The Owls invade the Bay Area Saturday to take on the San Jose State
Spartans, a team which lost last week in Dallas to SMU, 36-13, allowing the Mustangs to
break their 15-game losing streak.
That was a poison pill for San Jose State fans, who are beating the drums in
anticipation of a lynching party for Spartan head coach Fitz Hill. Coach Hill,
well-liked by his colleagues in the coaching profession, hasnt exactly been a
resounding success in Silicon Valley, going 13-26 thus far as he enters his fifth year as
head coach at SJSU. This year, hes 1-3, with the only win being a 47-28 triumph over
1-AA Morgan State.
Alumni huddled earlier this week for what turned out to be basically a gripe
session with Coach Hill, and words, apparently, were not minced.
"There are a lot of Spartan fans disappointed with what has happened in the
last five years," said former SJSU quarterback David Ellis. "Something is wrong
when you get beat by 23 points by the worst team in Division (1-A) football."
Other voices were somewhat more encouraging, however. "Look, we're here to
support the student athletes and coaches involved with San Jose State football," said
former Quarterback Club president Andy Ghiggeri. . "When a program is down, it
doesn't matter if it is here or at Stanford, or at USC, people are going to start asking
questions. We want everyone to know we continue to stand behind the team. The evaluation
of the coaching staff is for the administration."
The Spartans certainly havent been all that impressive thus far this year.
But the Owls, on the other, dont exactly have a history of coming into the Bay Area
and leaving a winner. In fact, the Rice Owls havent won a football game in the state
of California since 1958, the record book says.
Rice is 0-2 against the Spartans out there. "We have not played our best
out in San Jose," Rice head coach Ken Hatfield said. "It's been a difficult
place to play."
In 1998, Coach Hatfield took what by most measures was the superior team into
Spartan Stadium but lost momentum early in the game and came out on the losing end, 20-17.
Two years later, after winning 49-7 in Rice Stadium in 99, Rice met a
fairly evenly-matched Spartan squad in San Jose, only to fall again, 29-16.
Can Owls stay focused against Spartans? Coach thinks
Nope, the Owls certainly have not played their best ball at San Jose State. But
Coach Hatfield says he thinks the temperament of this years Owl team is such that it
will keep its eye on the ball.
"I think well take care of business," Coach said, referring both
to San Jose State and the Owls WAC schedule generally. Playing Texas before a
large, hostile crowd on the road helped in that regard, he added. "They enjoyed the
opportunity to play Texas in that environment. They fought hard. They did not like
"They know the importance of this game. We have Navy in the middle of all
this, but pretty much the rest of the way are all WAC games. They all count. They know the
importance of it."
"We're right where we want to be right now. We're 1-0 in the
conference and going to play a key conference game on the road. To win a championship, you
have to win some key conference games on the road. That's always a factor. We have not
played good out in San Jose but I think we're going to. We're going to practice good and I
look for a good game."
Coach Hill said third-down conversion percentage is a stat that just sticks out
like a sore thumb in regard to the Spartans' Misery Index this fall. "Our third down
conversion is what is killing us," Hill said. "I mean, we're awful in that
"If we can increase our third down conversion, that will cure a lot of our
ills because number one, we'll move the ball longer. Second, we will be moving down to the
red zone area where we are 100 percent," Hill said. "But we haven't done that in
the plus side of the field."
As one might expect, Coach Hill attributes his teams lack of success
primary to its inexperience.
"Offensively, when you have seven or eight new starters, you have a
tendency to start slow," Hill said. "About game four, game five, it ought to be
coming together, and that's what I'm expecting this week."
The SMU game marked the second starting assignment for Spartan quarterback Dale
Rogers, who led SJSU rushers with 87 yards on 14 carries. Rogers, a 240-pounder, is said
to be a much better scrambler than his record-setting predecessor, Scott Rislov. Coach
Hill told press that Rogers was held out of practice a couple of days this week because of
the bumps and bruises he received against SMU. But hes expected to be back at full
speed for the Owls.
Former TCU signee leads Spartan backfield
Rogers is accompanied in the Spartan backfield by junior running back Tyson
Thompson, who leads all rushers with 250 yards total, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Owl
fans may recall that Thompson, out of Irving, Texas, was heavily recruited as a schoolboy
and wound up signing a letter with TCU, but had problems with, er, matriculation, so wound
up playing junior college ball at Garden City College before enrolling at San Jose State.
