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2014 Notre Dame Game Page

Notre Dame 48, Rice 17



Rice's Darrick Dillard gets outside for first down yardage against Irish (PTH photo)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Aug. 31) – Thirty-seven seconds remained on the first-half clock as the Rice Owls drove downfield, seemingly in position to turn a 21-10 Notre Dame lead into anybody’s ball game going in to the halftime locker room. Somewhere in the stands, on the sideline, from some of the Rice faithful, the thought must have arisen: "Damn, if we only had 30 more seconds...."

Next play, Owl quarterback Driphus Jackson tossed his singular ill-advised pass of the day, and the Rice scoring opportunity was lost via interception. Seconds later, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson evaded two diving sack attempts and found his receiver, C. J. Prosise, wide open at the five yard line.

What could have been a 21-17 bar-room brawl was suddenly turned into a 28-10 laugher, and it was pretty much "save the equipment" time for the Owls from there on out. And somewhere, in the stands, on the sideline, from some of the Rice faithful, the thought must have arisen, "Damn, if we’d only run out the clock."

Golson’s mad scramble epitomized the performance of Notre Dame’s bad-boy signal caller, returning to the field from academic suspension during the 2013 season after leading the Irish to a 12-1 record back in 2012. Shaking off the rust; actually running like a well-oiled machine, Golson accounted for five touchdowns – three in the air and two by foot – as the Fighting Irish made it look easy in a 48-17 romp over a game but outmanned Owl team.

The last-gasp touchdown pass from Golson to Prosise was the second major first-half fail for an inexperienced Owl secondary. Late in the first quarter, first play after the Owls had tied the score at 7, Rice defenders bit on a Golson play fake that allowed ND’sWill Fuller just enough time to get open deep downfield. The Irish receiver was able to spin out of the grasp of Julius White’s diving tackle attempt, and walk into the end zone.
 
So the Owls’ hard-earned 7-7 tie wound up lasting exactly 12 seconds on the scoreboard clock, after they’d fashioned a 65-yard, eight play drive that culminated with a Jackson-to-Zach Wright post pattern that covered 26 yards for the score.

Given that the Rice had stuffed the ND offense for three-and-outs on the Irish’ first two possessions, the Irish fans were much chastened and quite silenced by that Rice TD strike, and at such point it looked as if Notre Dame would have its hands full for the rest of the day.
 
But 14 basically free first-half points will do in an outfit against much lesser teams than Notre Dame, and the Owls, back on their heels, were unable to make up any ground in the second half.

Golson’s scrambling TD strike to Prosise was one the Owl defenders wished they’d had back.

“We're on it for the initial rush, and then the play extends for a few seconds, and then it's pick-up ball in the back yard," Rice safety Gabe Baker said post-game. "It puts a lot of pressure on the secondary, but we've got to make plays."

“We blitzed them on that play,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said. “That was a direct result of (Golson’s) being able to extend the play where the blitz couldn’t get to him, and we left our corner on the island for too long.”

But the 75-yarder to Fuller was just as damaging – and just as avoidable, according to Coach Bailiff.

"They ran a play-action pass. It’s (a matter of) just one second," DB lamented. "The guy looks the wrong way. You have to have discipline with your eyes, and you have to stay on top of that route."

With Rice’s top two receivers on the shelf – in addition to injured TE Connor Cella, the Owls’ senior wideout, Jordan Taylor, was held out of the game because of a nagging minor foot injury – the Notre Dame defense came out stuffing the box in focus on the Rice running game. The strategy worked, for on Rice’s first three possessions, the Owls were exactly 7-for-7 rushing – that is, seven yards in seven rushing attempts. Ouch.

Once Driphus started connecting with his receivers, however, the Irish defense had to back off and play the whole field. The play that made ‘em honest was a quick crossing route from DJ to Dennis Parks which went for 30 yards on the Owls’ opening scoring drive.

