Rice sinks lower, Navy sails on

HOUSTON (Oct. 19) Rice University and the U.S. Naval Academy met on a level playing field this beautiful, indian-summer afternoon -- and the Midshipmen unceremoniously pushed the Owls right off the edge.

Rice University and the U.S. Naval Academy met on a level playing field this beautiful, indian-summer afternoon -- and the Midshipmen unceremoniously pushed the Owls right off the edge.

In extending their record to 5- and- 2 and significantly boosting their bowl prospects, the Navy dominated a listless Rice bunch through- out the game, on both sides of the ball, on the stat sheet, and in the 'want-to column -- not to mention the scoreboard.

The lopsided defeat was the Owls' worst Rice Stadium loss since Vinnie Testaverde and the Miami Hurricane strapped on 48-3 whipping in 1983.

After that loss, Testaverde notoriously remarked, about the ease of the Miami victory over the Owls, "Dis is easier den practice."

For Navy this day, it was the same thing as practice -- or perhaps moreso, a close order drill -- as the Midshipmen sailed up and down the field, and prevented the Flock from ever getting very far off the ground, with all the precision of the top squadron in Plebe Camp.

These were genuine student-athletes facing 5 a.m. reveille and five-year military commitments -- and if the lot of them play out their active duty as intensely, methodically and relentlessly as they played sixty minutes of football Saturday afternoon, well, then, watch out, terrorists.

The Owls, on the other hand, injected no terror whatsoever into the hearts of their service academy cohorts as they failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season – a year that fast is turning into one to forget, big-time.

Rice appeared to have nothing in its offensive game plan that was able to throw even a slight wrinkle onto the strategy table of the Navy defense, the primary Rice play appearing to be a quarterback scramble after all else failed to develop.

Through the air, Owl quarterbacks were six for 14 with one interception, netting 17 total yards. Read it and weep: Kyle Herm 3-8-0-7; Greg Henderson 3-6-1-10. And this kind of passing production took place despite the fact that the Owls were playing catchup after the first quarter of play, as Navy took it to paydirt the first (and only) four times it got its hands on the ball the opening half.

Rice did run for 206 yards and managed 14 first downs, gaining 223 yards total on the day– a season low, and the team's worst total offense total in Rice Stadium in the Ken Hatfield era.

The Owls also had two turnovers in the second half, one of which, a fumble, resulted in a field goal by Navy.

No luck with Candeto this time around

Both Rice DE's John Syptak, Jimmy Shaw apply crunch to Nava ball carrier in second half action (Dax Mitchell photo) While Rice defenders were equal to the task of defending Navy QB Craig Candeto in 2001 and 2002 Institute wins at Annapolis, they had no such luck this time around, as the sturdy veteran ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns and also threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Eric Roberts.

Candeto's passing statistics weren't all that impressive on paper, but that was because there was absolutely no need for them to be, so dominant was the Navy's time of possession and overall control of the game.

"We were right on our assignments and we moved the ball every time we touched it," Candeto said afterwards. "On offense, we want to score every time we touch the ball and we did that in the first half. (The coaches) have us ready for every defense we see out there."

The Midshipmen ran 69 times for 366 yards, the longest of same being a 69-yard broken field touchdown run by Eric Roberts that sent the Navy to a 14-3 lead ten minutes deep into the game. On that run, Roberts broke or avoided at least six Rice would-be tacklers and left Owl defenders grasping for air.

It was at that point that Kyle Herm got his chance to run the team, coming off of a set of bruised and broken ribs suffered in the first game of the season against Houston. He responded, after misfiring on a couple of snaps, by leading the Owls on a 60 yard drive that allowed Brennan Landry to add a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-6 early in the second quarter.

Navy took it right back to the Owls, however, embarking on a 72-yard, 17-play, eight-plus minute drive that pretty much put the icing on the cake.

"They were going into the wind, too," Rice head coach Hatfield said afterwards. "They converted twice on third-and-long -- and that's to their credit and their execution. They just did a better job executing in the ball game than we did."

That may be the understatement of the year.

The bright spots for Rice this day were few and far between.

Rookie punter Jarred Scruggs punted four time for a 52-yard average, displaying NFL-level leg strength and hand time.

Meanwhile, actually, we don't mean to imply that Rice didn't get a good performance out of some of its personnel, some of the time. The Owls actually played one-fourth of a good game. The Rice defensive unit played basically sound football the entire second half, stopping Navy cold on four, straight second half possessions before finally giving up a field goal after a turnover-- plus surrendering a TD in the final seconds to an eager second-string Navy QB Aaron Polanco.

Owls moved the ball first possession of second half. It looked as if the Owl offense might break out of its doldrums in the second half, as well, for, after Rice's initial defensive stop on Navy's opening third-quarter possession, the Owls, behind Greg Henderson, moved the ball, mostly on quarterback keepers, getting as far as the Navy 17, at which point, on fourth and three, Greg was stuffed on a roadkill of a play that defies description.

The Owls actually had scored first in the game, getting a 34-yard Brennan Landry field goal out of an opening drive that took them 56 yards in 11 plays, only to see it sputter when Greg Henderson and Thomas Lott mishandled a routine option pitch on first and ten frombthe Navy 18 yard line.

Navy took its opening possession and moved the ball like they were in Humvees headed for Baghdad, except the Iraqi Republican Guard put up more resistance than did the Rice defense – and missed fewer tackles.

The Mids' first TD came on a seven-yard Craig Candeto run with with 6:22 left in the first quarter. The plucky Navy signal caller added a 1-yarder with 4:19 remaining in the second and then hit Eric Roberts coming out of the back for the 15-yard TD pass coming with only 16 ticks left on the halftime clock.

"I can't say enough about Craig. He's one tough cookie. He's a tough rascal," Navy coach Paul Johnson said.

That perhaps might have been the most revolting development of all, as, after taking the ball with just over three minutes to play in the half and nursing a 21-6 lead, it appeared the Mids would be content in running out the second quarter clock. But Rice called time out twice on third down plays, in the notion of getting the ball back for another try – both of which Navy promptly converted, after which, under QB Candeto's field generalship – er, admiralship – they stormed right on down the field to apply the coup de grace as the halftime clock wound down.

Owl defensive masterminds might've figured on that. Turned out Navy was nine-for-nine in third-down conversions in the first half, and finished 13-of-19. The Mids had rolled up 291 yards by halftime, including 236 rushing yards on 35 attempts.

Until Navy went three-and-out to open the second half, it had scored on nine straight possessions dating to its 37-27 victory over Vanderbilt last Saturday.

"We did not tackle well in the first half," Rice coach Ken Hatfield said. "Part of that was us and part of that was them. Their quarterback and fullback are so darned good they're tough to contain."

Any Owl fan who saw the game would recognize the above-set-forth explanation as woefully insufficient to describe the level of competence and intensity shown by this Rice football team before a bored and disattached crowd of 27,832.

"It was just a poor effort, overall," Coach Hatfield said. "We're scrambling, there's no doubt. We're hurt, and yet at the same time we didn't give up our spirit."

"We didn't slow them down in the first half, and when we needed to get touchdowns we got down there and got a couple of field goals," he added.

"They played really well and were definitely clicking on all cylinders and made no mistakes," Calahan said. "We just didn't play the football that we should have."

Jeremy, who led all Owl defenders with 13 tackles on the day, was one of the few Owls who showed a great deal of emotion on the sideline, at one time slamming his helmet to the turf in disgust and screaming for water.

"In the first half, we weren't playing Rice football. We were playing junior high football," Calahan told press afterwards. "We've just got to have better practices this week and try to get things going again."

Story provided by RiceFootball.com

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