On the receiving end, wideout James Jones leads the team with 12 receptions for
196 yards and a touchdown. Of the top-10 pass catchers in the Western Athletic Conference,
he has the best yards- per- catch average at 16.3.
Defensively, the Spartans are coached by former Rice assistant and Tulsa head
man Keith Burns. On the field, theyre led by Defensive end Tony Ficklin, who has
been credited with 8.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 4.0 quarterback sacks this
season. With that stat to his credit, he shares the WAC top spot with our own John Syptak
and Thadis Pegues in the QB sack department.
One stat that has caused concern to Coach Hatfield, going into Saturdays
game, is that matter of quarterback sacks. It seems the Spartans havent allowed any
"They get rid of the ball in a hurry," Coach Hatfield told media at
his weekly press luncheon. "Thats one of (Hawaii QB) Timmy Chang's deals: don't
ever take a sack. Even if you throw two incomplete passes, all you have to hit is one out
of three, as long as you don't get in a second-and-17 situation. Quarterbacks are schooled
to do that."
"A lot of time, quarterbacks will hold on to the ball too long, and that's
when sacks come. It's an art to teach a quarterback to throw an incompletion. That's what
Fitz and his staff are doing: they're trying to make sure they don't end up in a lot of
That approach would appear to run counter to the angle Coach Hill announced he
planned to take in Saturdays game, when he told alums he planned to take more
chances, offensively, against the Owls. That seems to mean Rice will especially need to
take a disciplined defensive approach to the game and mind their assignments.
Coach Hatfield said he has reason to believe the Flock will stay focused.
Its been a focused defensive effort consistently for the Owls the first three games
of the season, he noted, despite the negative result against Texas.
"Overall, our defensive staff and our defensive players are really on the
same wave length," he said. "They communicate well, and that's a factor of
everybody being experienced. They've been around and they know what to expect during a
But you can expect the Spartans to feel as if theyll be picking on someone
their own size when they tee it up with the Institute Saturday. SJSU defensive end Kinjii
Green told press he and his teammates expect nothing short of a win. "We really
believe that we'll come out this week being two and two," Green said
One might expect the Spartans to pull out all the stops against the Owls in an
effort to set the season aright and even their conference and season record at .500.
"We're not looking at this game in terms of being competitive," Coach Hill told
gathered alums. "We're looking at it to win."
'The last time I looked, Vincent Young was in there, at the end of the third
'Theyre bigger and faster than we are. I dont think it takes a genius
to see that.'
'I think that, as far as fight and everything, I wouldnt take a back seat to
anybody, in the way our guys played out there Saturday'
Rice coach says
play of reserves
HOUSTON (Sept. 28) Doubtless in some quarters, University of Texas head
coach Mack Brown is fading some heat in light of his 22-point defeat of the Rice Owls
Saturday. Such is the way life is in the rarified atmosphere of top-tier BCS
football these days, where the pressure to win -- and win big -- is enormous.
Its little wonder, then, that Coach Brown felt constrained to put a little spin
on the 35-13 final score, saying, regarding the second half, "It was actually even
only because we took everybody out."
"We played some really, really young guys," he added. "We didn't
have a starter in during the fourth quarter except for a couple of secondary guys."
Rice head coach Ken Hatfield couldnt mask the irritation in his voice when
reminded by this reporter of his cohorts take on the game.
"Well, the last time I looked, Vincent Young was in there, at the end of
the third quarter," Coach Hatfield retorted. "I mean, I think hes the
starter, is he not? I think, last time I looked, I dont think that would sell very
well with Chance Mock, either, you know. I dont think he started the second
Mock, in fact, took over for Young with twelve minutes remaining in the game,
set up in the shotgun, and threw the ball all over the field. (His stat sheet showed eight
passes for minus-eight yards.) And Mock, as Coach Hatfield alluded to, is a former starter
"But no, they had some good players in there," Coach Hatfield
protested. "And you look at their defense, I mean, Derrick Johnson was in there a
UT Heisman-candidate runner Cedric Benson also played the entire first three
quarters of the game.
In fact, when Rices redshirt freshman quarterback, Joel Armstrong,
embarked on his 44-yard touchdown run with 2:21 left on the scoreboard, Texas had more
first-unit men on the field than the Owls did, and Joel was, in further fact, surrounded
almost entirely by redshirt freshmen.
