And then it all fell apart.
In the Ross Era's most shocking and abrupt collapse, the Rice Owls outscored Army 48-7--that's not a misprint--over the game's final 55 minutes for a runaway victory that caught everyone near the Hudson River by surprise. Again, the biggest shock of all was that Army drew first blood; the Black Knights didn't start flat, they got flattened after the quick early burst. It's the kind of result that leaves you scratching your head... the kind of result that can emerge when 20-year-old male members of the human species play an emotionally-charged sport.
The Black Knights--tempted to not take Rice seriously--obviously started out with the mentality of a team intent on taking care of business. Perhaps the early touchdown was so quick and easy that Army then stepped off the gas pedal. That might be pure speculation, but it's one of the few lines of thought that makes even remote sense at this point in time.
The other thought that makes sense is a little clearer and more objective: Army had better learn to defend the forward pass. Whereas Texas A&M and Baylor are more run-oriented, the Owls--under new coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, the former starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns--sling around the pigskin, and it was evident throughout the afternoon that the Black Knights had no real answer for Owl quarterback Chase Clement, who merely racked up these eye-popping stats against Army's defense: 74 percent completions, 300 yards passing (okay, 299), and five touchdowns against no interceptions. That's pure dominance. Safe to say, each of Army's future opponents--from VMI to Navy--will take note of the Black Knights' secondary and the pressure points that can be exploited on the defense of the Brave Old Army Team. If these holes aren't plugged up quickly--and if Bobby Ross' group can't sustain the mental toughness it found over the previous three weeks--the promise of a .500 season will disintegrate into another depressing Autumnal slog.
Rice's Robby Heos, a junior, gets his helmet, with No. 39 on it, checked before the start of the football game against Army in West Point, N.Y., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2006. Dale Lloyd, a 19-year-old defensive back for Rice, who wore No. 39, died Monday after becoming ill during a light workout the day before. The Owls honored Lloyd's memory by adding No. 39 to their helmets. (AP Photo/Jim McKnight)