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Rice 28, Hawaii 14
Attacking Owl defense holds off Warriors while offense, after slow start, pulls away with big plays, Dillard-led second-half surge

BACK IN THE ACT -- Senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor was a difference-maker, hauling in five receptions for 103 yards including this one for a key first down (Mark Anderson photo)

HOUSTON (Oct. 5) – Former Rice head coach Ken Hatfield was often heard to say of his charges that they had been able, once on the field and settled in, to “rise above coaching.”

Now, the affable, low-key Arkansan wasn’t inclined to self-ridicule, and the remark actually reflected nothing of the sort. Rather, ol’ Kenny was referring to a team’s ability to self-adjust to the peculiarities of a particular opponent as the contest unfolded, to make the necessary changes and keys on the field, irrespective of -- or at times even in spite of -- what they’d been coached to do during the prior week.

That pretty much sums up this Owl team’s performance in Rice’s come-from-behind, 28-14 victory over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Saturday night before a sparse, but enthusiastic, crowd at Rice Stadium.

The Rice offense initially appeared to have no clue how to counteract the blitzing, stunting Hawaii defense as the game first unfolded, netting a grand total of just 18 yards total offense in the opening quarter.

Fortunately for the Owls, the Rice defense, buoyed by the return from injury of several key regulars, was able to read and react to whatever the Warriors threw at them, forcing two key turnovers and keeping the UH run total low enough in the early innings to allow time for the moribund Owl offense eventually to catch on and perform effectively.

The resulting contest wasn’t much of an artistic success for the Owls, but the Institute Boys’ persistence and refusal-to-lose did leave departing Rice fans with a feeling that better days may be yet to come this season.

But it wasn’t a matter of making halftime locker-room adjustments on the chalk board, Rice’s leading rushing for the game, Darik Dillard, insisted. The adjustments, if any, were made on the field, and on the fly.

“It was a mainly matter of being able to find out what their tendencies are and what their weaknesses could be,” he told us. “We ran a lot of inside zone plays, being that we found out that the offensive line was really begging us to run zone and power at them. And just by trusting them and knowing that they stepped up to the challenge, we were able to keep on moving.”

Week off gave Hawaiians lots of time in the film room

Not so with Rice’s early-game possessions, however. Hawaii had the benefit of an open date before the Rice game, and obviously put the extra time to good use studying game film. As a result, the Hawaii defenders came in like gangbusters, flooding the backfield with hostile Warriors. They were right there in the face mask of every Rice ball carrier on bread-and-butter plays that had shown at least some measure of success in previous games.

“We watched how they played Oregon State and Washington, and knew that we were going to have our hands full,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said afterwards. “What they do defensively, we knew it was tough – it was the high pressure, where for us it would be famine, famine; then we’d have some feast.”

“We just didn’t realize how long we were going to be in the famine period – which was most of the first half.”

So, then, the Rice defense had been coached as to the Islander’s proclivities, but talking about it and actually having to deal with it in real time apparently are two very different things.

“Like I said Monday in my press conference,” DB added, “it was like figuring out where fire ants are coming from. That’s where you know they are going to make some plays -- and I knew we’d create some, too. I just didn’t realize it would take that long.”

Eight dice rolls first half, one 'seven'

The Owls found themselves with eight offensive possessions in the first half. Of them, the stat sheet showed two three-and-outs, four punts, and two turnovers.

The larder was empty – like Dust-Bowl empty – until late in the second quarter, when Rice QB Driphus Jackson hit WR James Mayden in full stride on a short passing route, whereupon the true freshman from Rowlett put on the afterburners and sprinted 81 yards for Rice’s only points of the first half.

That play looked awfully good from the cockpit, Driphus said after the game. “We didn’t think James had that kind of speed.,” he said. “We know that he’s long and he’s tall...but it was a shock to me, because usually in practice you don’t see that kind of burst. But when he got that ball, I thought, ‘OK, nobody’s going to touch him.’ It’s just something that I’ll be able to enjoy for the next couple of years.”

