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Rice 31, Prairie View 28



HOUSTON (Aug. 26) – What’s perhaps more remarkable about Rice’s last-gasp, comeback win over Prairie View Saturday was not the measure of victory but rather the very fact that the Owls were able to avoid defeat.

Down 28-19 with under 12 left in the game after scoring on their first four possessions in the first half, the Owls just burred their necks, bit their lips, and put an exhibition of determination that Owl fans have not seen very much of in the past decade, using big plays on defense to wrest control of the game and score on a touchdown, a safety, and a last-second, 23-yard Jack Fox field goal to provide the final 31-28 measure of victory.

The game began with a display of offensive power by the Owls which gave heart to the most pessimistic of their supporters. But that shortly was followed by a second- and third-quarter defensive swoon that reminded Owl die-hards of the same old same-old deficiencies that have befuddled Owl defenders for what seems like decades.

In the end, the team’s true grit won out out – and that’s a pretty decent stepping-stone from which to start the Owls latest attempt at resurgence.

The Owls quickly surged to a 13-0 lead on their first two possessions.  But it was then that the Owl staff saw fit to begin to experiment a little. First came a two point attempt after the second touchdown, kickoff/punterr Jack Fox’s quick pass to the flat narrowly missing for the two pointer when his receiver touched the sideline marker upon hauling the pass in.

Even so, Rice’s offensive effort had cranked up in a way that all had hoped – that is, a continuation of the Stanford power running game. The Owls lined up with a fullback and twin tight ends, and, led by starting quarterback Sean Stankavage and hard running back Emanuel Esukpe, the Flock rolled 86 yards downfield in 14 plays, 24 of those yards picked up on three short passing attempts from Stankavage to Austin Walter, Austin Trammell, and Jaeger Bull.

The rest of the effort came on the ground, though, and mostly right up the gut, Supe, Stank, and Austin Walter sharing the duties.

And after the Rice defense three-and-outed the Panthers on their ensuing possession, the South Main Boys set up with good field position at the Prairie View 44. First play, the Big Supe threaded down on the far sideline for 34 yards to the Prairie View 15, narrowly missing paydirt when his heel touched out at the fifteen.  No matter, as two plays later, he dashed in untouched that point, and the Owls had gotten themselves a two touchdown lead with a minute to go in the first quarter.

Stanford-on-the-Bayou, right?

Yeah, that was good. That was what we were hoping for, right. Stanford-on-the-Bayou. Alles gut, das gut beginnt, ja? “I mean from day one we've talked about pounding the rock, controlling the clock and playing great defense,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said afterwards."There were times tonight that we were able to do all three. We just didn't do them at the same time very often."

The Rice defense overcame a personal foul penalty on Prairie View’s next possession, shutting down the Panthers once again. The Flock took over possession at its 27 after the ensuing punt, and, this time with quarterback Jackson Tyner at the helm, the Owl offense began to move again.

But this time, it wasn’t 3 yards and a cloud of dust. This time, different offensive looks had taken over, with multiple wideouts, scantily clad backfields, and a lot of motion. (No Meerkats, though, fortunately)

The result was spotty, though, as the Rice offense sputtered. As a case in point, the Owls traveled 60 yards reaching the Prairie View 15 before Supe got stopped behind the line, and a third and 12 fade route into the end zone misfired.

Jack Fox had no problem converting the ensuing Chipshot field goal, but instead of 21-0, it became merely 16-0 at that point.

And it was at that point that the Prairie View offense suddenly found life, quarterback Jalen Morton employing deep routes to quickly move the ball down the field. When he found his Zarrian Holcombe open in the end zone from 20 yards out, PV found itself back in the game at 16-7.

Rice responded with another sputtering drive under Jackson Tyner, reaching the Panther 18 before bogging down. From there, Hayden Tobola’s 36 yard field goal attempt was easily true, and the Owls went back up 19-7.

Now the (Coach) Bloom was off the rose

But somehow the bloom was off the rose, for the ease at which the Rice offense moved the ball in the first quarter was missing in those two second-quarter field goal drives. Perhaps if Stankavage had stayed in, and the Owls had continued to pound the rock, they would’ve had themselves 28 points instead of 16 at that point, but we'l never know. We suspect they would’ve, but we'l never know.

Moreover, the coaching staff was guilty of less than stellar clock management as the time ran out in the half. Rice led by only four at 19-14, but with had a ready chance to sit on the ball and go in with a halftime lead.

But instead, the Owls opened it up, which, of course, ersulted in a three-and-out that gave Prairie View the ball at their own 31 with 46 seconds to play in the half.

From there, shades of yesteryear emerged, as it took Jalen Morton three plays, including a 42 yarder and a 20 touchdown strike to his receiver Tristan Wallace, to allow the Panthers to take a 21-19 lead into the halftime locker room, much to the dismay of the Owl faithful

Things got quickly worse for the Owls in the third quarter, as they failed to move the ball on receipt of the third-quarterg kickoff. Things next got downright awful looking when PV commenced to take the deep Jack Fox punt starting at their own six and march 94 yards, most of it in gobs through the air, of course, to stretch their lead to what was beginning to seem like an insurmountable Rice deficit, at 28-19 midway in the third.

