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'04 Rice - SMU week
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Rice 44, SMU 10
Team effort, revamped backfield lead Owls to easy win over SMU

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Rice quarterback Joel Armstrong looks up tantalizingly at halfback pass that he couldn't quite manage to pull in

HOUSTON (Oct. 10) – San Jose? We don’t know no San Jose.

The Rice Owls shrugged off last week’s weird loss to San Jose State en route to a methodical, 44-10 win over the SMU Mustangs here Saturday night, in a game that   featured consistent performances by the Feathered Flock in all phases of the game while revealing an encouraging degree of Rice backfield depth.

The Owls, after spotting SMU a 3-0 lead at the outset, rode the backs of reserve freshman quarterback Joel Armstrong and fifth-year senior fullback Ed Bailey to 44 straight points, putting the Mustangs effectively out of the game in the second quarter by converting turnovers and alert special- teams play into three straight touchdown drives, none of which had to cover more than 28 yards.

It was as if the California Nightmare had never happened.

"It was a difficult week for a lot of reasons, one, because of everything that happened last week," Rice coach Ken Hatfield said afterwards. "This game tonight was a total team effort. I thought we won all three parts of the game — offense, defense and kicking."

Meanwhile, the Ponies struggled all over the board, starting with the fact that they could neither run the ball nor deter their South Main opponents from doing so.

The Owls once again showcased three, 100-yard rushers on the day, as quarterback Joel Armstrong, making his first collegiate start, rushed for 138 yards on only 14 carries.

Meanwhile, fullback Ed Bailey rushed for 158 yards en route to four touchdowns, while little-used freshman running back Bio Bilaye-Benibo picked up 123 second-half yards. In all, the Owl racked up 496 rushing yards – not too shabby, especially when one considers that senior quarterback Greg Henderson got the night off for R & R, and two of the Owls’ top rushers, Thomas Lott and Marcus Rucker didn’t suit out, while second-string halfback Quinton Smith played at considerably less than full-speed.

So what’s this team going to look like once it gets its backfield actually healthy, anyway?  Expect some even gaudier rushing stats, if the Rice offensive line keeps up its impressive ways.

Road Graders helped make young Owl backs look good

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Joe Moore takes a break from blocking for his teammates to tote the mail

Time and again the Road Graders opened holes inside and led interference wide as they foiled the Ponies’ apparent strategy of focusing on the pitch man to stop the option. That worked so well that Rice ran out to a 28-3 lead in the first half, and by the time third-stringer Bio got the call, the discombobulated Pony D didn’t know which man to take, and the  Corpus Christi redshirt freshman averaged over 12 yards per carry en route to his 123-yard night.

Meanwhile, the Rice defense completely shut down the SMU rushing game, and, given the one- dimensional nature of the Mustang attack, it was academic that the Ponies, while they could ding away for various and sundry yardage in the short passing game, couldn’t generate a consistent offensive strategy.

Except for the very first drive of the game. And that made Owl fans a bit nervous, even if the dread subsided only a few minutes after they’d settled into their seats.

Starting Pony QB Tony Eckert connected on a 31-yard pass to Bobby Chase the first play from scrimmage. It was a flag pattern where the Pony wideout headwed deep, but turned back in 30 yards downfield.

Two plays later, Eckert connected once again to Chase on a quick out down the sideline, and they moved the sticks once more, picking up a first down at the Rice 36.

But from there, and with the short field, the Owl defense tightened up. The Ponies managed one more first down, but then, Chad Price and Adam Herrin teamed to make sure a quick pitch and two pass completions netted a total of five yards, and the Mustangs had to settle for a Chris McMurtry 36-yard field goal.

On Rice’s first possession, then, it took the Owl offense all of three plays to make the folks in the west side stands relax a little. For on third and seven, Joel Armstrong faked to the fullback, made his cut, and lit out for 61 yards down the home sideline to the SMU 19. Three plays later, Quinton Smith took the pitch, cut back, and threaded his way into the end zone from nine yards out.

Thus the Owls regained the lead, 7-3, seven minutes deep into the game, and never looked back from there.

