Baptism by air: Griffin throws five touchdown passes
When the football team's schedule was released this summer, few could have guessed that Baylor University (3-0) would be the highest ranked team on the slate. But with a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate under center for the team, a receiver with 420 receiving yards and four touchdowns and a tailback with 294 yards and three touchdowns through three games, Baylor's offense has to be considered one of the most dangerous in the country.
Rice bore the brunt of this juggernaut this last week, allowing Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III to pass for an astounding five touchdowns while running in a sixth. It is not very often in football that one player can do that much for a football team, but surely Baylor would be a shell of themselves without this future NFL player.
After the Owls much-maligned defense forced the Bears to punt on their first possession, Griffin threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter, two of which were within 45 seconds of each other, leaving the Owls' secondary with their customary shell-shocked countenances just 15 minutes into the game.
Baylor started off the second quarter with another touchdown, moving the score to 28-0, a wide margin for Rice to come back from. The Owls finally responded with a two-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Jeremy Eddington to put points on the board, but another touchdown pass from Griffin would leave the gap at 35-7.
Rice sophomore kicker Chris Boswell converted a 31-yard field goal and sophomore quarterback Taylor McHargue found junior wide receiver Vance McDonald in the corner of the end zone to give the Owls some slight momentum heading into the locker room, down 18 points.
Nevertheless, 15th-ranked Baylor squashed any of this momentum and truly put the game out of reach, minutes into the second half, running back a McHargue interception for a touchdown. The pass appeared to be on target as the ball hit McDonald directly in the hands but bounced off of them into the arms of Baylor defensive back Ahmad Dixon. The 55-yard return by Dixon moved the Baylor score up to 42 points, simply too much for Rice to catch up to.
McHargue threw for two more touchdowns in the game, but it was too little too late, as another pair of Griffin touchdowns, one by air and one on the ground, would complete the 56-31 final. Robert Griffin's speed and athleticism was simply too much for the Owls' defense to handle. The lone bright spot for the defense was senior free safety Xavier Webb's bone-crushing hit near the five-yard line in the first half, which helped jar the ball loose from Griffin's clutches and prevented the Bears from lengthening their lead before the half.
"Robert Griffin is a special player," Head Coach David Bailiff said. "I think I would go ahead and get him a seat in New York City. He is probably the best I have seen in college football at this point. What he does with his arm and his feet, and the decisions he is making, he has turned into a great quarterback."
While the defensive performance was certainly not what the Owls were looking for, 31 points against a Big XII conference team is certainly nothing to shrug at for an offense that had trouble moving the ball last season. Especially notable was McHargue, who ended the game with 260 yards and three touchdowns combined with only one interception. It seemed he was the catalyst of the Owls' offense, doing a good job of spreading the ball around to his key receivers.
"I think Taylor has grown into his role," Rice sophomore running back Turner Peterson, who was the Owls' leading rusher with 51 yards, said. "He is a leader on the team. When we are out there in the huddle, he is the one talking and everyone listens. He has a low number of starts because of last season, but where he has gone from the start of the season to now are some huge strides."
Next weekend, the Owls travel to Hattiesburg, Miss. to take on the University of Southern Mississippi (3-1) , a team that just beat a struggling University of Virginia the weekend before. There will be a special celebrity appearance, as former NFL star and Southern Miss alum Brett Favre will be in the booth providing color commentary for the game.
The Owls have to prepare for another potent offense, as Southern Miss survives games by moving the ball quickly down field and getting to the line of scrimmage quickly after each play.
"Powerful offenses are nothing we are not accustomed to," Rice senior nose tackle John Gioffre said. "We have to play our game. We have to keep momentum on our side. Little things like staying in your lane, keeping containment. We know what to do, we just have to do it. Everything is going to be fine."
While it was a valid excuse during the game against the University of Texas, the defense could no longer claim that they were not getting enough rest, as Rice actually held a slim advantage over Baylor in time of possession. The defensive line hardly put any pressure against the massive Baylor offensive line and the secondary was beleaguered as usual, getting beat on deep pass after deep pass. More effective schemes must be employed in tandem with linebacker coverage in order to prevent the Southern Miss passing attack from doing the same thing that Griffin was able to do.
As for the offense, the line must continue to open holes for the stable of running backs, which will feature more carries for Petersen and senior Tyler Smith. Junior Sam McGuffie must come through with a game-changing performance against the Golden Eagles, something Rice fans are still waiting for 15 games after his arrival on campus. Perhaps the biggest issue plaguing the Owls on offense is the plethora of dropped balls from leading receivers and tight ends, the latter of which is perhaps the most underachieving unit on this 1-2 squad so far this season.
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