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.

Frisbie -- First of all, my prediction last week included a three-point Texas win at Ohio State with SE Limas Sweed coming up with the winning TD grab.

The Burnt Orange crystal ball is in the shop this week for its semi-annual maintenance but it won't be needed to project Saturday's winner at DKR. Rice is just that bad. It's a game where Texas' worst enemy can only be itself.

Several Longhorns this week referenced TCU's fall from grace against SMU following its stunning win the previous Saturday at Oklahoma. The point is obvious: just when you think it can't happen, it does. It's just that it hasn't happened in Austin in exactly 40 years. Rice's last win at Memorial Stadium was a 20-17 stunner on October 23, 1965. Just so happens that the Horns also opened that season at No. 2.

Mack Brown is looking to play a lot of guys (especially on defense. Not a whole lot of guys saw action at Ohio State and Robert Killebrew was the only 'backer to see limited action). But Brown is mainly looking for four quarters of football against the outmanned Owls. That's something Brown believes his team has not given him during the past two meetings in this series. It's for games like this that Brown coined this season's slogan, 'Take Dead Aim.' It has to do with giving this week's opponent your undivided attention. It has as much to do with not-looking-ahead as it does with not-looking-back.

Said MLB Aaron Harris, "A game like this can tell who you really are and how focused you can be every play."

Everything that I've seen from Co-DC Gene Chizik is that he is engraining it into his unit to stay focused, remain intense and to play hard from whistle-to-whistle regardless of the opponent and regardless of the score. The group also feeds of Co-DC Duane Akina's energy. It's obvious that Vince Young has the same effect on the offense.

I'm excited about the possibility of seeing FL Jordan Shipley notch his first collegiate catch. I'm no less excited about the possibility that RB Jamaal Charles will get his first career start. I also want to see what RB Henry Melton will do against a defense fielding nine starters that are smaller than him. (I especially want to see what he might do this week with an option pitch on fourth-and-goal from the one. Will he turn his 6-3, 275-pound mass into a battering ram as he shoulda done at Ohio State, or will he attempt another flying elephant highlight reel and be stopped just short of the pylon?)

Texas won't need fourth quarter points but rather fourth quarter snaps for backups. This game will be over at half time. At least we'll have the M.O.B. (Marching Owl Band) to keep us in our seats.

A traditionalist like Mack Brown did not mention this week that Saturday's game marks the first time Texas faces an opponent from Conference USA's West Division. Brown prefers to speak of an old Southwest Conference rivalry, even though the Owls are one of the latest members of the newly restructured league. The result remains the same. Texas 55, Rice 13.

Pearle -- To figure that Texas would suffer an emotional letdown against Rice after one of the biggest wins in school history last week would be reasonable. To expect the Horns to look way past the scrappy but out-manned Owls and play sloppy, error-prone football would also be understandable. From playing Ohio State on prime time national television to playing Rice is about like a guy going to the prom with his sweetheart one night and taking his kid sister with braces to her piano recital the next morning.

But in addition to gaining the Texas program a huge amount of national respect, what I think the win over Ohio State will do is keep the Texas players and coaches focused like a laser on what is right in front of them, be it Rice, Baylor or Oklahoma.

Texas entered last Saturday ranked No. 2, and the win over Ohio State has kept them firmly planted there. So every game counts, as well as every snap in every game. The championship thing is possible for Texas this year. Take care of business for the rest of the season and Texas will be back in the Rose Bowl playing for its first national title in 35 years, no matter what happens with other teams jockeying for position behind them and USC in the polls.

So I don't think Texas will let down a bit against Rice Saturday; there is now simply too much riding on every game. Not to mention the fact that the Texas fans will be going bonkers to welcome their conquering heroes back from their gritty win over the Buckeyes.

Royal-Memorial should be electric Saturday night. Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, Billy Pittman and the rest of the Texas offense will put up gaudy stats against an Owl defense that gave up 578 yards and 63 points to UCLA last weekend. The Horns' defense, which played so magnificently against Ohio State, will quickly adjust to the Rice option and keep the Owls mostly between the 20s. Texas 59, Rice 6.

Ross -- With the Ohio State game now safely tucked away in the 'W' column, the Horns have the luxury of three weeks to prepare for their quest for a Big 12 title, which begins in earnest on Oct. 1 in Columbia vs. Missouri. Yeah, Texas must take on Rice this weekend in DKR before an off-week, but aside from the obvious priority -- putting another mark in the 'W' column -- the Horns' focus in their only live action till visiting the Tigers must be on correcting the things exposed last weekend in Columbus that could get them beat down the line, and on building depth.

Rice is coming off a 63-21 spanking by the Bruins, and it could have been far worse (UCLA scored on all seven of its first half possessions and owned a 49-14 edge at the break), so I expect we'll see a lot of Longhorn tune-up work Saturday vs. an Owl squad apparently incapable of stopping either the run (surrendered 253 yards to UCLA) or the pass (surrendered 325).

That porous Rice defense should allow the Horns plenty of opportunities to work on their kickoff coverage, a glaring (and almost twice-fatal) weakness that remains intact despite a lot of coach-speak over the off-season about improving it. The latest word from Mack Brown is that all of the defensive coaches will have a hand in shoring up the coverage team and that personnel changes, including at kicker, are on the table. Unfortunately, Rice's return game just isn't going to offer a true proving ground for the unit's performance, but the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, so at least the coaches are trying something, anything, to rectify the problem before a championship-busting breakdown in Dallas, Stillwater or College Station.

Also of concern coming out of Columbus is a minus-two turnover ratio, a stat that in almost any big game will get a team beat. That the Horns still won, on the road (in the 'Shoe, at night!), despite three turnovers is a testament to just how good this Texas team is, particularly a defense that limited the Buckeyes to one TD and six field goal attempts (thank you Gene Chizik). With Vince Young, the INTs are essentially part of the package, the bad with what is overwhelmingly good, but Selvin Young must prove that he is capable of holding on to the football (and that he is capable of playing an entire game, much less an entire season, without having to retire to the bench with a dinged this or that). If Selvin plays Saturday, another fumble could (and probably should) relegate him to permanent second-team status as long as Jamaal Charles is both gaining yards in chunks and holding on to the football, as he has done over the season's first two weeks.

Finally, Saturday's contest is another, like the opener, where everyone on the depth chart that the coaches believe can be a factor in winning all the games this season should see substantial action. Many of those guys didn't see the field vs. Ohio State but may be needed to beat the Sooners or Red Raiders in October or the Aggies in November. Now's the time, through liberal rotation throughout the game, to get them ready to contribute game-on-the-line snaps.

I expect we'll see just that, and because of that, perhaps a less than cohesive effort. Not a close game, but not quite the overall dominance shown in Week One while preparing for the Buckeyes. Texas 50, Rice 6.

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