After Notre Dame quickly jumped back out in front via the 75-yard TD pass on first play from scrimmage, the Owls managed to get the running game going, at least somewhat. Driphus had keepers wide for 10 and 19 yards, and then a 26-yard completion to Luke Turner set up the Owls in business at the Notre Dame 21.

"After we opened up the offense, I thought Driphus was very efficient," DB commented. "When he runs the football, I think he made some good choices."

DJ got five more on first down to the ND 16, but then two more rushing attempts yielded zip yards, so the Owls had to settle for a 33-yard James Hairston field goal – the first three-pointer of the LSU transfer’s college career, by the way.

That made it 14-10, Notre Dame, when a 14-14 tie would have sent so much more of a resounding message to the Domers.

When Notre Dame’s Amir Carlisle mishandled the ensuing kicking, the Owls’ D. J. Green and Nick Elder both had tantalizingly close shots at the ball inside the ND five yard line. The Irish deep back managed to get control of the ball and slither as far as the 16 yard line, and from there, the Irish cranked up an 84-yard, seven-play touchdown drive.

The killer on that trip was a 34 yard completion, Golson to Amir Carlisle. Credit the ND QB’s scrambling ability, or debit a breakdown in the secondary, it jacked up the Domers and moved them into Rice territory. The Owl defense stiffened in the red zone, but then on third and eight from the Rice 14, Golson danced into the end zone, leaving about four whiffed tackles along the way.

Little doubt that if the guy stays healthy, he’ll win some games for the Irish that they otherwise might have lost. There’s a reason ND was 12-1 with Golson as a redshirt freshman, and a reason why they fell to four losses without him last year.

Down 21-10, the Owls had 2:33 left on the halftime clock when they took the ensuing kickoff. Rice worked the short passing game into Irish territory at the 49, but burned a couple of minutes in so doing.

Half a field to go, with only seconds remaining, and he Owls were forced into extradordinary measures. That set up the aforementioned interception, as Driphus scrambled on second and 11. The Irish’ Matthias Farley made the pick ten yards downfield and took it back as far as the Notre Dame 47, where Driphus and Darrick Dillard pushed him out of bounds.

There on second and ten, as the clock ticked down to zero, Golson zigged, zagged, and found his man Prosise all by his lonesome.

The Owls were due the second half kickoff, and after taking a touchback, resolutely moved downfield. The Rice offensive line moved out the bigger and faster ND defensive front as Darrick Dillard, Jowan David and Brandon Hamilton all rushed for first downs.

Bizarrely, as the Owls faced second and four at the Notre Dame 28, the skies suddenly poured forth as the ND student section squealed in surprised delight. But the downpour seemed to slow down the Owls as a Jowan Davis rush and a quick-out to Dennis Parks failed to produce.

James Hairston’s fourth down field goal attempt barely got off the launching pad – attribute it to a bad snap, or blame it on the pouring rain – and Notre Dame wound up taking over at its own 29.

The rain soon subsided, but with the failed drive also ebbed away any realistic chances the Owls had to get back into the game.

Notre Dame ground out a clock-eating drive on the ensuing possession, but settled for a 36-yard Kyle Brindza field goal after consecutive stops by Gabe Baker and Zach Patt stalled the Irish at the Rice 18.

The Owls absolutely had to get points on their next possession in order to stay in the contest, but on fourth and four at the Rice 41, Luke Turner picked up 3.9 yards, courtesy of a bad spot, and the ball turned over on downs.

Naturally the Irish were able to mount a short drive from that point. When the Rice defense stiffened inside the 10, on third and three at the four yard line, Golson turned a busted play into a touchdown dash, making the score 38-10, ND, and it was time for the reserves to get in some PT.

One Rice reserve, quarterback Tyler Stehling, raised eyebrows when he calmly connected with true freshman wideout James Mayden on the dead run for 53 yards and a touchdown, capping a six-play, 75-yard drive to bring the Owls to within 41-17.

