky) State University
Thursday night looks to be sending notice that the C-USA Western Division race is wide
open and winnable, so winnable, in fact, for the Owls, that no outcome short of absolute
obliteration Saturday should dampen their confidence and enthusiasm for big things to
So what would "taking care of business" in the David-versus-Goliath
Texa A&M gmae comprise? Whether or not the Owls go against Manziel, lets be
real: a win on the scoreboad is not necessary in this game. Hanging in for a couple
quarters, delving a few "ooh" and "ahh" blows on prima donna A&M
backs and receivers..
Not getting blown out early in the game, like with UCLA last year. Being able to
line up against A&M offenders or defenders, and winning at least a share of the
plays.Clamming up some of the more vociferous Corpsturdsmen by hanging around, and hanging
areound, so that the game remains at least in some doubt for the home team, say, midway
into the third quarter.
Were not asing for much. Playing to the best of ones
capabilities. Using ones experience in making good decisions. Do those things,
and the final score wont matter.
The Owls will have to do so without the services of the injured Nwosu and the
rules-violating Gaines, such as it is. Their absence, as the cliche reads, wll be giving
some other youngsters the chance to step up, but it likely wont help keep the score
any closer. And which game would you rather have them be fated to sit out? This one? Or
The fact is, A&Ms beef, speed, tools and skills all outpace those of
this veteran Rice team,
In 2012, the Aggies surprised almost all of the prognosticators and many, if not
most, of their legion fans by going 10-2 in the regular season and winning six conference
games in their inaugural season in the Murderers Row Southeastern Conference,
including a 29-24 road victory over eventual- national champion Alabama, 29-24. Falling
just short of garning a BCS bowl invite, A&M traveled to Dallas where the Farmers tore
up former Big 12 rival and 12th-ranked Oklahoma, 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.
The Aggies come into the season opener ranked number seven in the nation, which
is the highest preseason ranking for A&M in over a decade.
"It's a great time to be at Texas A&M," Aggie head coach Kevin
Sumlin said at this weeks press briefing. . "People ask me all the time what
about expectations. There's a lot of expectations on our program. For us, that's a good
thing. I think you want to be a part of a situation where you have some relevancy in your
own league. We work very, very hard at that. The excitement level is really, really
However, as the whole nation has had pounded into its heads by the news boys,
theyll be working Saturday with only the part-time services of
Heisman-Trophy-winning Johnny Manziel, who drew a half-game suspension for missteps off
the field that either everyone out there knows about or no one know about.
In his temporary absence, the Aggies will employ either junior Matt Joeckel or
freshman Kenny Hill in the first half.. Joeckel is the classic drop-back passer while Hill
is a dual-threat quarterback in the mold of Rices Driphus Jackson. Joeckel has
garnered enough game-time experience to have thrown all of 11 passes in his college
career. Hill was a four-star at powerhouse Southlake Carroll, but a true freshman is a
A&Ms top receivers from last year are de-matrriculated, but sophomore
Mike Evans caught 82 passes last year for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. The other two
projected starters at wideout, Derel Walker and Sabian Holmes, managed to put together
only only 14 receptions last season.
Power back Sue, or rather Christine, Michael is gone, but Ben Malena
(thats with an "a" and an "e," not an "o" and an
"i") actually was the Aggies top running back in 2012, and he returns
ready to go.
On the defensive side, Steven Jenkins (79 tackles, 5.5 TFL, one interception in
2012) leads the way, while the secondary returns a corps of veterans in Howard Matthews
(58 tackles), Deshazor Everett (56 tackles, two interceptions) and Dustin Harris (49
tackles, one INT). Julien Obioha is expected to have a big season at defensive end, after
starting all 12 games last year.
The Ags and the Owls played each other every year from 1914 through 1995. But
when the Southwest Conference imploded in 1995, the two schools took an extended vacay
from each other. This is their first meeting since the Owls suffered a narrow, 7-0 loss at
College Station in 95.
Rices last win over A&M occurred also at Kyle Field, back in 1980,
when the Flock picked up a 10-6 win despite not garnering a single first down in the
second half. Since then, the Aggies have won 15 in a row.
