The story should be the Texas Aggies (3-0) defeating the Rice Owls (0-2) by a 38-10 score. It should be about the thrilling play of A&M quarterback Kenny Hill. The story could have been about the Owls trying for their first win against Texas A&M since 1980, or the first time ever that the Owls opened the season with two consecutive road games against ranked teams. Instead the focus is three things: field conditions so bad that the NRG Stadium field looks good in comparison, a bizarre series of plays at the end of the first half that cost Rice a field goal and A&M a touchdown, and the same old thing of Rice beating Rice.
DIVOT AFTER DIVOT AFTER DIVOT
The grass field at Kyle Field is brand new. Brand new as in planted this summer. Brand new as in it had more divots than a golf course being pounded by a bunch of first time amateurs trying to figure out how to drive off of the tee. Members of the grounds crew constantly trotted out on the field between plays attempting to fill in divots and replace dirt, and conditions were so bad that Rice head coach David Bailiff had to receive assurances at the half from the A&M athletic director that steps would be taken to insure the safety of the players in the second half.
"They told us what they were going to do, and I was comfortable with that," Bailiff said of the A&M assurances.
But assurances aside, the field never appeared safe, and an inspection after the game showed holes so big that it's a wonder there weren't series ankle injuries. And no matter how often the grounds crew came out -- seemingly after every play -- the divots returned again, and again, and again. The problems supposedly arose because of the torrential rainfall on Friday night, but whatever the cause, it can now be said that NRG Stadium no longer has the worst natural grass field in the state of Texas. And let it be known that the Owls weren't the only complainers, some of the Aggies were also disgusted.
KEYSTONE COPS END THE FIRST HALF
Down 21-7 and with all of their timeouts blown, the Owls still mounted a drive at the end of the half. With the seconds ticking away, the kicking team ran onto the field, got set, snapped the ball, and watched as James Hairston nailed a 53-yard field goal just as time ran out, pulling the Owls to within 21-10 of the Aggies. Only there was a slight problem. The Aggies had too many players on the field, resulting in a dead-ball penalty and a no kick.
The ball was re-set, a bit closer up, and Hairston attempted the kick once again. And his 48-yard kick was blocked and recovered by the Aggies at their seven-yard line by Armani Watts. Through the confusion Watts returned the ball 93 yards for the A&M touchdown, putting the Aggies up 28-7. But hold up, there was another Aggie penalty, this time because some A&M players, not realizing the ball was live, ran onto the field, thus causing a penalty that wiped out the touchdown. By the time everything was sorted out, the score was still only 21-7.
"It took [the officials] awhile to sort out what happened." We were looking for an explanation. We finally got one that that they had 12 men on the field and tried to kill the play before the snap, but they didn't....We had to re-kick and they got a block."
RICE BEATING RICE
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The Owls out-gained A&M 481 yards to 477 yards. The Owls had more first downs than A&M, 28 to 23, more rushing yards, 240 to 168, ran more plays, 91 to 59, and possessed the ball longer than the Aggies, 43:14 to 16:46. The Owls converted 10 of 21 third possessions, and completed more passes. Yet the Aggies won the game 38-10.
The Owls suffered from the same problem the Owls always suffer from. The Owls did more to beat themselves than the Aggies did. There was the missed field goal from 22 yards in the first quarter that would have put them up 3-0. There was a blown fourth down conversion coming out of a timeout. The defense often seemed to have the Aggies stopped, only to miss a tackle or blow an assignment. The team wasted two timeouts in the first quarter and lost the third midway through the second quarter -- two of the timeous were due to miscommunications between QB Driphus Jackson and the person on the sidelines signaling in the plays.
"Where it went wrong we had six drives of over eight plays where we only had three points," Bailiff said. "We had a drive of 14 plays where we didn't get points. Time of possession...is important when you're getting points out of those drives. If you're not scoring points, then it really doesn't help you."
The Owls have the week to set things right. Saturday morning at 11:00 they play their first home game of the season when they host C-USA foe Old Dominion.