But that’s as close as they could get, as a soph ND quarterback Malik Zaire made mincement of Rice’s defensive reserves, scooting for 56 yards up the middle and down the sideline; then 17 more for the score in the waning moments.

“I’m proud of the effort Rice played with today,” DB said postgame. “We’re going to watch the tape and we’re going to get better. I’m glad that we opened with a team like Notre Dame.”

The Owls now have an open date and thus two weeks to prepare for Texas A&M, 58-28 conquerors of previously ninth-ranked South Carolina on the road. Absent major improvement by Rice’s secondary men, the Farmers likely will be able to name the score. Tough order of business for any football team.

“We’ll have our hands full,” Coach Bailiff said, ever the master of understatement.


--P.T.H.



HOUSTON (Aug. 28) – Ever since Notre Dame officials last fall confirmed this season-opening matchup between Rice and their Fighting Irish, the Owls and their fans have been able to revel in the eventuality.
x
For the last eleven months, Rice has stood toe-to-toe with the vaunted Irish -- giving up nary a point, conceding no disadvantage. Thoughts of an idyllic football weekend, crowds, bands, a national stage, even the real possibility of an epic upset -- all have been as music to the ears of die hard supporters of our fair Institute.

Now it’s time to pay the piper.

It’s Catholics versus Carbohydrates, they say, as the Rice Owls tee it up with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Notre Dame Stadium, 3:30 p.m. (2:30 central time) Saturday on a game to be televised nationally by NBC.


With Rice’s having to replace a dozen starters, all graduating seniors, and with the return to the field of play of starting quarterback Everett Golson, the man who led ND to a 12-0 regular season in 2012, casual observers have this one penciled in as a “save the equipment” game for the Owls, who go in as 21-point underdogs.

There are numerous factors in support of that contention.

The Owls will be facing a sellout crowd of 80,000-plus. That’s par for the course in South Bend, where the good fathers have sold out every single home game since November, 1973. In four prior contests with the Irish, dating back to 1915, the Owls have scored a grand total of one -- no, make that ZERO -- touchdowns. So, no, the series, such as it is, has not been competitive.


In Golson, who was suspended for the entire 2013 season for disciplinary reasons, the Irish have a talented, proven double-threat who led them to an undefeated regular season and a national championship game as a mere redshirt freshman.

Rice has beaucoup holes to fill, having to replace six starters on both the offensive and defensive sides, not to mention an all-league place kicker.

The Rice defensive line is especially thin, having weathered the loss of key starters StuartMouchantaf, who’s out after suffering an offseason knee injury and Derek Brown, who’s AWOC (Absent without Coaches’ Comment).

Even with the presence of those two guys, the Owls total avoirdupois still would have added up to total the smallest team facing the Irish all season.

But last year, the Owls were facing even more daunting odds in their season opener, heading up to the Holler Box on the Brazos to face the Texas Aggies and, at least for a half, Heisman-winning QB Johnny Manziel.

Rice came out in that one and kicked dust right in the Farmers’ faces, charging out to an early lead and playing on even terms for a half.

It won’t be any louder in Notre Dame Stadium Saturday than it was at Kyle Field last August.

Everett Golson returns at quarterback, but four Notre Dame starters will sit out this one while they are being investigated for potential NCAA violations (“academic dishonesty” was the term used by Notre Dame administrators).

All four are significant producers for the Irish. First, there’s WR DaVaris Daniels, who is the most prolific pass catcher on the squad with career total of 49 receptions, seven TD and 745 total yards receiving.

The other three investigatees are all on the defensive side, including senior defensive end Ishaq Williams, junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and senior linebacker Kendall Moore. Russell is considered ND’s best player in the secondary.

With Golson’s ample skills, and with the big, beefy (albeit somewhat inexperienced) offensive line that the Irish put on the field, it’s doubtful they’ll need to rely much on the passing game in order to move the football. Notre Dame, like Rice, is deep at the running back spot, led by Cam McDaniels (705 yards, three TDs) and Tarean Folston (470 yards, three TDs).