Before that, things looked bleak indeed when Driphus’ short pass was intercepted by Hawaii’s Benetton Fonua at midfield and returned to the Rice 31, midway in the second quarter. A two-TD deficit was staring the Flock right in the face.

Hawaii had taken a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 20-yard touchdown pass, QB Ikaika Woolsey to WR Scott Harding. That capped off a 68 yard, seven-play drive that looked easy-peasy for the Warriors.

The Rice offense, by comparison, had done nothing, having garnered only two first downs thus far in the game. Driphus appeared to be bothered by the flood of Hawaii defenders in the backfield, and both Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard had found no running room to speak of.

To the observer, it appeared that Driphus’ recently dislocated shoulder was still affecting his play – or at least the massive bandage covering his left shoulder and most of his left arm cramped his style. It seemed to relegate him to the role of mere dropback passer as opposed to the dual-threat scrambling qualities he showed in the Notre Dame and A&M games. But no soap, according to Driphus – he just was having a bad day.

“That was the worst half of football that I’ve ever played in my entire career,” DJ insisted afterwards. “I mean from little league on up; I don’t ever think I’ve played that badly. My focus wasn’t there; I was in the wrong places; I wasn’t throwing the ball as well as I should have.”

Come on, DJ – are you just sure that Hawaii’s scheming had something to do with your first-half performance?

“I can’t lie to you; it had nothing to do with Hawaii,” the junior with the spark-plug personality responded. “It was just purely on me, and that’s the reality of it. I was picking up the blitzes; I was seeing what was going on, I just wasn’t able to make the plays when my number was called. That’s just what it was.”

Well, whatever it was, it was fortunate that the Rice defense had come to play this bee-you-tee-ful evening for out-door football. Save for that one seemingly easy Hawaii touchdown drive, the Rice front seven was making big play after big play to keep the Owls within striking distance.

Early on, Hawaii moved ball; Owl 'D' was stubborn

On the Warriors’ first possession, they got as far as the Rice 14 yard line. But there, on third and 12, DE Brian Nordstrom nailed UH receiver Di Saint Juste for a loss of one, and then followed up the next play with a an open- field tackle of Hawaii’s T J Taimatuia to turn the ball over on fourth and 13.

In all, Rice defenders managed three fourth-down stops on the evening. “That’s just as good as getting a turnover,” Rice coach Bailiff observed.

Speaking of turnovers, early in the second quarter, the Warriors had gotten as far as the Rice 37 when freshman D J Banks picked off a Woolsey pass and returned it 28 yards to the Hawaii 42 yard line.

The ensuing Rice possession yielded nothing, however, as did the one after that.

Sitting pretty at the Rice 31 after Fonua’s interception, Hawaii alternated plus-yardage with Rice sacks, Bryce Callahan storming in on a safety blitz to nail Woolsey for a loss of 12, and Brian Nordstrom chiming in for a loss of two on second and nine at the Rice 20.

From there, Tyler Haddon’s field-goal attempt from 38 yards out missed wide left, and the Owls got the ball back with 5:43 left in the half, still down 7-0.

Two plays later, on third and 11, is when Driphus connected to James Mayden for the 81 yard stunner which tied the score at seven going into the halftime locker room.

At that juncture, the Owls  had been outplayed on both sides of the ball, and, by any count, were fortunate to be able to go into the halftime dressing room with the score tied. The Warriors could have been at least a couple of touchdowns up, were it not were it not for the Rice big-play defense, combined with a couple of key pass drops on part of UH receivers.

Second-half  mission:  stop Hawaii offense cold

It looked to be essential for the Owls to stop the Warriors on their opening possession of the third quarter. Things did not start off well at that juncture, however,  UH QB Woolsey scrambling for 21 yards to the Hawaii 46, first play. But from there, the Owl defense rose up, and Hawaii was forced to punt when Graysen Schantz bowled in to sack Woolsey on third and 13.

That gave the Owls the ball at their own 27, with the score tied -- new quarter, new attitude, whole new ballgame, right?