Rice 'D' and special teams set up three straight chip-shot drives

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Chad Price makes quick work of SMU wideout

Next, the Rice D had a chance to flex its muscles, now working against alternate Pony QB Jared Romo.  First,from the SMU 20,  Courtney Gordon and Rob Daniel nailed the SMU quarterback for no gain on first down. Then Jeremy Calahan stormed in to sack Romo for a seven-yard loss. After Matt Ginn batted away a third-down pass attempt – deep, of course – Pony punter Ryan Mentzel punted out a short liner to Mike Falco at the SMU 40.

Mike came up to cut off the punt on the fly and immediately headed for the sideline, where he threaded his way 16 yards to the SMU 24.

SMU may have a herd of Mustangs, but Rice has its Stallion in Falco, and that heads-up play by the Scottsdale,  Arizona, sophomore was big in helping put the Owls in a position to blow the game wide open.

Ed Bailey picked up from there, carrying the ball four straight times, and diving over from the one yard line to put the Owls up, 14-3.

The Mustangs wound up paying the Price on their next possession, as the Bay City sophomore (Chad, that is) stormed in to block Ryan Menzel’s next punt attempt from the SMU 20. Chad almost got the handle on the ball to complete the coup de gras by returning it to the end zone, but instead the pigskin bounced around crazily until Rice’s Ryan Simonak fell on it at the SMU 28.

From there, Q. Smith got three yards on first down, and then it was Bailey, Bailey, touchdown! Ed simply bowled over several members of the Pony defensive front and linebackers as he bulled over the goal line from the SMU 9, and things were beginning to look easy.

Rice scored once more, right before the first half ended. With only 1:08 showing on the second quarter clock, John Syptak rushed in to hogtie and pin SMU quarterback Eckert for a three-yard loss to the Pony 21, and when the smoke cleared, durn if ol' Syp didn't have the ball, too.

After throw-back doesn't go, Owls get TD anyway

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Redshirt frosh DB Jon Turner gets first recorded tackle of his college career -- and it's a good  'un

After a running attempt by Q. Smith netted no gain (perhaps it was the wrong quarterback read?), the Owls called time and cooked up a nifty throw-back halfback pass, Mike Falco taking the pitch and lofting the ball across the field, right back to QB Joel Armstrong. A couple of SMU defenders were close enough to interfere with Joel’s movement ever so slightly, however, and he couldn’t quite pull it in.

But on third and ten, and with the clock ticking down, Armstrong ran the quarterback draw for nine, and then on fourth and one, Bailey surged for seven yards to the SMU five.

On first and goal, Armstrong spiked the ball to stop the clock at 0:15, but apparently communicated to the officials his intent to call a time out. No way, then, to get the field goal unit in, if the next play didn’t cross the goal line.

But it wound up making no difference, as, next play, Ed Bailey just bulled over for the score.

A little more fireworks was displayed before the teams finally went into the halftime locker room, however, as Chad Price intercepted an SMU hail mary attempt at the Rice 30, as the clock ran out – and, assisted by Clifford Sparks in what looked like a rugby scrimmage, almost managed to take it to the shed.

Owls found new way to score in third quarter

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Quinton Smith shakes off a little of the rust and gets back into the flow of things

Rice took the second half kickoff and tried the inside the of the SMU line. The scheme worked for a first down or two, but the Owls had to punt the ball away. That led to a new method of Chinese water torture for the Ponies and their long-suffering fans.

After Jared Scruggs punted the ball 49 yards to the SMU 10, the Mustangs were flagged half the distance for holding on the play. Then on first down, it was Buck Casson’s turn for a little fun.

Some SMU blocker didn’t pick up Buck, and, when QB Romo dropped back eight to throw, he was standing three yards deep in the end zone. And that’s where Buck nailed him.

It was Rice’s first safety since 1999, and the play pretty much ended any idle speculation that SMU might be able to come back and make a game of it in the second half.

In fact, they did not.

The Rice onslaught was stemmed momentarily, when, on the Owls’ next possession following the free kick, starting at their 29, they drove methodically down the field. Fifteen plays later, they faced first and goal and the SMU two yard line, but just as Mike Falco was about to cross the plane, he was stripped of the ball and it was recovered by the Mustangs’ Bobby Jones in the end zone for a touchback. Aw, shucks.