HOUSTON (Aug. 28) Theres hardly an Owl who's now alive who
doesnt remember that famous day and year.
It was the 73 One Day War, the day the earth stood still; Owl band having
spoofed precious A&M traditions and icons, Owl team having eked out a stunning, last
second victory Aggie corps having attacked in response with relative fanaticism and
staying power, and blowing the whole thing out of proportion ever since.
But surely that Day of Infamy was an isolated occurrence; college rivals dont
attack, attempt to maim, and falsely imprison their opponents over a simple spoof, do
they? No such group of former collegians possesses such fanatical adherence to true
belief, do they? Well, OK, perhaps LSU fans when theyre roaring drunk but
thats the alchohol talking, nothing else.
No, it turns out these guys the Feathered Flock are getting ready to meet on the
fields of friendly strife Saturday do indeed come from a slightly different cut of cloth.
Its been a few years, but the issue has been tested and proven time after time,
decade after decade. In fact, once upon a time it was an annual rite of passage for
your Institute forebears. Truly it was.
Our freshman Year, 1968. This was the first year of the post-Jess Neely
era, and on the football field, the Owls were woeful. After tying Washington on the road,
35-35 in game one, Rice didnt come close to sniffing a victory until that second
Saturday in November. Such Saturday was different from the past 14 annual versions,
This time, the Owls were going to College Station.
They said it was a deal fashioned personally between Bear Bryant and Jess Neely,
but every season between 1954 and 1967 the annual Rice-Texas A&M tilt was played at
Rice Stadium in Houston. More Aggies in the Bayou City than in College Station, it was
said. And the Farmers just must notve traveled well, those Farmall Super C's being
so slow in high gear and all.
When the contract expired, the Rice contingent resumed its biennial trek to
College Station with no small degree of trepidation. The Vietnam War was in full bloom.
True Ags considered the Rice student body to be nothing but a bunch of Hippie Peace
Queers, while the Rice contingent looked at the Cadet Corps and saw 5,000 clones of
General Earl Rudder, the guy who stormed Pointe du Hoc at Normandy who just
happened to be president of A&M at the time.
In that context, five freshman nerds from Lovett College set out semi-incognito
in a flesh-colored 66 Ford Galaxy, headed to College Station with a special guest
accompanying them a Great Horned Owl named Sammy the First.
It was the live Sammys first foray into enemy territory. He picked a doozy
of a place to make his road debut. A phalanx of hoots and catcalls greeted the furtive
entry of Sammy and his retinue into the stadium and onto the sidelines.
A&Ms record was scarcely better than the Owls. Theyd won a
couple of games. The enthusiasm level was so as not to come close to filling up the then
two-decked Kyle Field.
But when the Owls started strong and broke out to a 7-0 lead, the natives were
Sammy was restive himself. Held on a tether with a perch composed of a heavy
leather, up to the elbow glove, he flexed his talons, stretched his wings, and did the
other thing that avians tend to do when left to their own devices.
Down on the scoreboard to the winless Owls, the corpsemen (to use our
presidents term) began to devote their attention to something, anything, to bitch
Rule 1: no foreign mascot shall defecate or cause there to be deposited
defecation upon the holy astroturf of Kyle Field.
Suddenly, th nerds were surrounded by a bunch of senior corpsemen in knee boots
and Smokey the Bear hats. "Git that damn thing off our field," the call went
"Whats the problem?"
"Look down there, you kin see the problem."
Quickly, a spare football program was procured, and positioned below
Sammys forearm perch. It got the job done, more or less. But not so well as to be
able to avoid strict Corpsturdian scrutiny the rest of the game.
Sure enough, A&M came back, won the game 24-14, and thereby assuaged the
Smokey Bear guys temperaments somewhat. Post-game, the weanies sole goal was
to escape Kyle Field and College Station in one piece, with an unmolested Sammy firmly in
Kyle Field at the time was an open horseshoe to the south. Ready escape was
available in that direction. The nerds surrounded Sammy and as the hoots, hollers and
catcalls ensued, they quietly hurried down the visitors sideline.
