Early on it looked like Rice would roll to an easy victory for the Homecoming faithful. The Owls piled up 31 points in the first half, most coming in the second quarter as has been the case all season. With just minutes to go before half Rice pushed the margin to 31-7 with a Chase-to-JD touchdown. Things looked well in hand as they prepared to kick off to Army who would set up a drive at their own 27 with just 1:24 left in the half.
24 point lead, Option Offense, too much ground to cover with a minute left to do any damage right? Wrong.
On the first play of the drive, Fullback Bryson Carl ripped through the middle of the Rice Defense for 48 yards to the Rice 28. Wow, just like that, the assuredness turned into uncertainty. Rice would eventually limit Army to just a field goal but this drive was a momentum changer of sorts. And the Black Knights ability to move the ball in huge chunks would be a sign of things to come.
Army would not, and did not, go away.
But as was suggested here, for the Owls to win they would need to score more points than the Black Knights would have time to counter for. The Owls did, and won, but just barely.
If the second quarter belonged to Rice, the second half belonged to Army.
The Owls scored only once in the third quarter in what would be the game deciding touchdown. Despite have plenty of scoring opportunities in the second half the Rice Offense sputtered against an inspired Army Defensive unit. A series of second half mis-cues almost let this perfect day slip away - a bad snap that led to Chase Clement having to fall on the ball for a big loss and subsequently forcing a punt rather than a field goal; a fumble deep in Army territory that also stopped adrive that could have ended with Rice scoring points, and a failed 4th down conversion that would have sealed away the game late in the fourth were all disconcerting.
The ground attack of Army, especially Black Knight Fullbacks Collin Mooney, who rushed for 207 yards, and Bryson Carl, who had 85 yards on just 3 carries, almost stole away the day for the visiting cadets.
But in the end, Rice used the same formula they've used all year long to to do just enough to win. And that's all that matters.
Joseph Leary had a huge game for the Owls. On one play in particular, Army ran a reverse screen, leaving Leary alone with a blocker and Army Receiver Jameson Carter. Leary fought through the block and not only stopped the play for a minimal gain - but also forced a turnover in the process. The play could have easily gone for a score - but Leary forced, then recovered the fumble for the Owls. A really big time play! Leary also recovered another fumble and was credited with a pass break-up. He had lock-down coverage on Army Receivers all day long. He's looking like a playmaker that the Rice Defense needs.
To say the Owls were thin at Linebacker Saturday is an extreme understatement. Already without Brian Raines, Vernon James, and Tanner Shuck - and with Terrance Garmon at less than 100%, the Owls also saw Robert Calhoun go down in the first half. The result was that former walk-on Ryan Craig, all 5-11 210 pounds of him; and former LB turned DE, turned LB, Aaron Williams were forced to play over half of the snaps at the position. The two were credited with 5 tackles apiece and gave it their best to stop the constant march of the "Army Infantry" - but this was an obvious mis-match.
Scott Solomon had 2 tackles for a loss and a sack Saturday. The two tackles for a loss were on plays where he actually ran down Army QB Chip Bowden from the back side, trailing in pursuit. Besides being bullishly strong, Solomon is much faster than people realize.
Army rushed for 461 yards on the Owls, a season high for them. Doing most of the damage was Collin Mooney 26 carries for 207 yards, good for an 8.0 yard ypc average; Bryson Carl 3-for-85 a 28.3 ypc average; and Wesley McMahand 8-for-86 yards, a 10.4 ypc average. Army had runs of 61 (Mooney), 48 (Carl), 43 (McMahand), and 23 yards (Patrick Mealy) on the day.
In what I think was good strategy by Rice coaches and even though Andrew Sendejo has returned from injury, Travis Bradshaw played extensively Saturday alongside Sendejo. Having the two on the field at the same time put two of Rice's best tacklers on the field. Bradshaw's size and hitting ability were needed yesterday, and he answered by leading the team in tackles with 12, also recovering a fumble.
Kyle Martens had another good game punting the ball. He had a long punt of 48 yards after getting a good roll, but more impressively placed two punts inside the 20, placing one out of bounds at the 5 yard-line.
Clark Fangmeier matched his career long of 46 yards when he connected on a first quarter field goal. He later hit the left upright on an attempt from 42 yards out.
Chris Douglas ran down Army Fullback Bryson Carl on Carl's 48 yard burst just before half. Douglas, a former track star at private school Fort Worth All Saints reeled in Carl coming from about 15 yards back. Douglas also made a nifty pass break-up, closing out of the Recievers break to bat the ball away in textbook fashion.
Chase Clement is now the C-USA all-time leading scorer for touchdowns thrown. His 87 career touchdowns are now the conference standard, surpassing the former mark held by the University of Houston's Kevin Kolb. Clement is tied for total touchdowns with Tulsa's Paul Smith with 109. His 61 yard touchdown sprint yesterday was also the longest of his career.
James Casey joined Jarett Dillard in moving beyond 1,000 yards receiving for the year. Casey had somewhat of an "off" day by his standards - he caught 6 passes for 62 yards but didn't score yesterday. He also fumbled once and dropped a pass.
Corbin Smiter had a career day for Receiving yards, posting 104 yards on 4 catches. His 54 yard touchdown catch and run in the third quarter was also the longest of his career.
Though the Owls have run their record to 7-3 now, and have probably put themselves into position for post-season play, nobody is talking about the "B" word. More importantly than becoming "B" elibible, the Owls are focused on winning every game - the seniors on the team are dictating the mindset. Chase said ont he radio after yesterday's game that the goal is to win every game, and to prepare for each one like it's the only one that matters. As Lou Holtz said recently, "as you win games, each game becomes bigger - none is more important than the next game."
The Owls have next week off, and just at the right time for it's battered Defense to heal, before hosting Marshall on November 22 at Rice Stadium.
See you there with 3 of your closest friends, or new friends, or even strangers - but just be there. The Owls deserve a full house for the remainder of the season...