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HOUSTON (Oct. 5) -- The Rice Owls get what appears to be one last chance to right this season's ship of state this Saturday when they take on a familiar opponent in the Army Black Knights at Rice Stadium, kickoff at 5:30 p.m.

The Long Gray Line is only 2-4-1 against the Owls in a rivalry that goes back as far as 1958, but which has become practically an every-season thing in recent years. And a look at results the last few times these two scholarly elevens lined up against each other can provide a sobering perspective to denizens of the Feathered Flock.

Three years ago, Rice whipped Army 41-21 on a rainy day at West Point -- not even close. Year before last, on yet another rainy day, this time in Houston, the Feathered Flock bested Army 38-31 in a barn-burner that was decided on the last play of the game. Then last season, back up at The Point, Army took ample measure of the Owls, wining 31-14 in a game which steered the Flock onto the road leading to a 3-9 season.

A year ago at Michie Stadium, the Owls flew out to an early 7-0 lead, but the Cadets scored twice in the first quarter, and again in the second to take a 21-7 halftime lead. Army outscored Rice 10-7 in the second half for a solid 31-14 win. Three years ago, great. Then just good enough. Then not so good atall.

Propelled by last season’s September victory over Rice, Army went on to a nine-win season culminating in a stirring defeat of Navy, the West Pointers' first triumph over Annapolis in 15 years.

That earned Army head coach Jeff Monken national attention, but he got a nice new contract at The Point, and with it he remains solely focused on the fortunes of his soldierly charges.

"We have had some real battles with those guys the past three years," Coach Monken said of the Owls in his Monday press briefing. "Last year I thought our guys played pretty well."

"They have a very talented football team," the obviously diplomatic West Point head man added. "I think David Bailiff is one of the best football coaches in the country. He is a smart football coach who has built programs everywhere he's been. He has had success at Rice and went to three-straight bowl games, which is really difficult to do as seen in the history of Rice football in the modern era."

Hmm. Lotta sand bags around that particular machine gun nest.

"We run into them a lot in recruiting because of the academics they require,” Coach Monken mused. “They win those battles and get those good players. It's Rice and SMU down there in Texas that we see a lot on the kids we are going after. We are going to have our hands full. They have defended us well the last few years and we are going to have to play big football by blocking them because defensively they give everybody headaches. We have a lot of Texas guys on our team and I know they are looking forward to being home in front of their families and friends."

In the Cadets’ 35-21 win over UTEP at Michie last week, Army rotated three different fullbacks and got touchdowns out of all three of them. Leading the pack was Andy Davidson, who had a huge second half against the Owls last season. Davidson's number was called to help lead the Army offense for the second straight week, and he came up with a career-high 100 yards on 14 carries.

He had a long rush of 32 yards on his second touchdown run of the season and his 14th of his career. Calen Holt chipped in with a solid 52 yards, which was a career best, and he found paydirt for the first time in an Army uniform. Then there was Connor Slomka, who finished with 46 yards on the ground and scored a pair of touchdowns.

Any chance we might be able to borrow one of these guys on lend-lease or something?

The Black Knights have a seasoned hand at quarterback in Firstie Ahmad Bradshaw, who’s now in this third straight year as lead field general of the Cadets.

Ahmad now ranks third among quarterbacks in Army history with seven 100-yard rushing games in his career. He’s 16th all-time in career rushing yards with 1,824 after the 93 he picked up against UTEP. On Army all-time record holders, he’s just passed College Football Hall of Famer and 1945 Heisman Trophy winner Felix "Doc" Blanchard. That’s some pretty tall cotton.

On the defensive side, Alex Aukerman has been the best defender this season for the Black Knights; he specializes in disrupting the backfield. with a a team-best three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in five games. He is a hybrid-type of defensive player who can play outside linebacker, but can also rush the passer from the defensive line position.

That leads the point on some pretty formidable defensive firepower for the Cadets, who return 10 of 11 defensive starters from last year’s entry, which held the Owls to 14 points at Michie.

Army is 3-2 on the season so far, but 0-and-2 on the road, which appears to present some degree of concern to Coach Monken. “You have to win on the road,” he told press Monday. “ If you're going to be the kind of team that you want to be, and have the kind of record that you hope to, it has to happen.”

“We've been down there one time, this will be our second time down there. We didn't win the last time in a really, really tough fought football game. I anticipate it's going to be the same this year. We are going to have to go down there and fight our butts off to try to beat them."

Hard not to like that Jeff Monken.