No matter. It took Rice all of one play to get the ball back, as rover Terry Holley stepped in front of an Eckert pass at the Rice 38, picking it off and heading back ten yards the other way.

After Joel picked up six yards on first down, Ed Bailey boomed for 21 more to the SMU one, and then scored on the next play. That made it 37-3, Rice, with 2:43 left in the third quarter.

After SMU failed to convert on fourth and four from midfield, next series, the Owls had a chance to crank it up once again.

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Mike Falco scoots down home sideline after coming up to catch line-drive punt on the fly

Bio was star of Owls' last act of the evening

This time, the star of the show was Bio Belaye-Benibo, who had a chance to showcase his skills for the first time on the field as an Owl. All he did was take the ball for gains of 11, 9, 9 and 14 yards to move the ball to the lip of the cup. Senior reserve fullback Jordan Kramer then took the ball over from the one, and with the Owls up, 44-3, that ended Rice’s scoring for the day.

SMU did get across the goal line, late in the contest, via a 38-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Chris Foster, capping a three-play, 71-yard drive that inspired yawns from the few Mustang fans who still remained in the stands.

That gave frosh running back Bubba Heard a chance to show his wares, and he, along with Bio and Jordan Kramer, responded on the ensuing, and ultimate, Rice possession of the night, by moving the ball from the Rice 20 as far as the SMU two yard line, where the Owls let the air out of the tires as the clock ran out.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't play better," SMU head coach Phil Bennett told press afterwards. "I'm disappointed we didn't coach better."

No offense to Coach Bennett, who seems like a good guy with just a very tough job to do.  But the Rice Owls, that's the business they're in -- the disappointment business.  Lose to Rice, and your fans want to chuck it in?  So be it.

Here's to disappointment -- the other guy's.


After inexplicable road loss,
Owls seek home redemption

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"There was a lot of things I was thinking"


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"SMU played extremely well in their ball game against Boise"


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"A hundred years from now, the score is still going to be 70-63"

HOUSTON (Oct. 7) -- It’s "Throwback Day" Saturday at Rice Stadium for the Rice Owls and the S.M.U. Mustangs. But the question Owl fans are asking is, will it be a throwback to the Rice salad days of the 50s -- or their nadir of the 80s?

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One thing’s for sure. As the two schools square off in their annual battle for the Mayor's Cup, it marks the first time in recent memory that the teams come together with the Owls needing a win more desperately than the Ponies.

S.M.U. broke its 15-game losing streak two weeks ago at home with a convincing 36-13 win over San Jose State, and followed that victory with a creditable performance in a 38-20 loss to league favorite Boise State Saturday. A loss to the Owls, and the Mustangs retain hopes for a better-than-three-win season and a mid-pack WAC finish -- a resounding success for the Mustangs by any recent barometer.

But a loss for the Owls on Saturday would have to be considered lights-out, as to the Flock's maintaining any reasonable hopes of achieving their pre-season expectations.

The Owls' shocking, inexplicable defensive meltdown against a disorganized and (until then) demoralized San Jose State team was as bad a derailment as one would expect the Flock to be able to withstand, if it is to maintain its drive toward a seven-to-nine win season and the resultant bowl berth.

Two consecutive losses to what've been considered league doormats the past few seasons would be a deal-killer, plain and simple --both on the field, and in the stands, where Rice sports admins are desperately seeking some impetus to draw greater attendance.

Even the hardest-core Owl fans are asking 'what the (expletive deleted)?' after Saturday's bizarre loss to the Spartans in a game that turned out to be the highest- scoring contest ever in Division 1A, preserving Rice's winless skein in the state of California that dates back to 1958.

"Somebody on the radio call-in was asking me what I was thinking," Rice head coach Ken Hatfield remarked at his Monday press luncheon.

"Well, there was a lot of things I was thinking," he quipped, "but the biggest thing, was that I was telling the defense to go stop their butts."

Well, Coach, we all know now that THAT strategem didn't work.

SMU defense held San Jose State to 13 in easy win

Rice now faces the sobering task of going against an SMU defense that held San Jose to 13 points, one week earlier. It's a Pony team that's playing the best ball of the Phil Bennett era, Coach Hatfield opined.