Owls' 'winning' last two-thirds of game bodes well for
That bodes well for the future, Coach Hatfield said. And the fact that Rice
played virtually everybody on its 60-man traveling squad and in so doing, actually
outscored Texas, 10-7, in last 39:45 of the game those are the kinds of stats that
can put a smiling on a coachs face, despite such a loss.
"I was pleased that we stayed in the fight," Coach Hatfield said.
"Those guys who came in and played for Texas, all of those who dressed out, they all
wanted to play in the game, too. They all wanted to play hard, too."
"I think when youre playing anybody of that caliber whos
playing hard, and you have some success, both offensively and defensively, thats a
positive. Maybe not our first team against their first team. The first team may be a
little better than we are. Theyre ranked number five in the country for a reason,
and theyve been up there for several years because of their talent. And theyre
bigger and faster than we are. I dont think it takes a genius to see that."
"But I think that, as far as fight and everything, I wouldnt take a
back seat to anybody, in the way our guys played out there Saturday. They played hard, and
they continued to fight they didnt get down."
The game with Texas Saturday provided the Feathered Flock with more than a
little beneficial adversity conditioning which can be put to good use later in the season,
the Rice mentor added.
"The biggest thing is what you do when things go bad. Everybody can play
well when theyre ahead," he said. "But how you really respond when
youre gettin your tail beat do you still fight back?"
"And I think the thing you saw on our sideline; you saw in the game, that
there wasnt anybody who gave up. There wasnt anybody on any special team who
wasnt fighting, trying to get to the ball and make something happen."
Texas was trying to work on passing game, but without much
Coach Hatfield said he realized that the Texas coaching staff was trying to work
on the Longhorn passing game, after taking a 28-3 lead midway in the second quarter.
Everyone is aware that Rice was without the services of three of its biggest
offensive weapons Saturday, in running backs Thomas Lott and Quinton Smith, and wide
receiver Marcus Battle. But perhaps few were aware of Rices precarious situation in
the defensive secondary, where several walking wounded managed to buckle it up
and play effectively in the Texas game.
"Last week during practice, one day we had only one cornerback dressed
out," Coach noted. "One. The others were hurt or sick. We had to take a backup
safety and work him at first-team corner. We weren't sure who would play in the game.
That's a credit to the players and coaches, everybody willing to play."
But perhaps Rices most impressive effort of the day against UT if
you dont count the outstanding overall special teams play was the pass
defense displayed by the Owl secondary.
"They did not hit a deep pass," Coach said of UTs offense.
"They hit a couple of short, medium-range passes over the middle; they beat us inside
on a couple of plays with their tight end; they hit a crosser. But when they tried to go
deep, they didnt hit any of them."
"They tried to go after Matt Ginn; they tried to go after Lance Byrd. We
even picked off one deep in the end zone they tried a big, tall guy who tried to
out-jump us in the end zone; Matt Ginn comes down with it."
"So with the things they were trying to do, I guarantee you, our secondary
matched up on the deep passes; they didnt get that part of their game going. They
ran the ball pretty good; and they hit a couple of their tight ends, but they didnt
hit the deep passes."
All in all, it was an extremely physical and talented Longhorn football team the
bested the Owls on Saturday, and, given the level of effort the Institute boys showed, the
games outcome shouldnt be taken as a negative, Coach Hatfield noted.
"And when you have that the whole game thats the thing that
concerns me more than anything; that is, looking at the attitude of the team," he
said. "Maybe its awful easy to give up when youre down like we were, 28-3
in the second quarter. But we didnt; we kept fighting back and I think we
learned something from the game, even though we werent the better team that
"Coming out there, we already knew that we were facing pretty much of a
"When I hit him, I was like, this guy, if he isnt hurt after this,
I dont know what hes made of."
"You could see the blue stripe of Rice fans. That meant a lot to us, and I really
want to say that to everybody out there"
"We still need just to play together like we normally do, but we need
to take care of the little things"
'This is going to be
a long day'
Holley shrugs off UT,
focuses on San Jose
HOUSTON (Sept. 27) There was a moment on the field, early in Rices
game with Texas Saturday, when Owl roving linebacker Terry Holley experienced an epiphany
that hed just as soon have done without.
The play before, with the game scoreless and Texas driving, Terry had nailed Heisman
candidate Cedric Benson in the UT backfield for a loss, pinning him to the ground solo and
setting up for Texas a third and goal from the Rice nine yard line.
