The Rice football team that all Rice fans know and loathe showed up at Rice Stadium on Saturday night. In years past this would have meant a Rice lost. But luckily, the Owls were hosting the Kansas Jayhawks, and the Jayhawks are an awful football team. It was an ugly game, a largely boring game, punctuated by a few spurts of excitement. And at the end, the Owls walked off the field, 23-14 victors to go 1-1 for the season.
The Owls offense did nothing for a majority of the game, accumulating just 70 yards of offense for the first quarter with a promising opening drive being doomed by penalties that resulted in the Owls facing a third down with 33 yards needed for the first. The Owls defense bailed the team out with linebacker Michael Kutzler intercepting a Jake Heaps pass and returning it 52 yards for the only score of the first quarter.
Kicker Chris Boswell nailed two field goals to keep Rice on top 13-7 as the half. And it was Boswell who put the Owls back in the lead, for good, when he boomed a 56-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. The defense kept Kansas bottled up, and the offense, under back-up QB Driphus Jackson, showed one last, much needed grasp of life, culminating in running back Charles Ross taking a pitch for eight yards to score the Owls only offensive touchdown of the night.
So with the Kansas game done and the Bayou Bucket coming up this week, here are a few game two observations about the Owls.
CHRIS BOSWELL IS A MACHINE
Rice head coach David Bailiff likes to compare kicker Chris Boswell to a golf bag, stating that it's like he's got a different leg to use for the differing distances. He also tells us that Boswell has no fear and thinks he can make a field goal from any distance. It's about gotten to the point that if the Owls reach the opposing team's 40-yard line, then the team can count on getting at least three points out of the drive.
"I don't really have a different mindset for every different kick," Boswell said. "I just try to kick it as hard as I can, and get the ball up as fast as possible because they bring a pretty good rush. I don't try to chip it more, I don't try to drive it more. I just kick everyone as hard as I can and pray that it goes in."
Boswell's quick to credit his teammates for his success, noting the line, long-snapper, and holder are the ones who make the kicks possible. But without the leg and the focus, the work of his teammates would be meaningless. ONE UNIT PICKING UP THE OTHER
The defense didn't play the greatest of games against the Texas Aggies - then again, the vaunted Alabama defense also had a few issues with the Aggies. But with the Owls offense struggling on Saturday, the defensive unit stepped up and played a solid game, limiting the Jayhawks to a mere 14 points and only 270 yards of total offense. The big play was Michael Kutzler's 52-yard interception return for the touchdown, but the defense kept the Jayhawks from getting into a real rhythm the entire game, making it possible for the Owls to stay in the game until the offense could operate.
"We're definitely different," Kutzler said about the defense. "We held them to seven in the first half and gave the offense when we needed to. We just have a different mindset. It's a family. We're all in there together."
MUST LEARN TO PLAY WITHOUT CHIP ON THE SHOULDER
Despite the win, the Owls didn't play good football. There were issues with execution. There were penalty problems. They were hurt by some turnovers. The offense, which was a well-oiled machine against the Aggies, misfired time and time again, drive after drive. Quarterback Taylor McHargue was never able to get into a rhythm. Bailiff said afterwards that it's the most consistent team that wins week after week, and consistency from to week-to-week is something the Owls need to work on. But Bailiff also took some of the blame, saying the team wasn't in the proper mood for the game.
"You've got to play football a chip on your shoulder," Bailiff said. "You've got to play inspired. You've got to play passionate. And real frankly, I didn't have them ready to go after the layoff. I'm just glad we got out of here with a win."
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SHOW ME HOW
OWLS AND PUNISHING RUNNING GAME REALLY DON'T GO TOGETHER, BUT...
The Owls play a spread offense and try to get receivers and backs into open space where it's hoped they can take advantage of size and speed to pick up yards. But that mode doesn't quite work with Charles Ross, a big, punishing back who seems to work best when he's making contact and dragging along would be tacklers. He rushed a career-high 27 times for a net of 157 yards, scoring the only offensive touchdown, and being about the only offensive weapon that appeared to work for the Owls.
"It's a tribute to the o-line and the receivers out there blocking," Ross said about his game. "And just the effort we gave offensively, not giving up."
The Owls survived the Aggies and defeated the Jayhawks. They've got the 2-0 Houston Cougars this week - a team that struggled to defeat a Temple team that lost to Fordham on Saturday (yes, Fordham has a football team). Perhaps facing former conference-foe and cross-town rival Houston will be what's needed to put that chip back on Rice's shoulder.