The last Texas-Rice matchup was four years ago this weekend, in which Texas eked out an 18-13 win in Austin. Texas clung to a two-point lead with less than five minutes remaining before Kris Stockton added his fourth FG to complete the scoring. The last matchup in Houston was that miserable post-UCLA, 38-31 squeaker in John Mackovics last season.
Rice is coming off of a disappointing 27-24 overtime loss at Duke to fall to 0-2 on the season. The Owls opened with a 48-14 drubbing at the hands of cross-town rival Houston.
"Rice had a tough weekend this past weekend but theyre a lot better football team than that game showed," QB Chance Mock said. "Well get their best shot. This is an old Southwest Conference rivalry as well. I wouldnt have come to Texas if I didnt want that challenge. I enjoy it. I enjoy getting everyones best shot. It makes it a lot more fun. Its also a lot more rewarding when you do it."
I have long since repressed the 1994 debacle at Rice. It never happened.
Tenth-year Rice coach Ken Hatfield is 3-8 against Texas (1-4 at Rice and 2-4 at Arkansas).
"We'll be coming onto a Texas team which is a bit mad and angry," Hatfield said. "They are very talented, and I hope we're playing our best. I feel good about this week and our preparations."
THE RICE OFFENSE
The Owls operate out of a spread option and boast the fifth-best rushing offense (276 ypg) in the country. The basic formation is a kind of a modified wishbone (sometimes called the broken bone), but Rice will run the option from just about any set.
"Ken Hatfields been running the wishbone since hes been playing," Mack Brown said. "Hes been around it so much. He knows as much about it as anybody in the country and they can sure beat you with it. That was evident with us in 1999 when we stood around and they worked so hard and hung in the game and it ended up 15-13 with about five minutes left to go. The wishbone is so hard to prepare for when you dont see it."
Yet, for all their rushing yards the Owls have had trouble finding the end zone, averaging just 19 ppg (NCAA No. 90). This is an extraordinarily one-dimensional offense, averaging less than 50 yards through the air. But the Owls have shown more shotgun this season and they will operate without a huddle on most drives.
"We would like to think that we are executing better every week, and certainly we hope to try to move the football against them," Hatfield said. "I think we will run the ball a few times This is our offense and we will have to run it. Texas has great talent and great people on defense, but we're hoping to find a way to score some points this week."
They may have to try to do it without QB Kyle Herm. The senior, with 23 starts under his belt, broke two ribs against Houston and did not play last weekend. Look for backup QB Greg Henderson to line up behind center. Henderson is the teams leading rusher with 171 yards on 32 carries (5.3 ypc). LHB Clint Hatfield started the Houston game but is listed as questionable (ankle) for Saturdays game. The Owls also lost two starting offensive linemen to season ending injuries before Labor Day.
Freshman WR Billy Pittman and freshman DB Marcus Griffin were the scout team QBs at practice this week, simulating the option attack for the Texas D. The Owls, however, spread the wealth with the running game.
"Theyll run the ball well," Brown said. "Theyll have good schemes. Well have to play defense a lot better than we played Saturday."
Rices ball-control option attack should make the Owls the third straight team to win the Time of Possession battle against the Horns.
"We would like to have an NCAA record with a 30-minute drive in the first half," Hatfield said.
Added Hatfield, "The biggest thing is that we can't help them. They are one of the teams that sometimes can still play badly and win. We are not that kind of a team. We can never play bad and win, which means we have to play a perfect game every week, minimizing our penalties and turnovers, protect the ball, and things like that."
THE RICE DEFENSE
Before you sneer at an Owl defense that gives up 208 rushing ypg to rank No. 104, keep in mind that Texas run defense ranks No. 103 (207.5 ypg). Rice runs a 4-3 base defense but is expected to stack the line as Arkansas and New Mexico State did.
"Rice is another team that puts eight guys in the box," Mock said just before the self-imposed media gag order that the players Leadership Council imposed Tuesday. "Weve got to line up against them and try to get that running game going."
Mock said he continues to be surprised that teams will stack the line, given Texas strength at wide receiver, but added, "The defensive coordinators are going to stick by their philosophies just like we stick by ours. People arent going to change what they do and what their personality is just for one game."
The Owls return seven defenders credited with at least one start during the past two seasons. Sophomore DE John Syptak has led the defense with 11 tackles in each of the first two games. The starting interior line averages 6-3 and 264 pounds. Theyve had trouble getting to the QB (two sacks in two games) against weak teams. The Owls give up 425 ypg (NCAA No. 97).
Meanwhile, SE Roy Williams will have at least a four-inch height advantage over every Rice DB.
Hatfield said nobody in the country has a more talented receiving corps than Texas.
"We know they're going to put the ball up, and part of pass defense is putting a little pressure on," Hatfield said. "That was something Arkansas was able to do, although they got only one sack. There are a lot of things that go into pass defense."