2016 Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky 46, Rice
can't handle WKU's precision bombing attack
APROPOS THE GAME --
Rice TE Connor Cella hauls in pass but is immediately swarmed by
Western Kentucky defenders (David Speed Elder photo)
BOWLING GREEN, Ky (Sept. 2) -- It was an achingly familiar pattern.
Incipient drives stalled by inexplicable
penalties, a breakdown in execution on both sides of the ball, and
the usual deer-in-the-headlights approach to deep pass coverage – in
all, an off-observed recipe for failure was dished up for the
scattering of Rice fans in the stands who dared to make the
weeknight trek to the Bluegrass State to watch the Owls fall to WKU,
Granted, this was a superior football team
in Western Kentucky, winners of 12 games, league champions, and a
Top-25 finisher last season. This time around, the Hilltoppers were
true to their form chart, as WKU quarterback Mike White, a transfer
who’d started 13 games for South Florida, played like the
thoroughbred he apparently is, picking apart the Rice secondary for
517 yards passing on 25-of-31 completions in three quarters of play.
"We knew to come into their home, that we
would have to play a great game right out of the chute, to eliminate
costly errors, to eliminate penalties, and we couldn't do that,"
Rice coach David Bailiff said post-game. “They played hard, but when
you don’t play with the fundamentals and techniques that you work on
in practice, things happen to you.”
Early indications that Rice might be able
to stifle a run-oriented WKU attack came when Owl defenders stopped
the Hilltoppers cold on their first two possessions.
First possession, first SNAFU
Unfortunately for Rice’s offense and
special teams, the Keystone Kops routine started with their own
first possession, as, on third and short, Sam Stewart’s pickup of a
first down was nullified by a holding penalty. The ensuing punt
never happened, as the snap sailed high over punter Jack Fox’s head,
and, in a bit of ironic luck, the ball tumbled for nearly 40 yards,
completely out of the end zone. Result: a safety making it 2-0, WKU,
instead of an ultra-cheap touchdown for the ‘Toppers.
D'Angelo Ellis breaks up pass
(David Speed Elder photo)
The Owls appeared to have it cranked up on
their ensuing drive when, after an initial first down earned by a
14-yard completion, Tyler Stehling-to-Nate German, TS connected with
the German once again on a nifty sideline route for 20 yards and a
first down at the WKU 35. However....
The play was nullified when officials
ruled Nate had placed a foot out of bounds en route to his
reception; thus endeth a promising drive.
That’s when WKU came back with a Number
28. Thing is, that’s a shorthand we’re going to have to use to
describe this type of enemy scoring drive for the rest of the
season. That’ll save us some electrons.
This one went 86 yard in four plays, first
chewing up 45 yards at a pop when WKU’s Taywan Taylor got behind his
Rice defender. Next play, a double-reverse flea-flicker froze the
Owl defense as White hit his receiver Shaquille Johnson at the Rice
Next play, all-league running back Anthony
Wales wailtzed in untouched, and it was 9-0, Western Kentucky.
Eighty-six yards, four plays.
"They spread you out and worked a lot with
the field," Rice’s J T Blasingame told us after the game. "They have
a lot of good players, but we beat ourselves." Indeed.
The Owls’ next possession reached midfield
before fizzling, but from there Jack Fox’s punt pinned the ‘Topsters
back at their 13.
Didn’t matter. In fact, it set the table
perfectly for another Number 28. On second and ten, WKU QB White hit
his receiver, Nicholas Norris, on the dead run for an 87-yard
touchdown romp. Eighty-seven yards, two plays.
“Our issue was when they went into
‘max-protect’; it really wasn’t the trick plays,” Coach Bailiff
said. “It was when they went max-protect in play action and then
threw the ball down the field. And we’ve got to be able to puncture
some of that protection and force their quarterback to throw the
ball earlier and we couldn’t do it. It doesn’t matter in that case
whether you’re in ‘man or zone.”