Next play, UT quarterback Vince Young quickly dropped back and threw down the
middle to his tight end, Bo Scaife, deep in the end zone. Holley, the standout linebacker
from Oklahoma City, was in perfect position to deliver a crushing blow to the receiver,
and he put his helmet right on Scaifes numbers -- an incredible hit. Owl fans
thought for sure Scaife would go one way, and his helmet and the ball, the other.
"I was thinking the same thing," Terry told us over lunch Monday.
"When I hit him, I was like, this guy, if he isnt hurt after this, I
dont know what hes made of.
"I looked at him he had the ball in his hands, still and he
just gets up like nothing happened, and I was thinking to myself, This is going to
be a long day -- a looooong day."
"Because I just gave him about all I had and he just took it in
That one play pretty much epitomized Rices entire evening, struggling in
vain against a physically more talented Texas team. The speed of the Texas game Saturday
was most certainly kicked up a notch more than the first two games of the season. Bam!
"Oh, definitely, definitely," Terry told us. "Those guys were
bigger, stronger and faster than both of the teams wed previously played. So, coming
out there, we already knew that we were facing pretty much of a David-and-Goliath
Texas size and speed advantage pretty much ran the length and breadth of
the Longhorn first unit, Terry said. "I guess you could say across the board, except
for their receivers," he added. "The receivers didnt impress us all that
much. But, across the board, they were just bigger, stronger and faster. The tight ends
they were a handful. They really came at us."
Though the hostile crowd, some 83,000 strong, appeared to cause occasional
problems with the Owls offensive flow, it just made the Rice defense feel more
chipper. In fact, the presence of small, but noisy contingent of blue-clad Owl fans, deep
in the corner of the Memorial end zone, did more than anything else to bolster the Rice
defenders, the senior rover said..
"It pumped us up especially to see our Rice fans out there,"
Terry told us. "That was more important to me than anything. Youd be on the
field, and you could look over to the corner, and you could see the blue stripe of Rice
fans. That meant a lot to us, and I really want to say that to everybody out there
to all the Rice fans who took the trouble to show up at the game."
But the noise level itself, was something that a player could pretty much focus
out, he added. "I guess the way the stadium is built, being open at one end, it
didnt present as big a problem as I thought it would," Terry said. "The
noise kind of filtered out, and on the field, it was at a level where you really
didnt have to pay attention to it, at all."
On defense, Rice actually did some things against Texas that Arkansas
hadnt done, a couple of weeks before.
"It was definitely all a positive experience," the Owl senior
sparkplug said. "We got three turnovers, which nobody previous to that had done.
Thats definitely a positive. It just goes to show that we just need to take care of
the little things. We still need just to play together like we normally do, but we need to
take care of the little things. It just motivates the team more to know that we got
plus-three turnovers against the number five team in the nation, so theres no reason
that we shouldnt be able to get turnovers from here on out."
Perhaps its a cliche, but there were some building blocks put together out
there on the Memorial Stadium turf Saturday than can add structure to Rices efforts
in later, more winnable games.
"We picked up some great experience," Terry noted, "playing on
the road at the house of the number five team in the nation; the competition and the
experience really dont get much better than that, and its definitely going to
help us when we go back into conference play."
"We just take them one game at a time; we try to win them all."
This coming Saturday, the Owls must once again hit the road to take on 1-3 San
Jose State. The Spartans were upset in Dallas by SMU last week, 36-13, a win that broke
the Ponies fifteen game losing streak. Rice has never won in San Jose before, Terry
"I was actually unaware of that until just now," he responded.
"San Jose has been off our schedule for the past few years, prior to last year, and
so I really cant much to say about the rivalry or what weve done in the past.
All I can say is were going to go down there and do our best to change that."
'We started off the game really well, but we just had a big punt returned that kind
of got it started for them'
'They left eight people around the ball to block us. The tight ends were always
double-teaming the D-linemen, and that made it pretty tough for us to go our job in
getting back there to the quarterback. Like I said, he had all day.'