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is high on both of his lead ball carriers. “Folston is a really smooth operator and very productive, but Cam is so efficient in everything that he does for us. He's invaluable from that perspective," Coach Kelly said at his weekly press briefing.

Two Irish offensive linemen are something of a question mark in that they’ll be returning from season-ending injuries. Nick Martin returns at center, replacing his older brother, Zack Martin, while Christian Lombard will fill the right guard spot after undergoing season-ending back surgery in October.

If the Irish have anything resembling an Achilles Heel, it’s on the defensive side, where they’ll be slightly green behind the ears, just as are the Owls.

Irish defenders are led by linebacker Jaylon Smith (67 tackles) and safety Austin Collinsworth (43 tackles, three picks). "I think we've seen a lot of growth in his game," Coach Kelly remarked regarding his linebacker Smith. "He was an outside player, and now he's not just a leveraged player, he's playing inside out, which requires so much more as a football player. Discipline, instincts, pass coverage, so many things that he's grown into."

Like the Owls, the Irish are huge and experienced on the defensive interior, featuring DTs Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones. But they’re relatively untested at the defensive end position, where true freshman Andrew Trumbetti and sophomore Isaac Rochell are expected to start.

With defensive back Russell’s being kept after school, rookie Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder will rely primarily on Cole Luke and Cody Riggs, a transfer from the University of Florida, to pace the pass defense.

Coach Kelly’s main message here is that there is plenty of size and speed on defense to offset the suspension of the three starting defenders.

“Defensively it's one of the more inexperienced groups,” he said. “But it's probably one of the more athletic groups, too. So there is a give-and-take there from that perspective. I don't think, if I look at our offensive group, I wouldn't consider them an inexperienced group, but I would say defensively there is going to be -- you know, there are going to be times where we're going to be gnashing our teeth a little bit.”

Translation, please...

The Notre Dame head man naturally had positive words to cast in the direction of the Owls and their head coach, David Bailiff.

"It is certainly a football team in Rice that we have a great deal of respect for," he told press. "I do have great respect for David Bailiff. He has done a great job, worked his way up through the ranks, like I have as well. Now, over the last couple of years, he’s done some things at Rice that nobody has done in years."

True dat, but DB’s teams in the past have had a tendency to fade a bit in the year after big-win seasons.

A strong showing in South Bend would send a strong signal that that tendency is about to be broken.

--P.T.H.



HOUSTON (Aug. 25) – There’s an awfully big dog looming on the Rice Owl football schedule, ready to be taken on within the week. But first, before trekking up to South Bend to deal with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, players and coaches alike said it was a relief just to have completed the three-weeks-long preseason camp with a feeling of readiness, of organization, and without having any major mishaps having occurred.

Rice head coach David Bailiff told a relatively large gathering of press at Monday’s inaugural weekly luncheon that the players, while focusing hard on their upcoming season opener, needed to catch their collective breaths after fall camp adjournment. And then, too, there’s the sound of that school bell a’ringing.

“First day of class today, so I expect we won’t have much of a workout,” Coach Baliff said, with some semblance of a grin. “Our freshman will still be figuring out where to find the chemistry lab, though we’ve schooled them on that sort of thing.”

Rice starting quarterback Driphus Jackson gave every indication he knows exactly where he’s going, but he referred, too, to the relief of having completed the drudgery of what used to be referred to as “Two-a-Days.”

“The defense is tired of hitting us on the offense, and we’re tired of going against our defense,” he allowed. After all that head-knocking, what’s his first impression of heading up to South Bend? “Well, it’s a change of scenery,” he quipped.

“We’re obviously excited to be going up and playing there, but we’re excited, just now, that we’re out of camp...and then after that, that now we’re getting to go up and play against one of the nation’s top teams.”

Defensive stalwart Christian Covington echoed the Owl signal-caller’s sentiments.