Then right at the goal line, in fair territory, on top of the pylon, in fact,
Sammy thought it appropriate to leave a parting shot for his Fightin Farmer friends.
Vaguely heard by the weanies was a single call of "Kill yer ass!" With
that epithet, the retreat broke into high gear, the flesh-pink 66 Ford Galaxy was
reached, and five weanies and a rather exasperated Great Horned Owl beat feet back to the
Rice campus, heaving a sigh of relief as the Hempstead city limits rolled into view..
Sophomore year, 1969. Rice head coach Bo Hagan had just received his
walking papers, the Owls were 3-and-5, and those Hippie Peace Queers were on the caper
A group of Lovett College sophomores populated the Owl backfield, and they were
ready to come into their own. Mike Spruill, Kim Malone, Jackie Laurenzo, Cliff Crabtree
and Phillip Wood were all interchangeable parts of a well oiled machine. The only
non-Lovett man in the batch was soph Stahle Vincent, who handled starrting quarterbacking
A&Ms defensive line could be manhandled. And the Owl offensive front
did just that, providing sufficient cushion for a ball-control offense to carry
the Owls the entire game. Midway in the fourth quarter, Rice led, 7-6, and secured
possession deep in its own territory.
Time to hitch up the mule. Michael Lyn Spruill got the touch, and he got another
touch, again, and again, as the clock ticked down. The Aggies stood by helplessly as the
Rice offense resolutely kept itself on the field until the final gun.
On the day, Mike Spruill had something like 140 yards to his name, and for his
efforts, was named the Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
These were our classmates, our college mates, our pals. For Mike Spruill to win
the SWC player of the week award in putting the quietus on the the despised Aggies was a
feat that busted our weanie buttons in pride.
Mikes the man! Hes a, hes a....AGGIE KILLER, thats what
he is. So the archi in the bunch, who was handy with a brush and tempera paint,
commandeered a white sheet and painted up a nifty cartoon, showing Mike, fierce as a
centurion, throttling an Adams appled Aggie, eyes bugged and looking for some way to
avoid the pain.
"AGGIE KILLER," the cartoon was captioned, and it covered the door to
Mikes room at Lovett College. Tommy Thompson, the Rice beat sports reporter for the
Houston Chronicle, caught wind of the sign, and sent out a photographer. Sure enough, on
the front page of Mondays sport section, there was a shot of Mike, standing somewhat
bemused, but obviously pleased, as the sign, and his feat thereby was committed to
posterity, at least in the Houston Chronicle news clipping morgue, and his moms
And apparently in the craws of more than a few maroonpant-suit clad Aggie
moms and grandmoms, as well.
Calls starting coming in to the Chronicle immediately. Meanwhile, inside the
hedges, the locale was identified but thankfully the perpetrators were not. Toni Paine,
the indefatigable Lovett College secretary, presented a forceful defense of more than a
few phone callers who found the college office, not to mention a handful of the
aforementioned maroon-pantsuit-clad ladies who showed up in the flesh demanding
retribution and a piece of that sign.
One may only conclude that in Ag culture, it's OK to use the words
"Aggie" and "Killer" in any expression, only so long as its the
Ags who are doing the killing.
Junior year, 1971. Flash forward to the spring of 71. This time the
venue was the basketball floor, the recently demised G. Rollie White Coliseum, Jolly
Rolly, where the defending Southwest Conference Champion Rice Owls and the up-and-coming
Aggies were to slug it out.
Will Rice College sponsored a bus to College Station for the game, and along the
way, more than a tiny amount of adult beverage was consumed, and there was an odor of
something sweet-smelling and acrid floating through the atmosphere on board. The weanies
were quite lively by the time the bus pulled up in front of the old gym, and the
Corpsturdsmen were ready, pounding on the side of the bus.
Kind of like the entry-of-the-prisoners scene from "The Shawshank
The place was pretty much packed, and the intensity level at a fever pitch.
Someone in the Rice contingent decided itd be a good idea to form a victory line for
the team to pass through coming out for tipoff. A line was managed to be formed;
apparently since there was no grass growing on the G. Rollie White floor it was not
considered sacrilege to tread on it.