With Stankavage back in the game, still the Owl offense was unable to get going, exchanging short possessions with Prairie View three times in a row as the third-quarter clock ran down and the fourth quarter began to ebb away.

Still, the Rice head man stuck with the fifth-year Vanderbilt grad as the steady hand on the tiller. “He was more productive. His two drives in the first half ended in touchdowns,” Coach Bloomgren said. “I just went with the feel and sometimes that’s what you do.”

It was at this point that, under prior regimes, – well, at least under the most recent prior regime – that it likely would have been time to Save the Equipment and call it a day.

Rice defense simply took over the game

But the Owl fans in the stands hung on, in a triumph of hope over experience, and to their wonder and the team’s credit, at that point an aroused Rice defense simply took over the game.

Prairie View had possession of the pigskin facing third and four at their own 35, when Anthony Ekpe roared in to knock the ball out of the PV quarterback’s raised arm. Dylan Silcox was able to fall on it in the scrum, and the Owls found themselves with field position at the Prairie View 25.

Again, disaster nearly ensued as on second and seven, the Owls drew a personal foul penalty which set them back nearly to midfield. But immediately the Supe got back that 15 yards and more, scampering 23 yards to the PV 14 and a first down.

Two plays later, Austin Walter dashed in from eight yards out, and with that, the Prairie View lead was cut to 28-26.

Once more the Rice defense proved up to snuff on Prairie View’s next possession as well. On second and five at the Prairie View 30, Roe Wilkins clobbered the PV quarter, the big defensive play set up a punting situation and on fourth and four. Providence next intervened, as, a high snap sailed over the Prairie View punter’s head, so that all he could do was soccer-kick it out of the end zone for a Rice safety, which, of course, suddenly tied the game at 28.

As the rules dictate, the Owls received the ensuing free kick and set up shop at their 38. Running the clock, the Rice offense slowly marched down the field reaching as far as the Prairie View 39 before bogging down. But with the score tied, and instead of risking ceding Prairie View significant field position if a long field goal try missed, once again, Mr. Consistent, Jack Fox, laid his punt down to sleep at the Prairie View 2 yard line, and the Panthers once again had their backs against the wall.

That made if four Jack Fox punts landing inside the enemy ten yard line in the second half alone. Can someboday say “Player of the Game”?

“The punts inside the 10 and five, like you just have to get really lucky,” Jack  said afterwards. “So I think luck was on our side tonight. I also think Coach Lembo called a really good game special teams wise.”

Coach Bloom had equally high words for his senior place-kicker/punter..

“I guess the only knock I got against him ] right now as he didn't complete his pass attempt (when trying for a two-point conversion),” Coach Bloom deadpanned. “So, he's not a Heisman candidate, but he sure is a Ray Guy candidate and anything else to do with his leg.”

As enthusiasm heightened, sure enough, the Rice defense held once again, and Prairie View had to punt out, giving the Owls possession at the Rice 44 with 4:28 left on the scoreboard clock.

Once again, the Owl offense, confident and in control, pounded on the ground. Austin Walters set the table with a 12 yard scamper on second and nine. But he cramped up on the Prairie View sideline, and had to be spelled for the first time in the game by his twin brother, Astin.

And whaddayaknow but that brother Astin took the handoff on the next play, followed his blockers, broke tinto the secondary, and peeled off an athletic 26 yard broken field run which carried as far as the Prairie View 11.

That one got the Owls sitting pretty, what with a minute to go in the game and within chip-shot field goal range.

The Owl offensive brain trust decided to milk the clock down to the very end, and so they did, Emanuel Esukpa plying the Prairie View line three times in a row, setting up the ball between the uprights at the PV 4 yard line. From there as the Owls managed to get timeout called with two seconds left, Jack Fox came in and calmly booted the ball through the uprights as the clock expired, giving the Institute Boys a hard earned 31-28 win against a surprisingly game Prairie View team.

"I think it was our guys continuing to fight," Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said of the Owls’ fourth-qurter heroics. "The thing that I expressed to them at halftime is 'Guys, you don't see any panic on my face.' We're going to trust our training."

--PTH

Game on....


HOUSTON (Aug. 22) – The Mike Bloomgren era begins amid enthusism among diverse quarters as the Rice Owls open their 2018 season’s dance card with the Prairie View A&M Panthers, a 6:00 p.m. kickoff at Rice Stadium Saturday.


But along with the almost universal exclamations of good feelings out South Main way comes an underlying wave of anxiety, albeit a bit stifled, among the nearest and dearest of Owl fans, who are as if whistling in the dark as kickoff looms.

Those loyalists can’t help but remember the inaugural effort of the previous administration, when, 11 long, painful years ago, a newly-implemented Rice coaching staff laid a huge egg in a 16-14 loss to Nicholls State, a middling Division IAA (now, “FCS”) entrant.

Prairie View is likewise a second-rung program, but it’s a crew that’s recently demonstrated that it can put points on the board, whether in victory or defeat.

