Trailing for most of the game, Rice rallied from seemingly insurmountable odds to intercept a 42-35 victory from Memphis last night at the Liberty Bowl. Memphis fans, players, and coaches are probably still wondering how it happened. For most of the night they had to be thinking, "barring a miracle, we've won this game." That's just what the Owls got.
Down 15 points, Rice rallied to pull within 35-33 of Memphis with 1:15 left in the game. Then needing a 2 point conversion to tie, they converted when Chase Clement hit James Casey on a post route. A miracle right? Well yes, but not the miracle, that would come a few seconds later.
With the score tied, Rice kicked off to Memphis, who quickly downed the kick and had plenty of time to get into field goal position for their strong legged kicker Matt Reagan. And a tired Rice defense was valiantly trying to keep that from happening. Holding a size advantage they had exploited all night, Memphis immediately went to its odds on best play by picking on true freshman Cornerback Chris Jammer. Jammer knew they would throw his way.
They did, and then it happened. The miracle. The one thing most improbable, but also most hoped for by every Owl on earth.
Jammer the true Freshman from Sweeny, Texas jumped the route, picked the pass off, and jetted 69 yards to the end-zone for the game winning touchdown. Wow, oh wow! Unbelievevable, a miracle indeed! One of the most memorable I can recall as a Rice Owl fan. Just pure awesomeness! I'll never forget it, because the Owls just didn't look like they had a chance in this game at the end of the first half.
The Tigers were stunned. And sick. Can't blame them either - they played a lot of good football in this game.
First Half Troubles
After the Owls took an early 3-0 lead on a Clark Fangmeier field goal, things began to unravel for them. Chase was erratic early on, Rice receivers were having a hard holding on the ball as a result. The Owls were just out of sorts. Evidence: the Owls had a perfect opportunity to go up 10-0 when they ran a trick play, with a handoff into the line. Chase handed off to James Casey who stopped, pitched it back to Clement, who then found a streaking Jarett Dillard behind the Memphis secondary. The ball was a bit underthrown and just slightly thrown behind him -and JD dropped it (okay that's sort of a miracle too), losing an almost sure touchdown. The Owls would muster only 80 yards of Offense in the entire first half.
The Owl defense played pretty well in spots early on, gaining several stops on 3rd down and thus preventing a larger scoring differential. But as was discussed prior to the game, Owl Cornerbacks were susceptible to the height of Memphis Receivers. The Owls gave up a 45 yard touchdown when 6-4 Maurice Jones, who had a career night at the expense of Rice Cornerbacks catching 9 passes for 173 yards, got behind the Rice secondary for a score. Later Memphis would add another 10 yard touchdown pass when Tiger Receiver Earnest Williams got matched up against an Owl Linebacker.
While the defense did a decent job of keeping the Owls in the game, unfortuantely they were on the field almost twice as long as the Offense as Memphis piled up a first half time of possesion number of 19:08. Still going into the half the Owls were well within striking distance, down only 14-3.
Second Half Fireworks
Thw Owls opened the second half by receiving the ball, and marching down field for a score. The Owls settled into a rhythm with Rice OC Tom Herman choosing to mix the run with shorter, underneath routes. The strategy worked, Rice began moving the ball and more importantly, scoring. While Chase was just 5-of-16 for 50 yards in the first half, he was 21-of-28 for 268 yards in the second half. He engineered drives of 71, 69, and 94 yards in the second half. The last one was the most important as he and the Owls went the length of the field to tie the game. Rice outscored Memphis 39-21 in the second half.
The Rice Defense didn't throw in the towel in the second period either. After being on the field almost the entire first half - the Owls, boosted by Yancy McKnight's Rice Owl Strength and Conditioning Program, were able to hang in the game and keep it close. Maurice Jones got behind the secondary one more time but the Owls didn't allow any other big plays in the latter part of the game.
Sometimes you need some luck, but you always need perseverance - the Owls have it, and that was the difference in the game. Again.
Realistically, the Owls probably didn't "deserve" to win this game. The Owls didn't play Rice Football in the first half and made a lot of mistakes. But ultimately, the game isn't decided by statistics or awarded to those who've done more to deserve a victory, its decided by the scoreboard - and the Owls fought, scratched and clawed their way into coming out on top of it in the end. Just when you think you've seen the most remarkable thing to ever happen in a Rice game, another one comes along. I hope the City of Houston was watching last night - how could you not buy a ticket to see a team like this?
Lost in the mayhem last night is the fact that Chase Clement and James Casey each set Rice Offensive records last night. Chase is now the Rice Career Leader in Passing Yards, passing Tommy Kramer last night with his 318 yards. His career total is now 6,242 yards. Congratulations Chase. James Casey also set the Rice single game mark for receiving yards last night with 208 yards on 11 catches - and most were in the second half.
Clark Fangmeier bounced back last night with a solid performance. After missing two field goals in the opener, he was perfect last night connecting on kicks of 24 and 36 yards.
Chris Jammer saw plenty of action at Corner last night. He did give up a 39 touchdown to Maurice Jones but made amends with 6 tackles, and also added another near interception to his game winner. He also had 4 kickoff returns for 84 yards, including a long of 30 yards. Jammer looks like he may force himself into the starting lineup much sooner than expected. Like maybe, now.
The Rice Defensive starting interior linemen had very solid games. Chris Ptaszek registered a career high 7 tackles with 3 solos. Chance Talbert posted 5 tackles, broke up a pass, and shared in a sack as well as a tackle for a loss. Freshman Michael Smith also registered a tackle.
Terrance Garmon had one of his best games in a long time - posting 8 tackles, with 5 solos. He also added a tackle for a loss and returned his first Rice career interception 10 yards.
Freshman Kyle Martens had a nice 41.3 yard average on 3 punts last night. Problem was he punted 4 times. The other punt was a 14 yarder off the side of his foot and dropped his average to 35 ypp. Martens will be a solid punter for Rice, but consistency is obviously something he will and Rice Special Teams Coach Rick LaFavers will have to correct.
After holding SMU to just 11 net yards rushing, Rice gave up 150 to Memphis, but their ypc average was 4.1 yards - same as the Owls last night.
Rice had a controversial call go against them last night when it appeared junior Receiver Toren Dixon came down with one foot in the end zone on a 3rd down play in the 3rd quarter. Replays showed Dixon's foot was clearly in bounds, but officials ruled he did not have possession of the ball when he landed. Any more possession of the ball and they'd have to put Dixon's name on it, looked like he was in control to a lot of Rice folks. The Owls had to settle for the second Clark Fangmeier field goal of the night instead.
Once again Chase Clement was the leading rusher for the Owls last night, he had 80 net yards on 14 carries. Rice Sophomore RB Justin Hill did not play last night after returning to practice this week. Hill is trying to improve his conditioning level after being forced to sit out of August practices with an injury. He could return to action against Vandy next week.
Jarett Dillard and Chase Clement now have 36 touchdown passes together. The 36th came last night on a 5 yard catch in the 4th.
Andrew Sendejo quietly led all Rice defenders in tackles last night with 13 stops, including 8 solos.