But it was an undertaking considered highly suspicious by the local authorities.
Several burly campus cops and town police force sidled up to the Rice mini-horde, just
knowing that something illicit was about to happen.
The Fightin Texas Aggie Band struck up the Aggie War Hymn as both teams
streamed onto the court. One intrepid Will Riceian, whose name shall go unmentioned for
legal liability purposes, raised his arm high and flashed the "V" of index and
middle finger that at the time was universally recognized as the "Peace Sign."
"Caint do that!" the shout rang out from a particularly
porcine-looking peace officer. "Huh? What?"
"Caint shoot th Peace Sign durin th Aggie War
Well, that was just considered a challenge by this stalwart weanie. The V-shaped
hand signal flashed ever higher, and a number of other Owls picked up the cause.
"Ahm onna have ta run yew in if you dont quit that."
No answer. "Ahm serious." Still no response.
With that, on went the cuffs, and this intrepid Owl fan was escorted by a
phalanx of men in blue to what his schoolmates thought would be an uncertain future in the
College Station City Jail.
It turned out the stalwart was merely sternly lectured and committed to the
Greyhound Bus he rode in on, where he spent a relatively quiet evening listening to his
transistor radio as the Owls pulled out a 78-77 victory.
So...dont you people get any ideas. Whatever you do, do NOT shoot the
Peace Sign during the playing of the Aggie Way Hymn out there at Kyle Field on
Learning curve banks sharply on
Owls celebrate after '08 Texas Bowl win -- could happier
days be here again? (PTH photo)
HOUSTON (Aug. 24) -- "Football is a game of inches" -- the
old bromide was first proclaimed so long ago that not a living soul likely remembers who
first said it.
Of course it is a truism. A game played yard-by-yard with a chain and sticks to
gauge play-by-play progress inevitably comes down to trivial distances and tiny breaks,
big plays notwithstanding. So it is, as it always turns out to be but not the least
of which this season promises to be for the Rice Owls.
During Rices two most recent runs of excellence the 2008 season and the
last half of the 2012 campaign experience, senior leadership, and the simple
phenomenon Coach Ken Hatfield used to refer to as "the ability to rise above
coaching" prompted phoenix-like skeins in which what previously might have wound up
disappointing losses turned into thrilling and elevating wins, one seeming to follow the
other with accelerating intensity.
Early season momentum has hardly been a typical feature of David Bailiff-coached
Owl teams, which tend to start the season in a slow, lumbering sleepwalk, grabbing their
first morning cup of coffee in late September and showing up for work only after the
annual retreat of Daylight Savings Time.
Such was the case last year when the Owls lost five out of their first six
games, priming the pump against UCLA with a 21-0 first quarter deficit, and ending the
nightmare with a 14-10, zero-offensive-touchdown loss to previously winless Memphis on the
road and in the rain.
Shazamm. An inch here, an inch there, and the Flock went on to win six of their
remaining seven games including a 33-14 smackdown of Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
If recent history is any indication, Rice may be expected to fall flat this
season after such a rousing end to the previous one. Thats what happened after 2008.
But theres a big difference in the two squads. The 08 10-game winner
was a senior laden team with an experienced first classman at quarterback in Chase
Clement. Though the talent level remained static, the experience level fell off
substantially in the next season, when the Owls swooned to a 2-10 record.
In fact, Rice has not experienced consecutive winning seasons since 1996-97
under Coach Hatfield.
Went 7-4 both years. Didnt go to a bowl game.
Numbers add up in the experience column
This year just might break the spell, however, as Rice returns to the field with
23 seniors and 19 count em returning starters. Numbers like that
dont pop up all too often in the world of college football.
This time, the quartback returns, in ther person of veteran senior leader Taylor
McHargue, amply backed up by redshirt soph Dirphus Jackson.
"We have high expectations this year," Rice head coach David Bailiff
told scribes prior to the opening of fall drills. "We've set our goals high. We have
those 23 senior leaders that we're quite proud of. We have an experienced football team.
We want to win a conference championship and get to the Liberty Bowl."
That present expectation mirrors the attitude brought in by Taylor McHargue when
he matriculated with the Owls.