Owls piece together 80-yard TD
But the Owls came back with a creditable
80-yard touchdown drive of their own, aided by a couple of mugging,
er, pass interference penalties against the ‘Toppings.
Jowan Davis strides in for Owls' first TD
(David Speed Elder photo)
Tyler’s pinpoint toss to Parker Smith was
the key play, setting up the Owls with a first and goal at the four.
Jowan Davis drove over from the two, and we had ourselves some
semblance of a ball game – WKU 16, Rice 7, three minutes deep into
the second quarter.
Alas, WKU’s next possession, although a
slight variation on a Number 28, amounted to the same result, as on
the very first play, Mike White connected wth a wide open Taywan
Taylor for 44 yards to the Rice 21.
Five plays later, WKU’s Nicarius Fant
hauled in a quick flip five yards deep in the end zone, and it was
The Owls started at their own 35 on the
next possession when the kickoff went out of bounds. Again, though
-- pull revolver, shoot self in foot, as a false start penalty gave
Rice a first-and-15. A plunge into the line yielded zero on first
down, and then a Tyler Stehling pass caromed like a pinball into the
scooping hands of WKU defender De’Andre Simmons at the Rice 46.
This time it took the ‘Topsiders six plays
to cover the necessary yardage, but when Anthony Wales again punched
it in from the Rice one with 7:03 left in the half, it was 30-7,
WKU, and the game effectively was over, 22 minutes deep into it.
Rice failed to cross midfield in two
ensuing second-quarter possessions, and so that’s the way the half
ended – WKU 30, Rice 7.
WKU turns semi-conservative in
The ‘Topsters managed a field goal at the
end of two long drives, significantly more conservative in the
effort, but that gave the locals a 36-7 lead with four minutes to go
in the third.
Lyons, Peterson envelop would-be
receiver (PTH photo)
But the next Owl possession resulted in
their only ‘Grade A’ drive of the game, as Tyler Stehling scrambled
for 20, hit James Mayden twice in a row for completions of 22 and 11
yards, and then scored himself on a 22-yard scramble to make it
Maybe this next turn of events deserve a
number, too, but we’ll defer that for the time. For just as the Owls
looked as if they might creep back into the game despite a huge
disparity in total offense, the kickoff team gave up a 54-yard Kylen
Towner return to the Rice 45. Ugh. Deja vu all over again.
With the short field, Western scored again
in six plays, White again hitting Norris from 19 yards out – 43-14,
After WKU tacked on another field goal to
make it 46-14, the Owls got off a creditable drive, moving 74 yards
in 16 plays against mostly second-string defenders.
On that final drive, the Owls managed to
pick up six first downs, but on first and ten from the WKU 12, Tyler
Stehling threw a into a crowd beneath the goal post, and the pass
was picked off by a leaping A J Jackson.
“I’d like him to take that last one back
when he was late on his read, but I thought he did some nice things
and he’s going to do nothing but improve,” Coach Bailiff said of his
senior quarterback. “He delivered some balls tonight that were also
That was it. Thankfully.
Behind Mike White, for the game WKU picked
up 649 yards of total offense, 552 through the air, on 10 yards per
Meanwhile the Owls were held to 4.1 yards
per play and 288 yards total offense. Tyler Stehling was the lead
rusher with 11-for-86 yards, including only one TFL for a single one
yard loss. But of course, he’s not supposed to be a running
The Owl backfield corps looked as if they
were slogging through the mud pit of an Army obstacle course, as the
Big Four – Dillard, Stewart, David and Aston Walter – accounted for
only 43 rushing yards.
Top Owl receivers were James Mayden with
four-for-56, and Parker Smith with three-for-60.
J T Ibe and Emmanuel Ellerbee led Rice
defenders with eight solo or assisted tackles apiece. For the
umpteenth straight game, the Owl defense garnered zero turnovers.
HOUSTON (Aug. 31) – As the Rice
Owls prepare for Thursday’s season-opening road tilt at Western
Kentucky, a quick quiz.....