“I think everybody’s excited just to be out of camp right now,” he told scribes. “We’re really excited to be just five days away. The offense is ready. The defense is ready. Oh, man, we can’t wait to be in South Bend, right now.”

"They're going to be ready to go," Coach Bailiff insisted. "They were excited when they first saw Notre Dame on the schedule. It's more of an opportunity for us to see what type of football team we're going to be."

“We’ve had a fabulous camp,” the Owl head man added. “ I’m really excited about how this football team progressed during it.”

Repeating a consistent theme, he noted that the continuity of coaching staff personnel made it easier to clock through the myriad assignments required of organized fall drills, and gave Rice assistants more time to evaluate talent and fill the necessary holes left by last year’s graduates.

“The camp was really a smooth transition, where we were able to retain most of our coaches,” he said. “(OC) Larry Edmondson has really done a fabulous job of making this a seamless transition.”

Then he threw in a couple of just-f’r-instances. “Our running backs, Jowan Davis and Derrick Dillard, have had just an amazing camp. Our receivers, Dennis Parks, Jordan Taylor, Mario Hull, Zack Wright, are guys who are not only looking to catch the ball. The most improvement they made in this camp is where they want to block downfield and understand their role in that – if we’re going to get big plays, how they’re going to perform every snap.”

Fall workouts were not completely without their casualties, however. Earlier this week, Coach Bailiff announced starting tight end Connor Cella will miss four to six weeks with a rib fracture. That loss looks to be hurtful, as his two-deep backups have exactly zero career catches on the stat sheet.

And a late potential scratch looks to be the Owls’ most prolific and experienced receiver, WR Jordan Taylor. Coach Bailiff closed his press conference with the news that Jordan has been held out this week with a sore foot.

“If he’s pain-free he’ll play,”Coach Bailiff said. “But if not, we’re going to hold him out. We’re going to be smart with him – we’ve got a lot more games left to play this season and want to be sure he’s one hundred per cent for conference.”

A little sand-bagging, perhaps? Mum’s the word, for those who are in the know.


--P.T.H.

Little news good news
on Rice fall camp front

HOUSTON (Aug. 11) – Routine has pervaded early fall camp workouts, but for Rice Owl fans, a paucity of news is good news as the team goes through its preparatory procedures in anticipation of its Aug. 30 season inaugural at Notre Dame.

On tap for today is the first scrimmage on the schedule, one in which fundamentals will continue to be emphasized and special situationals will be teed up for both offense, defense and special teams.

Rice head coach David Bailiff consistently has made his preferences known for minimalist, low-key publicity, although nothing in the way of an actual media blackout, during the tedious and physically draining four-week practice period leading into opening day.

He will, however, pipe a little sunshine in the direction of his studio audience, relating to the performance of his birds on the field.

“I really appreciate the work ethic of this football team,” he said. “They all understand that they are in charge of their own attitude and they have shown up every day with a great attitude to make this football team better.”

“This morning the humidity was 93 per cent, and it was hot, but we had a good breeze, so we really pushed through it and got better and stayed well. It was a minute forty-five before practice was over before we had our first procedure penalty. But that’s part of the learning process that you have to go through to stay mentally sharp. You can’t let the heat or humidity stand in your way. You have to push through it.”

“We try to play it smart,” Coach Bailiff added. “We don’t bring them out in the heat of the day. We do it early in the morning. We go late at night. We put in a lot of breaks, give them time to pop the helmet and cool off. We’re trying to get them tough and used to the Houston elements, but we’re trying to be smart in our approach.”

The team took part in its first scrimmage Monday morning, and this coming Saturday morning, August 16, is scheduled for the second of only two scheduled scrimmages the team will undertake.

Driphus Jackson is well-ensconced in the number one signal-caller slot. He’s shown comfort at the quarterback position, and has been reported to have softened his touch and improved his accuracy on the deep ball.

The battle for the backup quarterback spot primarily will take place during the scrimmages, and in fact may be the most dramatic aspect of an otherwise prosaic camp competition scenario, despite the number of open starting slots.