"I was part of the class of 2009 coming off that 10-win season in
'08," T-Mac told press the other day. "We came in talking about championships
and bowl games."
Alas it wasnt to be. But the reasons therefor were not particularly
mystifying to the knowledgeable observer. The little things just werent getting
done. Sub-par peformance followed poor preparation. An inch here, and inch there, and
would-be wins turned to narrow losses.
But the kids picked up experience along with way. The object lessons piled up,
and the perseverance never faltered.
"We never gave up last year," Coach Bailiff noted. "We were in
every game and it was just a matter of us continuing to improve each week. We knew we were
really talented, we just had to put it all together."
"Winning's fun," he added. "When you win, the world's right, and
when you don't, the world's tough. It was fun to see those young men get on that streak
because of the hardships they had persevered through earlier in the year."
"We just had to find our identity as an offense and a defense and build
David, meet Goliath
Now, that identity and that depth are set to meet the sternest of tests in the
upcoming season opener. In Texas A&M, the little Davids of Rice are meeting their
Goliath, with a healthy dose of Big Bad Wolf mixed in.
Exacting a season-opening win on the road before 100,000 fanatics while facing a
returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in A&M and Johnny Manziel is perhaps a
little too much to expect. ("Perhaps"?) But performing at the height of
ones ability and at the maximum level of intensity clearly is not, the Rice mentor
"This game cant be about Johnny Manziel," DB observed..
"It's got to be about A&M, and it's got to be about being a better football team
at the end of the game than we were at the start."
After the Farmers, Rice gets a week off to prepare for consecutive, key
non-league games at home against Kansas and at Reliant Stadium against the Houston
Cougars. The Owls need to come out of that stretch 2-and-1 in order to be fully on
schedule to reach their season goals.
And what will that take? A good start, perhaps, would involve not sleepwalking
out onto Kyle Field and coughing up a quick three-touchdown deficit to Johnny Fin
Football like the Owls did to an only so-so UCLA team in last years home opener. And
this, against an Aggie team that punked eventual national champion Alabama by a 20-0 mark
before the first quarter ended at Tuscaloosa last season.
A few points deficit more or less frankly wont be all that relevant
Saturday in College Station if this team plays as well as it did in the second half of the
Armed Forces Bowl last December 29.
Those inches picked up in so doing inevitably should come in handy against
a Kansas team bent on revenge on account of Rices last-gasp 25-24 victory in
Lawrence last September. And the momentum acquired via any kind of a win against Kansas
can only help against a UH squad that stands to be out-personneled by the Owls a
Inch by inch, as this years schedule unfolds, as mundane as league
competition may be, the results could turn out to be considerably gratifying to the Owls,
not to mention their long-suffering alumni and fans.
But theres a big "if." Get blown out to a demoralizing degree in
College Station; take nothing out of the game, and theres no springboard for
improvement and increased intensity for the next two crucial, and very winnable contests.
Its going to be a season of inches for the Owls, if there ever were one.
"We feel good about that,"Coach Bailiff insisted. "What we have
to make sure we do is just keep working. The expectations are high. We've got to learn
now, with the expectations, how we're going to play the game."
This Saturday, the learning curve banks sharply on Highway 6, just about 90
miles north of South Main.
Rice's preseason league Defensive Player of
the Year Phillip Gaines fears no man, including those with bellies of yellow (PTH
Pre-season honoree Gaines
primed for breakout campaign
Preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year and Rice
senior cornerback Phillip Gaines is primed for a marquee campaign (PTH photo)
By Mark Anderson
HOUSTON (August 7) Its been a wild ride the past few months
for Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines.
After moving to the head of the class with a monster second-half-
of-the-season last year, the senior defensive leader for the Owls in July was named by
league coaches as their preseason pick for Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.
That 2012 season, and especially the part where Rice won five out of its last six
games and then tromped Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, was a tour de force
for Phillip, as he forged the Owl defensive secondary into a well-respected unit seemingly
by sheer force of will and this, after missing most of the 2011 campaign with an
Gaines was a consensus 2012 All-Conference USA selection after leading the league and
finishing second nationally with 18 pass breakups. His pass breakups saved 38 points from
scoring, including six touchdown pass attempts plus a two-point try that would have sent
the Rice-Tulane game into overtime at the Superdome.
