The Fifth Lap
This Rice University Owls football team believed. That might be the most gratifying part of last week's 25-24 Rice victory over the University of Kansas. Even though there were plenty of reasons not to, this team traveled to Lawrence believing it could win.
Ten-game losing streak? Didn't matter. Never having won against a Big 12 opponent? Didn't matter.
A frustrating loss against University of California, Los Angeles (who, on a side note, is looking like a better and better team)? Didn't matter.
You could tell before they even got on their buses for the airport that Coach David Bailiff's squad was carrying a certain swagger. Leading up to the game, players were out encouraging students to watch the televised game. That's not something you do if you don't believe you can compete.
It's one thing, though, to take that swagger on the bus, and another to maintain it through the ups and downs of a game. And during the sixty minutes in Lawrence, there were plenty of moments where it would have been easy for Rice to let that belief, that swagger, slip away.
Thanks to three first quarter turnovers, Rice squandered opportunities to take command of the game early and instead found themselves down 3-10. Still, the swagger remained.
At the start of the second half, Kansas put together a long drive to go up 24-13. Still, Rice kept coming.
And with less than five minutes left in the contest, Rice missed a potentially game-tying 2-point conversion attempt. But still, the belief persisted. The defense came up with a huge turnover, thanks to sophomore Bryce Callahan's second interception of the game. The offense converted on a critical fourth down in the process of getting into field goal range. And junior Chris Boswell split the uprights for the game winner.
Rice never led until the end of the game. But they never stopped believing that they could.
There were a lot of football-specific reasons to be excited about this game.
The defense prevented the big plays that plagued them over and over again against UCLA. In the Kansas game, they didn't allow a single play over 30 yards. In the season opener, they gave up multiple plays over 70.
The offensive line was more cohesive, giving up only two sacks this week, compared to six against UCLA, allowing quarterback junior Taylor McHargue to look downfield.
Sophomore Jordan Taylor continued to emerge as a go-to receiver. He had nine catches for 101 yards, the first time he crossed the century mark in his career, and hauled in many of them in big time situations.
The tight ends were active in both the running game and passing game, making important receptions and executing key blocks.
The offense, as a unit, showed it can march the ball down the field. Its two touchdown drives were of 94 yards and 93 yards respectively. It also put together four drives of 10 plays or more.
And Chris Boswell proved that he's not only long-range kicker, but a clutch kicker as well. Where his Kansas counterpart missed two field goals, Boswell went 4 for 4 including the pressure-packed game winner.
All of these things bode well for the rest of Rice's season. But more than anything else, I'm excited for a team that dared to get a historic win, and a program that has now beaten a BCSconference opponent two years in a row.
After the UCLA game, many fans walked away shaking their heads, saying it was classic Rice football to make it look like it might be close just to find a way to give the game away. But for a week and a half leading up to the Kansas game, and for sixty at-times-trying minutes during it, this Rice football team refused to give into that attitude.
They kept believing they could win. And now they've given us a reason to as well.