"As an attention grabber, we've already seen SMU, because that was the film we looked at when we were preparing for San Jose. SMU completely dominated San Jose in every form and fashion in their first victory two weeks ago. And SMU played extremely well in their ball game against Boise."

It may work somewhat to Rice's advantage that Saturday's 7 p.m. game promises to be played in wet, if not rainy, weather conditions.  When it took to drizzling Wednesday, Rice coaches sent their charges out to scrimmage on the wet field. "It was a little wet out there, and we got a chance to handle a heavy ball," Coach Hatfield said following the workout. "Also, we got in a little wet-ball kicking and throwing. We needed that to get around that kind of environment."

The Owls have been more than a little successful in the role of Mud Ducks during Coach Hatfield's tenure, and, with the way the Owl offensive line dominated Hawaii and San Jose State, one might expect Hatfield's Road Graders to have an easier time of it pounding away a few yards at a time under wet turf conditions.

Of course, the San Jose State game proved that ball control isn't everything, as Rice held onto the ball for over 42 minutes, running 100 offensive plays. And still gave up ten touchdowns.

Wait a sec. There's that recurring wave of nausea again. Have to stop and throw up, just a little.


OK, feel better now. It's out of the system. Let's forget San Jose, and focus on S.M.U.

Ponies have had to rework defensive depth chart

SMU head coach Phil Bennett told press earlier this week that he’s leaving the depth chart wide open for eager, aggressive defensive reserves. Thus far in four games, the Ponies have given up an average of 36.2 points per game, ninth in the 10-team WAC and 104th nationally. SMU is 83rd nationally in rushing defense and 103rd against the pass. That doesn’t cut the mustard for the defense-oriented Coach Bennett.

"Maybe it will do some good for some of these guys to go over [to the scout team] and get their game going," Bennett told press. "There's a chance of that happening if we don't play better. It's been a long year, and I've seen these guys play better, but we have to get better production."

It’s perhaps good news for the Owls that Coach Bennett's main area of concern is with his defensive front. The SMU DL has been credited with exactly two sacks in four games.

Consequently, SMU defensive coaches have shuffled the depth chart, benching senior end Melvin Williams and moving up  soph Brent Karrington, who emerged from the scout team. Coach Bennett said that Williams and Allan Adami, a preseason all-WAC selection, just haven’t played up to preseason expectations.

SMU’s defensive play up front has been further hampered by the loss of DT Cory Muse, who tore his ACL, and linebackers Reggie Carrington (torn pectoral muscle) and D.D. Lee (knee and elbow) for the season.

So it seems that while defense was expected to have been a bright spot for the Mustangs this year,, they’ve had much of the same kind of injury problems on defensive side that the Owls have had on the offensive end of the ball, this season.

SMU has sputtered on offense

Offensively, the Mustangs once again have struggled this year, although they’ve shown noticeable inprovement in their last two outings. Last week against Boise State, quarterbacks Tony Eckert and Jerad Romo teamed to complete 17 of 35 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.

The Pony running game doesn’t quite compare with, ah, say, the Texas Longhorns, however. A big problem for the Ponies continues to be their inability to run the ball, posting a meager 56 yards on 24 attempts in the loss to Boise.  SMU is averaging 119.4 ypg on the ground, with four TDs via the infantry.

Foy Munlin is the top Pony rusher with 200 yards on the season thus far, at 3.7 yards per carry. Part-time quarterback Romo leads in yards per carry at 6.5, totaling, however, only 157 yards in five games.

In contrast to those rather puny figures, the Owls are now ranked number two in the nation in rushing offense, with 327.5 ypg and 14 touchdowns. As for passing, well, the Owls’re ranked where they usually are, and nothing more need be said about that.

Coach Hatfield encouraged Owl fans, saying his squad is fully capable of regrouping for SMU.

"In football, you have a lot of opportunities to find out what you're made of and how you are going to handle adversity," he said. This upcoming game certainly presents a situation like that, he added, but it's not life or death.

"You understand what you have control over, and if you're smart you learn from the mistakes you had, and you come back. A hundred years from now, the score is still going to be 70-63, and you've got to learn to put that behind you and go forward."

"The media and your fans don't forget. They'll carry it until the next Saturday when you play. Then you show if you've improved and done something to not let it happen again."