The main reason for that, Rice defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond, lay in the fact that he and the other assistants, on both sides of the ball,  are not trying to juggle implemention of elements of new or revised system while having to make player personnel decisions at the same time.

“We’re intact, coaching-wise,” he said. “These guys have been in the system for a long time, so now, when making adjustments, we don’t have anybody asking, 'Hey, coach, what’s this?' That makes it a lot easier for us – we can just tweak the system.”

Give the fact that Rice defensive mentors have five graduated starters to replace – albeit with a stable of talented replacements – that continuity, Coach Thurmond said, will enable the staff to concentrate on personnel rather than adaptation of new scheme.

--P.T.H.

Parliament message board reports on fall practice....


Coaches' Caravan:  Houston
Coaches, admins pump
enthusiasm into Owl fans
$12 million new cash doesn't hurt


Mister Christian has returned, left wing intact, with mutiny on his mind (PTH photo)
HOUSTON (July 31) -- The upcoming football season began to generate buzz in earnest Wednesday evening, as a decent, but could-have-been-better, crowd occupied the Tap Room at St. Arnold Brewery to hear glad tidings from Rice football coaches and administrators while the yeasty brew lubricated proceedings at a relaxing clip.

Perhaps the most refreshing cheer of all came from an announcement by Senior Executive AD Rick Mello that the old Institute has just received a $12 million gift toward construction of the oft-announced, but continually evasive, end zone facility at Rice Stadium, which apparently now is in the cards for real.

"We recently got an elite gift," Mello told the crowd, "and as a result we're 80 per cent of the way there, 80 per cent."

"There" is apparently $30 million, an amount necessary to complete a multi-phase reworking of the North End Zone of HRS, together with a spruce-up of what remains.

"Our goal is to put shovels in the ground after the football season," Rick added.

The message from the coaching quarters uniformly was one of sincere enthusiasm, but with relatively little in the way of ground-breaking news.

Head Coach David Bailiff, Defensive Coordinator Chris Thurmond and Co-OC Rick Edmonson all addressed the studio audience, and the chief admonition that emanated from their pep talks was along the lines of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

(Time out: That’s fine. No complaints. Hell, whatever we’d do different – if we’re going to the Single Wing -- we’d sure like it to be a bit of a surprise to our first two worthy opponents.)

That studio audience, by the way, numbered a fair amount -- close to 200, by one informal head count. It's about the same as showed up last year, and the year before. But, wait a minute. Didn't we just win a conference championship in football for the first time since Wayne Graham was a rookie? That should’ve brought in 50 or a hundred more, shouldn’t it?

In fact, some of the usual faces were noticeably absent, and there was a disappointing turnout of recent Rice football graduates, not nearly as many as last year. The personal collar-nabbing usually required to bring out such numbers apparently was not undertaken, at least not aggressively.

With no ongoing booster group to provide a base population and word-of-mouth vehicle, such as the Quarterback Club functioned for decades until its summary execution early in the previous administration, it was up to cyberspace to provide pre-event pub and get the ground to shaking. It didn't.

Still, it was impossible for the crowd to be pessimistic, what with coming off the school's first unshared conference football championship since 1957, and the upcoming season’s forecast was strictly fair wind and following seas in the eyes of the Owls' football stewards.

Despite the loss of 25 seniors from last year's championship team -- all of whom graduated, by the way -- there remains a talent base that is actually deeper this season than in years gone by, head coach David Bailiff insisted.

"We have high aspirations this year," he said. "We're young, but we're talented. But we are going to compete for a conference title this year. We're going to go up to Notre Dame and compete."

With last year’s campaign dwindling in the rear-view mirror, it was the topic of conversation among numerous Owl fans that, gee whiz, we won a championship with a courageous, but really dinged up, quarterback, in the person of Taylor McHargue. And this year, we’ve got us a healthy ‘un, in the form of the ever-confident, lanky redshirt junior, Driphus Jackson.

