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2020 Rice-Marshall page

WHOLE LOTTA DEFENSE GOIN' ON -- DeBraylon Carroll, Garrett Grammer, Elijah Garcia and (we think) Blaze Aldridge team up to put the hurt on Marshall quarterback Grant Wells (PTH photo)

HUNTINGTON, WV (Dec. 5) – It was clear something was afoot.  As the Marshall Thundering Herd team emerged from their den and gathered behind the inflatable for a pre-kickoff runon, a number of them seemed more interested in taunting the underdog foe than focusing on their game assignments.

The visitors from South Main, however, if they paid attention at all, laughed it off, breathing in the cool, dry mountain air as they flexed in eagerness to get onto the field.

This little-observed scene foreshadowed the game’s opening drive, when the homestanding Herd, before a surprisingly large and unsurprisingly vocal home crowd, moved the pigskin at first but stalled with a fourth-and-ten on the Rice 27-yard line.

It was an obvious field-goal situation, if there ever were one.  But was Doc Holliday, the veteran Marshall coach, still smarting a bit from the tail-whuppin’ the Owls put on his charges in the 2013 league championship game?

Maybe not, but nonetheless he eschewed the field goal try, instead electing to make an early statement with a pounding TD drive on the game’s opening possession.

The Herd’s pass completion fell a yard short, however, and the Owls took over, smarting more than a bit from the evident disrespect shown them by their hosts.

That first, failed Marshall drive turned out to be the high-water mark on the day for the Herdsmen, for an aroused and precise Rice defense combined with a patchwork, but quite serviceable, Rice offensive attack to lead the Feathered Flock to a stunning 20-0 victory over the previously undefeated, 15th-ranked Herd.

As the nation’s college football community buzzed over the upset, it was time to get out the record book and start rewriting.

But while the streak-breaking might have been gratifying to us Old Grads, it was the sheer rush of unattenuated victory that the young men of the Institute found so satisfying

“We’re underdogs here; we all have chips on our shoulder, but we showed that we can play with anybody,” said Rice senior and defensive leader Blaze Aldridge afterwards.  “I feel like this is a huge statement of what Rice could be.  This is what we should be.”

It wasn’t until the Owl offense’s second possession that the engines got revved. Fueled by Treshawn Chamberlain’s interception and 21-yard return of a Grant Wells pass, the Flock set up at midfield, and methodically ground out what turned out to be their only drive of the day that ended up with a ‘six’ put up on the board.

At the helm was redshirt frosh Jovoni Johnson, who overcame barnacles accumulated during a season riding the bench as second-string quarterback behind grad transfer Michael Collins.  Mike was a last-minute scratch from the travel roster for injuries said to be non-Covid-related.

Local papers a couple of days earlier had run feature stories touting Rice’s TCU-transfer QB.  Doubtless the Marshall defense schemed against a Collins-led Rice offense during game preps.

Still, that wasn’t the whole of it.  The Owls’ leading offensive producer WR/kick and punt-returner and senior captain Austin Trammell didn’t make the trip as well, still nursing injuries.  Nor did first-string running back Juma Otaviano.

While Jovoni might not’ve put up all-world stats, he certainly did a yeoman job at – what does Coach Bloom call it? -- “game management.”  Ten-of-14 passing, no turnovers, solid all around.

The young QB from Conway, Arkansas, managed the Owl offense with quite poise enough to support the defense and capitalize on five interceptions Rice defenders captured from MU quarterback Grant Wells.

Rice’s ‘20’ woulda’ could’a easily been ‘30’, as Collin Riccitelli’s 23- yard field goal attempt went awry on the last play of the first half – apparently just too close to the left crossbar for a soccer-style kicker. In contrast, his 39 and 40-yard attempts  made it through the uprights just fine.  Next time, maybe, let’s take a delay penalty or two and back him up a bit.

And Jake Bailey’s stylish reception of Jovoni’s pass on second and six from the MU eight yard line was originally ruled a touchdown as he dived over the pylon, only to be waved off moments later ‘upon further review’ – the officials said he hadn’t crossed the plane before losing control of the ball.  Result:  instead of a touchdown, it was ruled a touchback.

Was it “indisputable video evidence”?  Well, the Marshall boo-bird fans seemed to think it was.

Those 10 points would’ve put a much finer burnish on the Rice offense day’s oeuvre.  But they hardly proved necessary, such was the Owl defense’s utter domination of the afternoon’s proceedings.

The Rice DL and linebacking corps combined to put consistent pressure on the Marshall quarterback, combining for three sacks and a host of hurries, a couple of which led directly to pass thefts. Meanwhile the vaunted MU running back Brenden Knox netted only 76 yards on 20 carries, including several that went for neative yardage – Owl defenders also accounted for five tackles-for-loss.

But the Owl ball hawks’ five pickoffs – one each by Blaze Alldridge, the aforementioned Treshawn Chamberlain, Josh Pearcy, Andrew Bird and Naeem Smith – were the story of the game.

Naeem’s 36-yard pick six midway through the third quarter finished off Rice’s scoring, putting  the capper on festivities – but not without some Intellectual Brutality down in the trenches by the running game.

Former walk-on running back Ari Broussard toted the ball six straight times during a late fourth quarter possession that netted only 18 yards before the Owls had to punt – but consumed almost six minutes off the ticking time clock.

Too, it was the ability to gain solid yardage on first down that differentiated this effort from previous games.

On the Owls’ initial 48-yard, ten-play touchdown drive, first-down rushes of ten, five and seven yards moved the kept things moving. And then on the Flock’s final, game-ending possession, first down yardage of six yards, six yards, six yards and seven put the Buffalo Herd out of its collective misery.

Moving the pill like that on first down makes the question of offensive predictability something of a moot point.

“We were exactly who we wanted to be,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren emphasized after all was said and done. “It was intellectual brutality all over the field.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been more proud of a team.”



  • The victory was the first by a Texas school at Marshall in 14 tries.
  • Rice defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since a 27-14 win over No. 21 BYU on Nov. 11, 1997 (30 games).
  • Rice defeated a ranked opponent on the road for the first time since a 20-7 win at No. 8 Baylor on Oct. 12, 1991 (32 games).
  • Rice shut out a ranked opponent for the first time since a 7-0 victory over No. 16 Texas on Oct. 22, 1960.
  • Rice shut out a ranked opponent on the road for the first time since defeating No. 18 Florida, 10-0, on Oct. 8, 1960.
  • Rice handed Marshall it's first-ever shutout at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
  • Rice earned its first shutout since defeating UNLV, 38-0, on Sept. 2, 1995.
  • Rice shut out a conference opponent for the first time since a 27-0 win against Baylor on Dec. 1, 1973.
  • Rice has not allowed its opponent to score on its first possession in its last 13 games.
  • Rice has shutout its opponents in the first quarter in all four games this year.
  • Rice's five interceptions were the most since recording five against Hawaii on Oct. 21, 2000.

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