Interview:   Marcus Rucker
"I wasn’t thinking about my yardage"

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"It was all about just trying to win the game, trying to keep the defense off the field. That’s a big part of our offensive strategy"


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"There’s always room for improvement. If we had eliminated those mistakes last week, those turnovers, we’d still have won the game going away"


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"Sometimes interceptions can happen even if you execute, when the defense is making its reads and anticipating. But there’s never an excuse for fumbles."

HOUSTON (Oct. 8) – Marcus Rucker gained 201 yards rushing Saturday against San Jose State. It was his first 100-yard game – and he got that in the first half alone. Everyone always knew he was a powerful, speedy and savvy runner, but yet there was no small degree of trepidation earlier in the season when the two halfbacks on the depth chart ahead of Marcus – Thomas Lott and Quinton Smith – both went down with injuries. The El Dorado, Arkansas, sophomore responded calmly and forcefully, going out and having good all-around games against Hawaii and Texas, but finally getting to pile on the yards at San Jose. But all that’s secondary to team goals. When you lose, 70-63, it doesn’t matter how many yards rushing you get, Marcus said – you’ve still had a bad day.

Q: You’ve gone to the head of the class as Rice’s most powerful runner. Were you thinking about the yardage totals you were racking up in San Jose?

No, I wasn’t thinking about my yardage, honestly. I was just going out there trying to play, trying to block, trying to run the ball if they needed me to. It was all about just trying to win the game, trying to keep the defense off the field. That’s a big part of our offensive strategy – to keep the defense off the field. We play as a team. We try to use the clock.

Q: Though you’ve had complete games before, this was the first 100-yard game you ever had, the first game where you actually were able to take control. Will that be a help to you in the future?

On our team, the first objective of the running back is to make your blocks. If you do that, when you get your carries, you’ll get your yards. As a running back on this team, you block first; running comes second. So just being able to get out there and perform, to just help the team to get to a point where you can win, is what’s most important. When you do carry the ball, then, you have confidence in your teammates, that they can make the blocks for you – if you’re able, first, to make the blocks for them.

Q: Once you got the offense running, you moved the ball so well it almost played into their hands...

Well, we try to manage the clock as well as we can. Every play we have is designed to pick up four, five yards. But as the game progressed, we started making more and more big plays on the ground. We were picking up, like, 20 or 30 yards at a pop. So you could say that the clock really wasn’t being used up all that much. The passes – our passing game was actually working. There were a couple of mistakes, there was a problem with the wind. We were still completely confident, though, that we could move the ball and keep on moving it.

Q: Well, you guys did score 63 points, even though you lost the game. So how high is the offense’s confidence level at this point?

Confidence level? Oh, we’re always confident. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Like at the start of the U of H game, we knew we hadn’t brought our best game, but we were still confident that we could be productive enough to bring in a win.

Q: The team’s offensive stats in San Jose were tremendous, but youall did lose five turnovers...

Right, and we always want to focus on the negative – we always want to go out there in practice the next week and correct what we did wrong the week before. There’s always room for improvement. If we had eliminated those mistakes last week, those turnovers, we’d still have won the game going away.

Q: How do you correct that tendency to turn the ball over in key situations?

It’s a matter of timing. Those guys were just stepping up on defense and making big plays. But still, there’s really no excuse for fumbles. Sometimes interceptions can happen even if you execute, when the defense is making its reads and anticipating. But there’s never an excuse for fumbles.

Q: Were you able to get a grasp on what happened, considering how well you guys played offensively, but yet losing the game?

It was tough to think about. Just looking at the two teams, comparatively; looking at the defense, looking at the offense – comparing them against us, we were stunned. We were in shock. I wouldn’t say that we couldn’t understand why we lost, but I will say that there was some kind of, I don’t know, unreality to the situation. But we did lose, obviously. So we’ve got to come back and capitalize somewhere down the line to make up for it.

Q: Do you believe the team will be able to put this game behind you, then?

We try never to dwell on a loss. I’m pretty sure that every guy on the team is a champion at heart. So we just have to go out there and play like champions. To do that, you can’t dwell on the negative. You just have to forget what happened in the past and look forward to what’s coming up next.


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