So the Rice Owls went up to Kyle Field and took on the Texas Aggies on Saturday. And of course it didn't go too well, with the Owls losing 52-31 before 86,686 Aggies. Just looking at the score, you wouldn't know that the Owls led 14-7 after the first quarter and looked to be in control of the game, the offense seemingly doing whatever it wanted to do. But the Aggies are bigger, more physical and just plain better than the Owls, and despite a spectacular jaw-dropping TD catch by Jordan Taylor just before the half, the Owls were down 28-21 before Johnny Manziel had even stepped onto the field.
Head coach David Bailiff said at last week's media luncheon that it wasn't so much about defeating the Aggies as it was about learning lessons, improving and getting ready for Conference USA play. So with that in mind, here are a few things the Owls probably learned.
4. FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS
When playing teams like the Aggies, or pretty much any team, the Owls have to play smart. They have to execute the offense. They have to make tackles. They have to not make stupid plays. For the first quarter, the Owls played perfect football. The offense was executed to perfection. The Owls went 96 yards on five plays on their very first drive to shoot out to the quick 7-0 lead. The Aggies tied it, but the Owls were able to grab the lead again.
The team lost focus in the second quarter, the Aggies were able to climb to the 28-14 lead, but then the Aggies made a last minute drive. QB Taylor McHargue's third and goal pass from the five was tipped and looked to be a sure Aggie interception, but Jordan Taylor appeared from nowhere, grabbed the ball in the air, and strolled in for the TD. But that's the last time things went right for the Owls the entire game.
"I was really pleased with how this football game started," head coach David Bailiff said. "We had a 96-yard drive, touchdown. Offensively to come in and play Texas A&M and have over 500 yards of offense  and to look at what we did great, and to see the mistakes we made, to see how really good a football team we're going to be, offensively."
McHargue had communication issues in the second quarter. He threw interceptions on the Owls first two drives of the third quarter. And the whole team appeared to be lacking focus. The defense would make a great play on Johnny Manziel, only to forget how to tackle or cover and give up a long touchdown on the next play. The Owls can be a good team when they focus on the game. But until they figure how to keep focus on every play, they'll have some problems.
3. CHARLES ROSS IS A BEAST
The Owls have a good offense. Even in years past, when they weren't very good, the offense could move the football. But the team has really been lacking a power running game. Not Saturday. Senior Charles Ross literally, at times, seemed to put the Owls on his back, driving through the line with Aggies wrapped around him then bursting into the open for extra yardage. He gained 112 yards on 19 carries, scoring two TDs from the ground and scoring off a pass.
"The offensive line did a really good job of getting a hat on a hat," Ross said. "Part of being a good running back is getting to the second level and making guys miss."
If the Owls can keep this running game going for the rest of the season, especially once they hit Conference USA play, then this team will win lots of games. 2. IT'S ABOUT CONFERENCE USA
The Owls will always have trouble competing against the Texas A&M's of the world. But the Owls play most of their games in Conference USA. And this current Owls teams is prepped to do some major damage once conference play begins. The offense is explosive and can score on anybody, and with Charles Ross, the team can get physical. The issue if, of course, focus. The team needs to cut back on mistakes. The defense needs to make sure and wrap up on tackles, to not screw up assignments, to not give up the big play. The defense was able to stop the Aggies a few times in the first half, and they got to Manziel several times in the second half, but they were always just a step from disaster.
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"We are going to be a good Conference USA team," Bailiff said. "Our goals are still intact. Leaving here we wanted to be a better team than when we came here. I feel like we accomplished that objective. We were dreaming big. We came to win this football game."
1. JOHNNY MANZIEL CAN BE A BIT OF JERK
Say you're suspended for half of a game because of off-season shenanigans involving autograph dealers. Is one of the things you do on the field, after you've just come into the game, is taunt your opponent by making autograph gestures? Or making hand gestures asking for money after throwing a touchdown pass? Sure he's a kid. But there's got to be a little common sense, right? And if you're going to act like that, then be a man and face the media after the game instead of leaving it to your coach and your teammates to answer all of the questions about you after the game.
The Aggies fans and his defenders will say he's just a kid. But that's kind of funny coming from Aggie fans who are always imagining slights against the team and going on the whining offensive. And just think of what it would be like if he was on the opposing team.