The Rice Owls offense looked to be sleeping most of Saturday night. There'd be a three-and-out and a punt. Then a three-and-out and a punt. And on, and on. The Owls had expected a tough contest from Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, and the offense expected that the Hawaii defense would throw out multiple blitzes in attempts to confuse Rice. It was just a matter of waiting, the Owls had said earlier in the week, waiting for just the right moment, the right matchup, the right play.
The score was 7-7 at the half and 14-14 after the third quarter, the Owls having never led. But the much maligned Rice defense kept Hawaii bottled up and the Owls finally got into an offensive rhythm. Darik Dillard cranked out run after run. Driphus Jackson made some big throws to his receivers, and by the time the clocked reached zero, the Owls (2-3) had defeated Hawaii (1-4) 28-14.
Famine, Famine, Feast
The Rice coaching staff knew beforehand that it would be a matter of biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to strike against Hawaii. The first opportunity came late in the first half when Jackson hooked up with receiver James Mayden on what appeared to be a short gain. But Mayden split a couple of defenders, hit the afterburners, and 81 yards later the Owls had a touchdown and had soon tied the game at 7-7.
The team's next two touchdowns were set-up by Jackson bombs (to Jordan Taylor for 28 yards and Mario Hull for 50 yards) that were capped by short TD runs for Dillard. The final score was on a 31-yard pass from Jackson to Taylor with 12 seconds left in the game on a play that was merely meant to run out the clock.
"We knew we were going to have our hands full," head coach David Bailiff said after the game. "What they do defensively, we knew it was tough. It was high pressure where we thought it would be famine, famine and then we'd have some feast. But we didn't realize how long we'd be in the famine period -- almost the entire first half until Driphus (Jackson) hit up with James Mayden." WORST HALF OF HIS CAREER
Quarterback Driphus Jackson says he has the easy job: he just gets the ball to the play-makers and watches them as they make things happen. But it's a bit more complicated than that. He's got to read what the defense does. He's the one reading the sidelines for the play calls. And he's actually got to get the ball to the play-makers before they can make things happen.
Jackson didn't have a good first half against Hawaii. He completed just six of 16 passes for 125 yards (81 yards coming on that catch and run to Mayden). He was sacked twice. The offense couldn't get into a rhythm. Head coach David Bailiff laid a lot of the problems on the Hawaii defense, but Jackson put the blame entirely on his head, saying that he played the worst half of his football career at any level of football. It wasn't what Hawaii was doing. It was what he wasn't doing.
"It had nothing to do with Hawaii," Jackson said "It was purely on me. That's just the reality of it. I was able to pick up the blitzes. I was able to actually see what was going on. I just wasn't making plays when my number was called."
But the second half was a different story. The Owls generated 245 yards of offense in the half. The running game found its rhythm with Darik Dillard gaining 136 yards and scoring twice. Jackson began to locate his receivers and Rice took command.
"Driphus came to me at halftime and said 'Coach, that's probably the worst half of football I've ever played and we'll get better in the second half,'" Bailiff said. "He's always a man of his word, and that's exactly what he did."
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The Much Maligned Defense Stepped Up
The Rice defense has given up lots of yards and lots of point this season. It's suffered numerous injuries and there have been a lot of players forced to play that the Rice coaches didn't yet want to play. But the experience is helping out the youngsters and the vets are getting healthy and returning action. The result on Saturday was the sacking of Hawaii QB Ikaika Woolsey seven times and 12 tackles for losses. And with offense misfiring early in the game, waiting for just the right opportunity to strike back, it was up to the defense to keep the Owls in the game.
"What a great performance by those guys," Bailiff said. "We're starting to get some people back...I'm pleased with how the younger players are stepping up...You have seniors, juniors, sophomores, true freshmen that are helping the cause right now."
The Owls return to action on Saturday when the team heads out to West Point to take on Army. If the defense continues to improve, if the offense continues to strike when the opportunity's presented, and if Driphus Jackson continues with his self-described easy work, the Owls should be positioned for a strong second half of the season.