Wrong. On Rice’s very first play of the second half, Jowan Davis dented the line for an ostensible nine-yard gain, but struggling for extra yardage, had the ball wrested from his grasp by Hawaii’s Taz Stephenson, whereupon UH’s Moses Samia recovered it at the Rice 36.

The short field was just what the doctor ordered for the Hawaiians, as on third and 10 at the Rice 24, Woolsey found his Aussie wide receiver and ambidextrous punter Scott Harding splitting two Owl defenders beneath the goalpost and threaded the needle for a touchdown strike to put the Warriors up 14-7.

So, recapitulating -- both of Hawaii’s scores came as a result of passes of 20 yards or greater, and both came on secondary defensive failures. Hmm, nothing new there.

Took Owls better part of third quarter to get rolling

It took the Owls three more possessions, and the rest of the third quarter, to finally get things cranked up offensively. In the meantime, the Rice defense gifted the offensive unit with two surgically efficient stops.

On Hawaii’s next possession, the Owls’ LB Alex Lyons and reserve DE Connor Johnson teamed to force a fumble by the Hawaii quarterback, recovered by Brad Luvender at the UH 31.

Alex described the play post-game. “I just kind of locked on, broke free,” he said. “(Woolsey) got away from me a little bit; he broke a tackle, and then Connor came in and cleaned him up. We just sandwiched him, and the ball came out. It was just a great play by Connor. Connor’s made some big plays for us.”

Three dives into the line next picked up 9 yards, whereupon the Owls faced fourth and one at the Hawaii 22. Third-string quarterback Nate German was sent in to run something, but a bit of confusion ensued and the play never did get off the ground, so Rice coaches were forced to signal for a timeout with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.

Back in came Driphus, who witnessed the Hawaii defensive end jump offside, and, apparently figuring he had a free play, lofted the ball to a streaking Jordan Taylor down the visitors’ sideline. Jordan’s route was good, Driphus’ pass was there, but 5-8 Hawaii defensive back Dee Maggitt tipped the ball away from the 6-5 Rice receiver before he had a chance to latch on. The referees fail to pick up the offsides, so that ended the Rice possession.

This time it was Christian Covington’s turn to harass the Hawaii signal caller. As Woolsey rolled right on third and six at his own 26, Chris roared in from his defensive tackle position and solo forced Woolsey to fling the ball into the grandstand. The ensuing Scott Harding punt went 35 yards to the Owl 39, and that’s when the Rice rushing game, mainly in the person of Darik Dillard, really began to click.

The soph phenom first ran for a pair of first downs, positioning the Owls at the Hawaii 38.  There, on first and 10, Driphus connected with Jordan Taylor on a crossing route which carried to the Hawaii 10 yard line. Two plays later, Dillard bulldozed in from the two, and the Owls had tied the game at 14 with 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Turned out that Rice’s All-American defensive tackle wasn’t through with his heroics. Next possession, after Emmanuel Ellerbee nailed Hawaii’s Steve Lakalaka for no gain on second and six at the Rice 46, Chris Covington threw off his blocker and stormed in to sack Woolsey for a loss of eight.

It was one of Rice’s eight quarterback sacks on the day; the last time the Feathered Flock enjoyed such a bounteous feast was ten years ago.

Former Aussie-rules footballer Scott Harding’s punt was downed at the Rice 10, so the Owl offense had a long way to go, but things started off promisingly when Darik Dillard dashed down the home sideline for 25 yards to the Rice 35. A holding penalty put the quietus on the budding drive, however, and the Owls had to punt out.

After UH’s Steve Lakalaka gained 11 yards for a first down, the Rice defense closed the door again, courtesy key stops by James Radcliffe and Vestri White.

Time enough for Owls to seize game

The ensuing punt gave the Owls the ball at their own 21 yard line with eight minutes remaining in the game. There, then, was a time for the Rice attack to ground out a long scoring drive, and score the Owls did -- but it didn't take much time.

First it was Dillard left and Dillard right for a first down at the Rice 36. Then on second and 14, Driphus found Jordan Taylor on the home sideline for a 14 yard on-the-tiptoes grab. That set up what has to be the play of the game, James Mayden’s 81 yard touchdown reception notwithstanding.

