IT's Rice Game Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and the reasoning behind those picks, in Saturday's game between Texas and Rice.

IT Picks:

Frisbie -- Here’s my prediction: Texas 40, Rice 17. Or, if QB Vince Young gets the equivalent of an entire quarter of playing time: Texas 57, Rice 17. The only suspense for me in this one is how early and often the wunderkid from Houston Madison will touch the ball.

Understand that Texas is blessed to have a fiery, gritty, mobile competitor like QB Chance Mock. The Woodlands product will not lose the game for you. It’s just that, with enough playing time in games like these, Young could later win the games that you care about. Young is the rarest, and still the rawest of talents. He is a "freak" like Roy Williams and (unless I am way off base) has the ability to elevate the level of his team’s play. He is a go-the-distance threat, by land or by air, every time he lines up behind center.

So, can Vince come out and play?

Greg Davis said a few weeks ago that coaches wanted to be in a position by the start of the Big 12 season where both QBs could line up and play. Physical (I repeat) physical league play begins in two weeks. Rice and Tulane are tune-ups. It’s in these two ho-hummers that Texas needs to make significant strides addressing those glaring deficiencies that we talked about (and players didn’t talk about) all week.

Hey, I am not thinking about Arkansas any more. I am not even thinking about Rice. I am thinking about Kansas State and Oklahoma and Nebraska and road games at resurgent Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

If you think Texas can fix in two weeks what it’s been trying to fix for two years, then I’ve got a bridge near Brooklyn that’s for sale. At the same time, Texas can make significant strides toward improvement (especially if the running game is actually "that close" from clicking, as coaches and players are insisting). It’s also the time to unleash Vince so that Mack Brown can build some trust in him. (Brown is almost like Joe Paterno when it comes to his reticence to play youngsters, whereas OU’s Bob Stoops littered the field with freshmen in that 2000 debacle.)

There will come a moment in the OU game (just three weeks away) when Texas will need a serious spark. Vince can be that kind of catalyst. Let’s give him a chance to be it --beginning with the Rice game.

Pearle -- After foolishly predicting Texas to beat Arkansas by 17 points and then watching the Pigs thrash the Horns in every phase of the game last Saturday, well, let’s just say I’m a bit gun shy about making a game forecast this week. Embarrassed would be a better word for it. I mean, things that I thought were a given about this team and this program are now in question.

For the first time since Mack Brown arrived in Austin in late ‘97, I have begun to wonder if this coach will take this program to the top, for even one season. Yes, I wrote in the football preview issue of the Inside Texas magazine last summer that the Horns would win the national championship this year. The article appeared out of context, as it was supposed to be part of a point-counterpoint between Clendon and me, with Clendon taking the why-they-won’t side, but Clendon’s piece got shelved for space reasons. But that was OK, because the truth is that I actually believed Texas had a great chance to close that deal, despite the tough schedule and the rookie(s) at quarterback. I was happy to make the case for the title in ‘03. With the back to back 11-2s and bowl victories, I had a feeling that something big was about to happen with this program.

Well, something big happened, huge actually -- a huge stumble in only the second game. With all the motivation that lining up against a classless head coach who taunted them after a humiliating loss ought to have inspired, Texas looked listless, clueless, and, yeah, soft. It was maybe the most discouraging, upsetting game I have watched since John Mackovic’s day. Upsetting because, as so many fans and writers have pointed out this week, all the same problems that have plagued this program for the last five years were still there in glaring, sunlit clarity for all the nation to see.

Maybe because I want so badly for this team to break through and win a title of some kind, I allowed myself to believe that they finally had the pieces put together to make it happen. But they didn’t run the ball, and they didn’t stop the run. They didn’t punt consistently and they didn’t cover kicks. They looked absolutely lost playing zone defense, allowing the Pigs to convert seemingly at will. In short, they stunk.

38-28 said Texas is not moving forward, it is going backward.

So now we prepare to see how Texas fares against Rice. One is tempted to just say, who cares? The Horns have everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing the 0-2 Owls. But the fact is this: the games are played one at a time, and Rice, followed by Tulane, are opportunities for this Horns team to get itself back together, to find some kind of chemistry, and get this thing righted by the time K-State pulls into Austin a few weeks from now. With a win over K-State followed by a huge victory over OU, this season will look golden once more. My point is, the Rice game is important because it represents the first step for this team towards getting better, way better, on the way to meeting the goals that are still achievable.

Despite my bewilderment about just what kind of team this ‘03 squad is, I have to believe Texas will begin to scratch its way back from the abyss against the Owls. Though Rice will attempt to eat the clock and take the ball away from the Horns, I see the Texas D getting a smidgen of pride back, if not respectability, and shutting down the Owl ground game enough that the O puts up big numbers. If this game’s not a blowout, then I believe Texas is in serious trouble this season. But a blowout it will be: Texas 45, Rice 10.

Ross -- It's too bad the Horns aren't facing K-State this weekend rather than in two weeks. Texas, under Mack Brown, has a history of playing some of its best ball the week after its most disheartening losses. Colorado in Boulder in '00 after 63-14 vs. the Sooners and the Wildcats in Manhattan after OU last season, to name a couple. The Horns' only back-to-back (-to-back) setbacks under Brown came in '99 when his team dropped its final three. With Rice this weekend and Tulane next, there will be no '99 repeat.

But a simple notch in the win column, while important, will tell us little about this team. How the Longhorns play will. And that's fairly predictable, based on history: the offense, facing a less than stout opponent, will run the ball acceptably well (but nowhere near great) and the passing game will swamp the undermanned opponent (and as usual, the offensive coaches will open things up more than they ever do when facing a strong defense), while the defense will nut it up and bend-but-don't-break, allowing about 280-320 yards offense but few scores. (In other words, how the Longhorns will play is good enough to win against a clearly outgunned opponent, the coaches will point to that play as evidence that last week's problems are being solved, while we truly won't know until K-State comes calling on Oct. 4.)

What is somewhat concerning from a defensive perspective, facing the Owls and their multi-option rushing attack, is just how poorly the UT defensive ends and linebackers played the option last week. Rice doesn't have the athletes at QB or RB or the OL that the Razorbacks have, but it has an offensive system which is designed to compete even when out-athleted by creating assignment breakdowns, misreads, overpursuit, etc., all things that Texas is extremely susceptible to. I don't expect to see any 50 or 60 yard runs from the Owls, but I can certainly see a host of four-, five- and six-yarders, keeping drives alive and the clock ticking. If the Owls play this one without turnovers, I expect it to be closer than any of us would like. Texas 38, Rice 16.


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