The 2006 Rice Owls are doing everything possible to erase the memories of last season. The Owls went 1-10 last year with their lone win coming over Tulane, who barely even had a school at the time. The athletic department decided to change course.
Gone is much of the coaching staff including longtime head coach Ken Hatfield. The stadium has been upgraded with new Field Turf and new aluminum seating has replaced the old wooden version. A new scoreboard has been installed and even a new logo has been unveiled. New coach Todd Graham and new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite have thrown out the option offense in favor of pass first spread look. If they can convince some of the top Houston high school talent to stay close to home, it won't be long before the Owls are competitive again.
Unfortunately, this Saturday's contest at Reliant Stadium against the Horns will not be competitive. The Owls started this season 0-2 dropping a heartbreaker at home to Houston and then losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl last Saturday night. After the Horns visit, the road doesn't get much easier. Rice takes on Florida State in Tallahassee and then Army at West Point before beginning Conference USA play. After Saturday, six of Rice's next seven games are on the road. Overall only five of their games are at home with the Texas game included. Along with hiring new coaches, Rice should work on scheduling with better home and away balance and maybe a non conference cupcake throw in too.
Houston 31, Rice 30
Rice started well against Houston scoring 27 points in the second quarter to take a 27-14 lead at the half. They extended the lead to 30-14 midway through the third quarter but couldn't score anymore points. Houston scored the final 17 points of the game including two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 31-30. Applewhite's new offense looked promising and starting quarterback Chase Clement threw for 152 yards and two scores. The Owls were hurt by two turnovers and the inability to stop the pass. Houston starting quarterback Kevin Kolb consistently beat the Rice secondary finishing 22/35 for 233 yards and three TDs. Blowing a two touchdown lead is never good but the Graham era was off to a competitive start.
UCLA 26, Rice 16
The UCLA game was also competitive. Rice was only down 16-10 at the end of the third quarter. The Bruins eventually triumphed 26-16. The margin would have been much greater had the Rice defense not forced five field goals. It was still a poor defensive effort overall. Starting tailback Chris Markey churned out 208 yards and another back Kahlil Bell added 102 yards. Offensively the Owls were hampered because quarterback Chase Clement did not play due to injury. He is listed as day to day. Without Clement to lead the passing attack, the Owls were forced to the ground. Two different players played quarterback including starting wide receiver Joel Armstrong.
Saturday looks to be a long afternoon for Rice. Their defense hasn't stopped the run or the pass effectively in two games. Their offense, while revamped, is not fully installed and the starting quarterback remains questionable. This will be an organized scrimmage for the Horns that couldn't come at a better time.