“We're excited about Driphus,” DB said. “He's been learning the same system for three years; you've watched the way he came off the bench in the Armed Forces Bowl and the Kansas games. He's talented; he's athletic, he's ready; we really expect big things from him. We really love the leadership he's provided the football team this summer; he's been incredible in getting them ready in seven on sevens, and that's all him getting it done.”

If Driphus Jackson turns out the hero this season, he’ll have come out of nowhere in the eyes of the scribes. Not so, however, in regard to the Owls’ defensive linch pin, that Canadian feller who all of the sudden is being recognized as being within the very elite of the nation’s big men.

Now, the concern is that Christian Covington will be so good this coming season that he’ll have to consider foregoing his senior season and heading straight to the NFL. He’s only just turned 20 years old, but he’s just that good – especially for a one-armed man, which was the condition that he basically was in as he toiled through the latter two-thirds of the 2013 campaign with his entire left arm and hand swathed and padded so that he could play with broken bones.

And play he did, earning national attention in the process.

“Christian's healthy; he's out of the sling,” Coach Bailiff reported. “He weighs 300 pounds; You know there are four watch lists for outstanding linemen in college football and this year he's on all four of them. We have four young men on at least one of these watch lists this year.”

The Rice head man said he was obligated to limit Christian’s participation during spring practice – but not out of concern for his newly-healed wing. “We had to limit his reps this spring because we had 21 other guys we were trying to get ready,” Coach Bailiff said grinning. “A lot of the spring Christian stood by me and brought me water. It was a good coaching move.”

While Coach Bailiff played the role of paterfamilias, the two coordinators said it was merely for them to tweak the dials during spring practice, thus making it easier to incorporate upcoming talent into a lineup that is not without its share of holes left by graduation.

Both DC and OC brought a prescription to the table, however. For Rice defensive mentor Chris Thurmond, it was a familiar refrain.

“The point of emphasis for us this year is simply this: we have got to create -- and get -- more turnovers,” the irascible Oklahoman said. “Last year, 43 was what led the country in turnovers; I think we had 28 last year. So we were pretty good on that score, but if we can get some more turnovers, then we can really improve, and that's what we want to do.”

Long-time Bailiff assistant Larry Edmondson, who’s sharing offensive coordinatorship with receivers coach Billy Lynch, was sanguine.

“Guys, we're not going to change much,” he insisted. “We're pretty much going to keep doing what we've been doing, and I think that's a good thing...it's easy to get ready for camp and two a days when you just have to keep on doing what you're doing; if it's not broke, don't fix it.”

The new OC’s prescription medicine, though, sounded welcome to Owl fan ears. “The only thing I'll say that we'll probably try to do a little bit more of is to try and play faster,” Coach Edmondson revealed.

What, no more meerkatting? Well, perhaps less of it.

“We went and visited Duke; Coach Bailiff set that up and we went over, and it was clear that they're very much like us, an academic school in a conference where they excelled last year. And the similarities between them and us were really unbelievable.”

“But one thing was different...we thought we were playing fast at time last year -- but Duke, wow, they were really getting after it. We're going to try to do more of that. We have smart kids who are able to adjust and see things on the run; they don't have to sit and look at it for a long time; we're intelligent, and we need to find more ways to make that work to our advantage.”

For the first time in perhaps many a year, Rice is actually a topic of conversation in the world of Texas schoolboy and college football, Edmonson said.

“The high school coaches in Texas are pulling for us, they are.  One...because they like that man," he said, pointing to Coach Bailiff. "They know what kind of university Rice is, and they see us on the upswing. Chris (Thurmond) is right, and we need to take it and accelerate, because there is a lot of buzz out there. We have a lot of people out there rooting for us, they really are.”

--P.T.H.

Note:  for the full streaming video of comments by Bailiff, Edmonson, Thurmond and Mello, go to our video report.....