Rice

No. 7 Texas A&M leading, but not blowing out, Rice at the half

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Say this for the defending Conference USA champion Rice Owls: they are not intimidated to play in Kyle Field. A year ago, Rice came to College Station and led a temporarily Johnny Manziel-less Aggies squad 14-7 after one quarter, and trailed only 28-21 at the half before giving way for a 52-31 final. This year it’s been more of the same as No. 7 Texas A&M has a 21-7 halftime edge, but has been outgained by Rice 269-215.

Driphus Jackson has kept a talented Aggies defense at bay, completing 10-of-15 throws for 118 yards and a touchdown while leading all runners with 55 yards on nine carries. Overall, Rice has produced 151 yards on 30 carries.

Jackson’s counterpart Kenny Hill has gotten his yards, but not in the usual explosive fashion, completing 13-of-19 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. It should put some perspective on how good Hill and this offense has been this season when 151 yards and three scores counts as a slow start. Rice has come to play against the Aggies’ run game, limiting the hosts to only 64 yards on the ground.

The most bizarre turn of events came at the very end of the half, as Rice had to take points off the board with four seconds remaining as a made field goal was nullified due to an illegal substitution by Texas A&M. The ensuing kick was blocked by A&M’s James Hairston, and Armani Watts picked the loose ball up and ran it for an apparent touchdown, but that scoring play was also called back due to a glut of A&M players that had come on the field. Hill took a knee with zero time remaining to end the half.

Texas A&M gets the ball to open the second half.

Lingering foot injury to keep Rice’s top WR out vs. A&M

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If Rice holds out any hope of an inexplicable upset of Texas A&M, they’ll need to be at full strength.  Unfortunately for the Owls that won’t be the case, at least not offensively.

Thursday following practice, Jordan Taylor confirmed that he would, once again, be sidelined due to a lingering foot injury.  The injury, which is described as a sprained left foot, has hampered Taylor for a month and will keep him out of the game against the Aggies.

Saturday will mark the second game to start the season — the Owls had a bye in Week 2 — Taylor will have missed.  It appears the goal is to get the player healthy enough to play in the Conference USA opener against Old Dominion next weekend.

“[The team’s medical staff is] just trying to make sure it didn’t turn into anything worse,” Taylor said according to the San Antonio Express-News. “I’m ready to get back out there.”

Last season Taylor was far and away Rice’s leading receiver, topping the team with 55 receptions for 848 yards and eight touchdowns.  The No. 2 receiver, Dennis Parks, totals were 29-508-3.

Sneak Peek: 2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl

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WHO: 6-6 Mississippi State (SEC) vs. 10-3 Rice (Conference USA)

WHAT: AutoZone Liberty Bowl (55th year)

WHERE: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee

WHEN: Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET

WHY: Mississippi State will be appearing in a bowl game for the fourth straight year, the first time in the program’s 112-year history that’s happened. Rice, on the other hand, has earned a postseason berth in back-to-back seasons for just the second time, with the first coming in 1961-62.

If the way the regular season holds to form, the effectiveness of both running games — or the opposing run defenses — will play a significant role in the the outcome.

The Conference USA champion Owls, who bring a four-game winning streak into the bowl game, are far and away the more reliant of the two on the ground game, averaging a robust 240.2 yards per game that’s good for 15th in the country. The key to Rice’s running game is senior tailback Charles Ross, who leads the team with 1,252 yards and has accounted for 14 of the Owls’ 30 rushing touchdowns. The Bulldogs are 45th in rushing with 185.8 yards per game and are led by starting quarterback Dak Prescott‘s 751 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Both of the run defenses are middle-of-the-pack nationally, with the 48th (151.1 ypg) and the Owls 54th (155.4 ypg).

To say that the two teams struggle in the passing game would be an understatement. The Owls are 92nd in passing yards per game (185.5) while the Bulldogs are 65th (240.3). Prescott, who replaced the injured Tyler Russell, is a dual-threat quarterback who relies heavily on the run portion of the threat as he’s prone to interceptions — he matched his seven touchdown passes with the same number of picks in 239 attempts. Rice’s starter, Taylor McHargue (no relation), has thrown eight picks in 309 attempts, although he has also thrown 17 touchdown passes in an offense that would much prefer to make its hay on the ground.

MSU’s average passing attack could be further exposed by a Rice defense that’s 13th in the country after allowing 195.7 yards per game through the air.

The two programs from distinctly different conferences do have one common opponent: Texas A&M.  The Owls also to the Aggies 52-31 in the season opener, while the Bulldogs fell to A&M 51-41 Nov. 9.  Both of those games were played in College Station.

PREDICTION: Rice 27, Mississippi State 24

Looking for first conference title since 1957, Rice leads Marshall at half

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Without the flair and pageantry that comes with some of the conference championship games we are seeing later today, the Conference USA Championship Game has been a fun one to watch over the years. This year’s edition is not quite set up to be a classic, with Rice leading Marshall 21-10 at the half.

Rice piled on points midway through the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns in the span of just over two minutes. Rice pulled some tricks with Luke Turner taking a pitch from the wildcat and completing a 35 yard touchdown pass to Donte Moore over the middle to open the scoring for the game five minutes in to the game. After the Rice defense pushed Marshall back five yards on a three-and-out, the Owls quickly struck again. This time it was Taylor McHargue unloading the scoring strike with a 75-yard pass to Jordan Taylor, who out-ran two defenders and moved his way to the left sideline to sprint the rest of the way.

Rice took a 21-3 lead before Rakeem Cato and Marshall managed to get in to the end zone. Cato kept one play away as he was being pushed to the right sideline when he avoided one defender and unloaded a ball to his receiver, Gator Hoskins, just shy of the end zone. The play set up a short run for Devon Johnson to pull Marshall to within 11 points before halftime. The half ended with the teams exchanging five punts between them.

We could still be in for a fun finish. Marshall and Rice are each capable of putting up some points in a hurry, but the Thundering Herd have struggled on the road at times and the cold weather may be playing a factor.

Rice hangs with Texas A&M, Manziel set to debut

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Rice needed to take advantage of the first half against Texas A&M, and they did the best they probably could have asked for. Rice trailed Texas A&M 28-21 as the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, but that means the season debut of Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel is now just moments away.

Rice is coming off one of their more successful seasons in recent program history, reaching a bowl game a year ago, but the Owls still figured to be a decided underdog heading in to this season opener in Aggie Land. To their credit, Rice put up 332 yards of offense in the first half and did it pretty evenly between the run and pass game. Texas A&M scored three straight times in the second quarter to take a 28-14 lead, but a touchdown pass from Taylor McHargue to Jordan Taylor seconds before halftime cut in to the lead.

Now the big questions is just what kind of debut Manziel has ready to show off. After sitting the first half due to a suspension handed down this week and an off-season that seemed to fill our timelines every other day (if not more), it will be back to football. The anticipation has been building for this moment, especially given the recent headlines surrounding one of college football’s most dynamic players in 2012.