Under a heavy rush, DJ dropped back, sidestepped a defender, and threw a perfect strike to Mario Hull 50 yards down the visiting sideline at the Hawaii four yard line.

Darik Dillard took it in untouched on first and goal, and the Owls had themselves to their first lead of the game at 21-14 with 4:18 to go.

Concerns were raised when Hawaii’s Kievan Ewalico returned the ensuing kickoff from the goal line out to the Hawaii 34. Things became a little more dicey when on first and 10, quarterback Woolsey found his receiver Quinto Pedroza for 15 yards to midfield.

But again the Rice defense rose up. Tabari McGaskey made two key stops on first and second downs. On third and two, Julius White knocked away a short pass intended for Harold Mullaney. Then on do-or-die fourth and two at the Rice 43, Brian Nordstrom surged in to put major pressure on Woolsey, while Julius White once again was all over the intended receiver, swatting the ball away decisively.

That gave the Owls the ball at their own 43 with 2:55 left in the game. It appeared to be simply a matter of holding onto the ball, preferably while moving it on the grouand – and the Owls certainly had been proficient at doing that in the second half.

This time, it was all Dillard, as Darik carried the ball five straight times for gains of four, six, 19, four, and five yards to the Hawaii 19 while the clock ticked down. In all, DD totaled 141 net yards in 23 carries, a career high.

“The thing about Darik is, he heads north,” Coach Bailiff said. “You know every time he gets the ball he’s trying to score. He runs as fast as he can; he runs with great leverage; he’s like a NASCAR driver who sees smoke; he’s like accelerating all the time. He turns little plays into big plays just by way of his running style.”

Having been pounded into virtual capitulation by Dillard’s punishing ground game, Hawaii called a one, last timeout at that point, with 1:04 showing on the scoreboard clock. Rice coaches sent in Luke Turner ostensibly to pile-drive the Wild Owl for the first down, but the ensuing snap horrifyingly dribbled right between his legs.

For a split second a pang of terror arose among the crowd, but “Bob” was on the spot, falling on the ball 12 yards back downfield at the Hawaii 31.

From there, the Owls were able to run the clock down to 18 seconds before having to call timeout to avoid a further walkoff. Rice coaches might’ve tried a field goal, and they might’ve tried a dive up the middle. But on the sideline, Rice coach Bailiff said he’d had another thought. “Let’s just throw it to Jordan, and see what happens. If nothing else, will burn a lot of clock.”

Driphus Jackson afterwards said he approached the situation with calm. “I knew that if Jordan wasn’t open I was going to try to run around a little bit, and then throw the ball out the back of the end zone,” he said postgame. “I wasn’t going to try to take a sack or anything like that. He was too wide open not for me to get the ball there. My job was easy.”

So sure enough, DJ quickly dropped back and found a wide open Jordan Taylor down the middle, zipping the ball right into his breadbasket for 31 yards and the game-sealing touchdown. With 12 seconds left, the Owls had taken a 28-14 lead – and by golly if that one didn’t stand up until the final gun.


Hawaii Coach Norm Chow rushes to LA postgame to be with wife after she suffers brain aneurysm

HOUSTON (Oct. 5) -- Now that's a tough one. It turns out that Diane Chow, Norm's wife of 40 years, suffered a brain aneurysm late in the week and was flown to UCLA Medical Center where she underwent brain surgery on Friday. 

Coach Chow had flown the Hawaii team into Houston Tuesday night and was already in Houston engaging in game prep when it happened.  The veteran, 68-year-old Hawaii head coach conducted the Warriors' efforts from the Rice Stadium sidelines Saturday night, but immediately after the game, according to Hawaii sources, he flew to LA to be with his wife.

Daronte’ Jones, Coach Chow's head assistant, will assume head coaching duties in his absence.  Sources indicate the hope is that the surgery will have been successful, and that Coach Chow will be able to fly back to the Islands and re-assume his duties sometime during the coming week. 

The Warriors take on the University of Wyoming Cowboys in a home game Saturday.