When was the last time Rice football won a
2008. Eight years ago. Not even in the championship season of 2013
did the Owls replicate their feat of a Chase Clement-led 56-27
victory over SMU at Rice Stadium in 2008 while the nation’s economy
was on its way straight into the tank.
Since the Owls dropped a 14-10 home opener
against Division Ten Nichols State in 2007 in David Bailiff’s
inaugural game as Rice head coach, that makes the Owls 1-8 in season
openers under Coach Bailiff’s administration. Of course, a lot of
that was because the season openers almost uniformly were body bag
games on the road against the big cheater-bullies of college
So maybe that line of discussion doesn't
relate logically to the task the Owls find themselves facing in
their season opener. Now, there’s Western Kentucky, a team
that themselves bullied the Owls plenty enough on the turf of Rice
Stadium last season, taking home a 49-10 victory that some might say
wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
It was a game in which Rice’s injury woes
fully came home to roost. The litany of walking wounded who were
forced to line up in that game is too long and too depressing to go
into here. Not with a Thursday night kickoff looming.
"There's power in failure," Coach Bailiff
said at his Monday press briefing. "It forces you to narrow
your focus. It forces you to analyze everything in the program.
Also, our players now have a bigger chip on their shoulder because
nobody enjoyed it, from the president of the university to our
In the loss to WKU last year, the Owls
admirably, maybe, stopped the Hilltopper running game with 80 yards
total on the ground. But in the meanwhile, Western Kentucky’s senior
star quarterback Brandon Doughty passed the Rice secondary silly,
picking up 424 passing yards on 28 of 38 completions, including
four, count ‘em, first-half touchdowns.
It was a precursor of grim things to come
for the Rice defense last season. With the defensive line, thin to
begin with, patched up and with its best players injured on the
sideline, the Owls wound up allowing more than 3,000 passing yards
and 36 touchdowns through the air – a lot of those in the form of
the el cheapo long bomb
The Rice offense would drive, say 50 or 60
yards in 10 or a dozen plays, mostly on the ground. Maybe they’d
score, maybe a field goal try was made or went awry, but in any
case, typically the oppenent would blow right back and score on a
bomb, going, like, 78 yards in three or four plays.
That was tought to watch, week in and week
out. Will it happen again this year? Not if the Rice coaches and
players have their say-so.
"A lot of those freshmen are now
sophomores who are a lot more disruptive and understand the game and
the scheme better," DB said. "I'm really pleased with where we are
defensively, and I'm really pleased with where we are offensively.
All systems are go.’"
Owl and Hilltopper fans will soon find out
whether Brandon Doughty was the engine behind the WKU offense last
year, or just a gear in the transmission. Doughty has moved on to
the NFL – Miami– and after trying out four quarterback hopefuls
during August drills, WKU coach Jeff Brohm – an old Louisville QB
himself – settled on fifth year senior Mike White to call the
White is a transfer from South Florida,
with no insignificant amount of game experience. The guy is not a
greenhorn. "Mike has done a nice job preparing himself for this
moment and operates our offense well," Coach Brohm told press this
White has seven returning WKU offensive
starters lining up around him, including all-league wide receiver
Taywan Taylor and running back Anthony Wales.
Meanwhile, the Owls will be throwing their
own fifth-year sentior quarterback into the fire in the personage of
6-6, 225-pound Tyler Stehling, who has seen limited action in
previous seasons, passing for a total of 479 yards in 10 games in
Ah, but one of those tosses was a
beautiful TD bomb at the expense of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in
the Owls’ 2014 road opener, right before Touchdown Jesus and
"It's his turn, and I think he's made the
best of his opportunity," DB said.. "He's made great decisions with
the football in his hand and that's what he needs to do. He doesn't
need to be great the first game. He needs to be consistent and get
the ball to our playmakers on the edge or in the backfield."
Kickoff is at 7 p.m Thursday night, with
national coverage on CBS College Sports.
Here we go.