Phillip has proven to be a major asset for a beleaguered Rice defense since the
day he walked onto the Rice Stadium turf for the first time. Now a seasonedand
testedveteran, Gaines brings not only skill, but leadership and intensity to the
Owls defense for the 2013 season.
But dont expect histrionics from the quiet man from Converse Judson. On
the practice field and on the sideline alike, Gaines eschews the rah-rah approach. I
just try to do my thing on the field, he told us, and hopefully the others try
to match my intensity.
For Phillip, a workable leadership philosophy boils down to simplicity.
When you see your teammates doing well, you want to do the same, he said.
You lead by example.
'He's the best coach I have ever had'
Phillip's breakup of two-point try at Tulane last season
pulled fat out of the fire for Owls
And Phillip Gaines does exactly that, not the least of which occurring in
his relationship with Rice defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond. I give all
the credit to Coach Thurmond, Gaines said of his friend and mentor. Hes
the best coach I have ever had. Mentally, we just know each other, and he lets me do
On the first day of practice, that was clearly evident. When Gaines came off to
the sidelines late in practice, the person he went and stood beside was not one of his
teammates, but Coach Thurmond, where the two spoke with measured intensity of a shared
Phillip is quick to credit his coaching in helping hone his all-conference
talents, but hes also ready to credit the skills and tools of the Owl receivers he
has to go up against day after day. When you go against guys like Donte Moore,
[Dennis] Parks, and Jordan Taylor every dayJ.T. [Taylor] is 65, Donte is
one of the best, and Dennis, hes great with his route running, Gaines pointed
out, I just work hard in practice and let the rest take care of itself.
Gaines sees it all in practice, from the speed-burning Moore, to the precision
of Parks, and the physical play of Taylor. If going against these receivers every day does
not make you a better cornerback, he noted, nothing will.
Phillip is especially known for his ability to separate ball and receiver
and usually in rather spectacular fashion. Game films showed that last season, he was able
to break up 12 passes that had completion written all over them. When
the ball is in the air, you dont want to get caught, so you do anything you
can, he emphasized. To get the ball out -- thats just my
The mild-mannered seniors competitiveness comes into play when the ball is
thrown his direction. When the ball is in the air, he said, its
either me or the receivers ball. So I just try to make a play.
Approach paid off with impressive stats
That approach certainly paid paid off when he returned to the field in 2012. For
the year, Phillip led the conference and was tied for eighth nationally with 1.50 passes
defended per game. His career pass-breakup total of 29 coming into this season is the most
in school history.
The 29 PBUs are tied for the 10th-most in NCAA history since the statistic
was first tracked in 2003.
But Phillip has gotten results beyond that of simply making the breakup. More
often than not, hell do so, but in so doing, frustrate the dickens out of the
Gaines leadership and play has not been without it peaks and valleys. When
he was injured and out most of the 2011 season, it was a time of testing for Phillip. But
during that time, he says he also made an important discovery.
It wasnt fun sitting out, Gaines said of the 2011 campaign.
Still, now, looking back, I definitely take it as a good thing -- because I got to
sit back and watch a game from a different aspect.
You can get experience on the field, but you can get experience off the
field too. Injuries are a part of football. I kept pressing and trying to get
But Gaines is not about collecting stats. When asked about individual goals, the
soft-spoken Econ major said he had none. But when asked about the team, he had a quick
answer. We need to play as a complete team, he said, and not make as
many mental mistakes.
With Phillip Gaines guiding the Rice defense in 2013, that stands to be a
realistic proposal. With a tested leader like Phillip, the outlook for the Rice defense is
as good as its been in many a season and so testifies Coach Thurmond. The
crusty Owl defensive mentor is quick to observe that his star corner tends to lead the way
not so much with words, but with his actions.
Thats the best thing you can ask of a leader. And thats what Phillip
Gaines stands to bring to the table for the Rice Owls in 2013.