Link to story:  Thoughts, prayers for Coach Chow's wife

Link to message board:  Chow's wife suffers brain aneurism


HOUSTON (Oct. 2) – Hard to believe it, but it's been a full decade since Rice and the University of Hawaii Warriors have last squared off against each other on the gridiron.

The two schools were Western Athletic Conference foes from 1996 through 2004, during which time they met six times, Rice taking four. The teams last played in 2004, a 41-29 Rice victory in Houston.

Going into Saturday's 6:00 p.m. kickoff at Rice Stadium, both teams are 1-3, but  in Hawaii's case, as in Rice's, the mark is deceptive.

You know all about the Owls' recent history, but here's a bit about the Hawaiians: All four of UH's games this season have been decided by nine points or less. The Rainbow Warrior defense (that's right; they've re-assumed the "Rainbow" in front of the "Warrior" nickname) has played particularly well in the second half, allowing just seven combined points after halftime against its three Pac-12 opponents this year, including second-half shutouts of Washington and Colorado.

Those three Pac-12 foes were Washington (a 17-16 loss) Oregon State (a 38-30 loss), and Colorado (a 21-12 loss). The Washington and O State games were played in the Islands, as was UH's sole win of the year thus far, a 27-24 squeaker over Northern Iowa. The loss to Colorado occurred on the road in Boulder.

In its 38-30 loss to Oregon State, UH outscored the Beavers 23-0 in the fourth quarter, almost making up a 31-point deficit.

Offensively, the Warriors have been led by running back Steven Lakalaka, who has averaged 123.5 rushing yards in the past two games since replacing injured starter Joey Iosefa in the lineup.

Placekicker Tyler Hadden is off to the best season of his career. The Whittier, Calif., native is 10-of-11 in field goals, having made his last nine attempts. He is tied for the national lead, averaging 2.5 field goals per game, and his 90.9 accuracy percentage is also among the national leaders.

New defensive coordinator Kevin Clune's attacking 3-4 defense has been highly effective this season, forcing 21 3-and-outs through four games, including eight vs. Northern Iowa. Last season, UH forced 40 3-and-outs.

In the season-opener, the Rainbows held Washington to 17 points and 336 yards of total offense, its fewest totals since South Alabama in 2012. The defense forced UW to punt eight consecutive times in the second half, including five 3-and-outs. And the Huskies were ranked number 25 in the nation going into this game.

A week later, after allowing Oregon State to score 31 points and generate 348 yards of total offense in the first half, the UH defense shut down the Beaves in the second half, allowing only 116 yards and one touchdown. The remainder of the half, UH forced five punts, including three 3-and-outs.

So with a 1-3 record, with three of their first four games having been played in the friendly confines of Aloha Stadium, these guys have got to have some kind of Achilles' Heel, right?

Right. It's at quarterback.

Hawaii head coach Norm Chow has used three signal-callers thus far this season, and none have gone to the head of the class. As of kickoff Saturday, the Warrior quarterback job appears to be up for grabs.

Against Colorado, Hawaii started Ikaika Woolsey without much success. In came Jeremy Higgins, who later had to leave the game with an injured left hand. Taylor Graham wound up finishing the game for the Warriors.

The Warriors had an open date after the Colorado loss, giving UH coaches a chance to re-tool, so no telling what the Owls will face when home defense lines up at Rice Stadium Saturday.

Coach Chow has long been considered an offensive genius, having directed All-American quarterbacks and prolific passing games while making numerous whistle stops during his long coaching career, including offensive coordinator positions for the Utah Utes, UCLA Bruins, the NFL's Tennessee Titans, USC Trojans, NC State Wolfpack, and BYU Cougars. He coached at BYU for 27 years.

This year, much to Coach Norm’s frustration, without an established man under, the Warriors are averaging just 205.8 yards per game through the air,while UH quarterbacks have have thrown just one touchdown pass in 176 attempts.

But you can bet that after studying Rice’s game films, the offensive-minded veteran coach will have the Warriors filling the sky with long-range aerial bombardment, come Saturday. Who wouldn’t?