Much has been made of the downright uncompetitive nature of Rice’s 1-11 team last year. One oft-repeated meme had it that “they were like if you just picked up 11 guys out grilling brats and drinking beers in the parking lot, and gave ‘em uniforms.”

The analogy, it must be explained, related to disorganization, rather than any lack of effort.  General consensus held that, when it came to organization, the 2017 Rice coaching staff was "the gang that couldn't shoot straight" -- and the results on the field showed it.

And what remains of that 2017 team? Well, first bear in mind that the 2017 roster lacked nine 2016 starters on both sides of the ball. And the 2017 squad? It featured 23 seniors. The Media Day two-deep depth charts feature one senior on offense, six on defense.

Gone is an all-senior offensive line featuring an all-conference center and a graduating senior with remaining eligibility who’ll be playing this season for a lil ol’ Burnt Orange outfit up the road a piece.

Rice’s most powerful returning running back? Sam Stewart, a medical casualty. Its best defensive back? Starting for Colorado State this season as a graduate transfer.

We get it. They’re green – even moreso than they could’a been. But these returning guys haven’t been out in the parking lot roasting brats all spring and August.

In fact, bratwurst is completely off the training table menu for this new breed of Owl. Too much saturated fat.

Even the casual observer could recognize a much crisper, more disciplined, more focused approach to the game as Mike Bloomgren’s Owls went through their repetitions in the spring. And that tempo has quickened during August drills, the players say.

“I fully expect that we’re going to go out there and play really physical, really aggressive, really fast – but also really disciplined at the same time,” senior special-teams guru Jack Fox told scribes on Tuesday.

Senior defensive lineman and team co-captain Zach Abercrumbia elaborated on the theme.

“When you go through the process that we’ve been through, from spring, to summer workouts, to fall camp, you have to adjust to the new culture that we’re creating in ‘Intellectual Brutality’,” Zach said. “And that’s something we’ve lived, day in and day out, ever since Coach Bloom has arrived on campus.”

First-year head coach Bloomgren, formerly number one assistant at Stanford, outlines what he terms a “predatory” approach to the game.

“An Owl is a predator,” he told press Monday. “Anytime we impose our will in practice on another man, we're going to show that in here as a team and let them see that someone is doing what we want them to do in the manner in which we ask. I guess I want to see maximum effort. I want to see us play in an efficient and disciplined way and I want to see some of those predators.”

Speaking of predators, those who remember couldn’t help but note some similarities between the present situation and that presented to then-rookie coach Todd Graham when he took over the Rice program in 2006.

His predecessor, Ken Hatfield, had manfully guided the program through the demise of the Southwest Conference, and had won his share of games, while never breaking through to the next level. His 2005 team, however, was just tired; their schemes long sniffed out by opposing coaches, and the result was a non-competitive 1-11 record. Hmm, now that does sound familiar.

That transition, as the present one, involved a rather major change in style of play – from Ken Hatfield’s wishbone to a wide-open, pro-style offensive set. This time around, the change is more in the way of difference in philosophy than it is regarding different X’s and O’s.

The previous adminstration’s approach could hardly be labeled “Intellectual.” Nor could the term “Brutality” particularly be associated with it. “Move the rock, run the clock,” was occasionally attempted in theory, but never with any significant measure of success.

The 2006 team had a two-headed quarterback going into the season opener, as well. Both Chase Clement and Joel Armstrong were both relatively highly regarded, but neither had much in the way of experience – or point production – spilling over from the prior year.

On paper, the 2006 team certainly was no more talented than the previous year’s, and less experienced. But they had something extra. It was kind of like....well, maybe it could be termed something like...”Intellectual Brutality.” Yeah, that’s it.

Pop, drive, intensity. The feeling that it could be done.

The one-point season-opening loss to UH was pretty much attributable to a twisted ankle suffered by starting Owl quarterback Chase Clement after the Flock had piled up a two-TD lead. But when Chase suddenly found the atmosphere at West Point to his liking a couple of weeks later, his 48-point onslaught set the Owls on course to a seven-win season and their first bowl berth in 45 years.

Granted, the Owls pulled off some eleventh-hour heroics, got some good bounces of the ball, and won some close games along the way. But that’s just it. They did what it took to win.

Is such a fall-into-a-pile-of-dung-and-come-out-smelling-like-a-rose outcome a result that might be expected from a Mike Bloomgren-coached team?

Perhaps not immediately, the impression is left – but eventually, yes indeed.

“The reality is that we're building something really cool here,” Coach Bloomgren insists. “I can't wait to see all their hard work in camp show up on that field under the lights. It's something they've earned; an opportunity to go perform. That's what I can't wait to see. I'm not going to play a single play. It's all about them and I can't wait to watch them."

And don’t worry about his Owls taking their Saturday opponent lightly, Coach Bloom added.

"For us, it's the ultimate ‘We're going to respect all and fear none.' We're going to play our game. It's going to be about us and I'm going to say that to them 12 more times after this game.

“It's about us and what we do together and how we perform,” he continued. “It's not going to be about the opponent. Now, I can tell you from growing up in Tallahassee, Florida and seeing the (Florida A&M) Rattlers and that band and the hype around it, it's going to be a good game day atmosphere. You can bet on that."

–PTH