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Owls’ Moonshot: Beat UT

Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Joshua Anil     9/10/19 9:14pm

In 1962, during his famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech at Rice Stadium, President John F. Kennedy posed a question to the audience.

 “Why does Rice play Texas?” Kennedy said. 

At the time, Rice football had beaten the University of Texas, Austin on five occasions in the previous 10 years. But when the Owls gear up to face UT on Saturday night at NRG Stadium, they will be attempting to dramatically reverse the two teams’ recent competitive history.

The last time Rice football beat Texas, most of the Rice undergraduate population was not yet alive. In 1994, the Owls pulled out a 19-17 win, their first against UT since 1965. Since that 1994 game, the Owls and Longhorns have faced off 13 times, with the Longhorns winning all 13 contests. 

But this losing trend is not a recent phenomenon. Rice and UT have been playing each other for over a century, with the first game coming in 1914 — a 41-0 shutout victory for the Longhorns. Since then, the two teams have played 94 times, with Texas leading the series 72-21-1. The two teams will match up again Saturday, as Rice tries to avoid starting its season 0-3 after having already lost to Army West Point and Wake Forest University.

According to head coach Mike Bloomgren, playing UT offers many challenges for Rice to overcome.

“[The Longhorns are] a talented, talented group,” Bloomgren said. “The offensive and defensive lines are going to be outstanding challenges for our group … We don’t have anybody in the program that looks like that.”

The Owls lost to Wake Forest 41-21 during last Friday’s game at Rice Stadium. Near the end of the first quarter, Rice’s starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Wiley Green, was injured on a hit to the head near the goal line and had to be carted off the field on a stretcher. Graduate transfer Tom Stewart filled in for Green during the remainder of the game. 

According to Bloomgren, while post-injury testing on Green was negative, he is still being monitored with no definitive timetable for his return to the field. In the case Green is unable to play, Stewart will likely step in as Rice’s starting quarterback, with redshirt sophomore Evan Marshman handling the backup quarterback role. 

“[Green’s] been evaluated by our doctors and all imaging and testing has come back negative,” Bloomgren said. “Besides the soreness in his neck, he’s doing much better. We’re going to continue to evaluate him and we look forward to getting him back sooner rather than later.”

Stewart scored a touchdown and threw for 185 yards in relief of Green, but the Owls’ passing attack was outdone by the Demon Deacons, who accumulated 312 passing yards — nearly equaling Rice’s 321 yards of total offense. 

The Longhorns are coming off a 45-38 loss to Louisiana State University. Despite the loss, UT showcased an offensive attack which demonstrated an ability to move the ball up the field. 

UT’s offense put up 530 yards against the No. 6-ranked Tigers, while the Owls gave up 513 yards to unranked Wake Forest. Longhorn junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns against LSU, while the Owls gave up 312 passing yards to Wake Forest. However, the Owls were missing redshirt sophomore cornerback Tyrae Thornton for most of the game due to his first-quarter ejection for targeting. Thornton will return for the game against UT.

Among Rice’s defensive statistical leaders this season include its linebacker core of redshirt junior Anthony Ekpe, sophomore Antonio Montero and sophomore Treshawn Chamberlain, who are the Owls’ top three defenders in total tackles with 17, 15 and 15 tackles, respectively. Bloomgren said Rice’s defense needs to concentrate on limiting large gains from scrimmage.

“We just have to find a way to quit allowing big plays to happen to us on defense,” Bloomgren said. “A few plays in particular stood out in that game: There was a [59-yard touchdown] pass [and] the 96-yard run.”

So, why does Rice play Texas, even when the Longhorns are ranked in the top 25? According to Kennedy, some obstacles are worth facing.

“We choose to [do certain things] … not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” Kennedy said. “Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one which we intend to win.” 

Rice faces Texas at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 at NRG Stadium. Tickets are $20 for Rice students, and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.  

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