'If you take a look at the film, there were basically eight bad plays. Thats
all they had. I mean they beat us deep eight times. Other than that, we shut them down'
"All we have to do is just win out"
HOUSTON (Oct. 4) The normally gregarious Jeremy Calahan was wandering the
corridors of the R-Room before Mondays luncheon, idly regarding the trophies and
recorded exploits of those Rice sports heroes of days past. Anything, it seemed, was
preferable to dwelling on that debacle of a football game the Owls found themselves
participating in Saturday. Like other traumatic events, you just dont want to talk
about it, but then again you do. The senior leader and anchor of Rices defensive
line gritted his teeth and ascended to the podium, when called. His tone of voice belied
tremendous disappointment, but one also could sense the determination that welled up in
the background. Gotta gut it up and shrug off a game like that....
Q: Tell us about the track meet on Saturday...
We started off the game really well. We started off the game really well, but we just
had a big punt returned that kind of got it started for them. And then things just
fell apart. I mean, they started leaving eight people in the box, getting max coverage to
protect their quarterback, so we couldnt get to him. The defensive line had a lot of
trouble getting pressure on them, and so they were able to beat us deep. They were able to
do that, obviously, one too many times. It was a tough game. It was tough to lose like
that because wed played so well at the beginning of the game, and that
shouldnt have been how the game came out.
Q: At first, San Jose seemed clueless on offense, until their quarterback,
Rogers, entered the game the second quarter. Was is simply a matter of giving their
quarterback too much time?
They beat us deep. I dont know what else to say, other than that. And they
definitely had more time to throw the ball. At first, they were just leaving just the
offensive linemen in to block us, and we were getting pressure, everyone had some sacks,
and we were bringing blitzes off the edge just keeping them moving. Then, they left
eight people around the ball to block us. The tight ends were always double-teaming the
D-linemen, and that made it pretty tough for us to go our job in getting back there to the
quarterback. Like I said, he had all day.
Q: It also seemed that, especially during the second half, they were getting
a short field to work with.
They did have a short field at times, but if wed had stayed on top of them
from the get-go, then it shouldnt have been a factor.
It was definitely disappointing, but were just going to have to try to
move on and just get ready for SMU.
Q: This was one of four very winnable WAC games that were penciled in as a
"W" for you. What does this do to your momentum?
If you take a look at the film, there were basically eight bad plays.
Thats all they had. I mean they beat us deep eight times. Other than that, we shut
them down; there were some good things that we did on defense. We shut them down several
times; they didnt have any long drives; they just happened to get some great breaks.
Sometimes theres nothing you can do about that.
Q: The defense obviously wasnt where it was the first couple games of
the season. How do you get back to that level of confidence and intensity?
We havent lost any confidence. Everybody on the defense were
all just going to pull together. Were just going to pull together and practice hard.
Weve been practicing hard every week, regardless what the outcome of any game turns
out. Well do the same this week, just pull together and try to put something
together for SMU.
Q: After this loss, do you and your teammates believe winning a WAC
championship is still a possibility?
Definitely, definitely. I mean, all we have to do is just win out. We feel we
can win every game. We feel weve got a good team; weve got a really good team.
And Im pretty confident we can win out. If were able to do that, thats
all we can do. If that happens, then whatever happens with the other teams, we cant
control. But were confident we can win out our remaining games....
Q: You had some defensive positives in the game, including three
interceptions. Can you guys build on that?
Yeah, we had five turnovers in the game, defensively, which is more than
weve had in a long time. As many as weve had in the previous three games
combined, actually. So we had opportunities, but whenever they needed a big play
somehow it was able to happen. It was frustrating. But the only thing they were able to do
was get a big play. They couldnt do anything else before that or after that. They
had no offensive consistency. But it seemed like every time they went to the big play, it
happened for them.
Q: The SMU - Rice series has always been a dogfight, one where you can throw
the record book out. It usually seems like the last man standing is the one who wins.
Definitely. SMUs a good team, despite what people might think. It is
always a fight for it, whenever we play them, either there or here. Its always a
tough, emotional game. Were just going to have to get in a good week of practice,
and just be aggressive and rally together. I mean, I think we can do it. Weve got a
lot of character on this team.
Q: SMU is going to be looking at your game film. Theyll see how San
Jose had success against you going deep. How do you prevent the same thing from happening
when you go out next week?
I think the main thing we need to do is just finish our tasks. Were
obviously able to start them. Now, especially in practice, were going to have to
focus on finishing. Weve got to finish what we start. Our offense has played great
at times. Our defense has played great at times. Weve got to put it together. If we
both play great, nobody can beat us.