Rice defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond mentioned before the season a new defensive statistic called chaos.
“It includes sacks, turnovers and negative plays caused by the defense,” Thurmond said at Rice’s Media Day last month. “We were in the top 15 in the country last year in chaos. We’ve got to continue to create opportunities for our offense.”
As the Owls make final preparations for Saturday’s game at Texas, chaos has taken on multiple meanings. The word can be used to describe the state of the Texas offense.
In a 38-3 loss to Notre Dame to kick off the season, Texas managed just 163 yards of total offense. The concerns – to put it lightly – led to a staff shakeup. Longhorn wide receivers coach Jay Norvell was handed the play calling after those duties were stripped from co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline.
“Coach Watson is a great coach, a great offensive coordinator, but I know that Coach Strong is trying to move forward with the program as quick as possible,” Texas wide receiver Daje Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s going to be making changes. I know Coach Norvell. I’m in the receiving room with him. Coach Norvell is a great coach also, and he just wants to see what can work right now. We’re really trying to figure out everything and move forward.”
The Owls are hoping the Longhorn offense figuring-it-out process takes more than a few days. However, they are expecting a better performance that what Texas showed in South Bend.
“They struggled at Notre Dame but I don’t think they’ll struggle,” Rice coach David Bailiff said at his news conference Monday. “Charlie (Strong) does a great job, obviously, with what he did at Louisville. He’s a great coach. They’ll find their identity. You know they’re searching hard this week. Like I said, it is Texas. We don’t have to worry so much about them. We have to worry about us, play our game and try to be the best team that we can be this week.”
Rice’s defense got off to a decent start in the Owls 56-16 win over Wagner. The Owls allowed 285 total yards of offense, including only 86 on the ground. It was the fourth time in the last 10 games Rice has held an opponent under 100 yards rushing.
As for the chaos plays Thurmond spoke about, the Owls recorded two sacks, two turnovers and nine tackles for losses. Brian Womac, sophomore defensive end, was particularly chaotic, with four tackles for a loss, resulting in negative 22 yards. He also had a sack that cost Wagner 14 yards.
“Brian Womac, in his first start, really played an excellent game, as did Graysen Schantz,” Bailiff said of his starting defensive ends. “The guys in the middle were good. Alex Lyons, our linebacker, was our leading tackler. He was all over the field. I thought the young secondary covered.”
Rice is 21-71-1 all-time against Texas and hasn’t won in Austin in 50 years. The Longhorns have won 22 straight home games over Rice and the last 12 games in the overall series. Of course, Saturday also is the 53rd anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium where he asked “why does Rice play Texas” as part of his challenge to the nation to send a man to the moon.
“I think President Kennedy summed it up when he asked ‘Why does Rice play Texas?’ Bailiff said. “Because it’s hard. It is hard to go in to that environment.”
Bailiff said to pull off the win at Texas his team will need to play its best football and not have stupid penalties. He characterized the players as being upbeat for the 7 p.m. game Saturday, which will be broadcast on the Longhorn Network.
“Our kids relish those moments of going and playing a Notre Dame or University of Texas,” he said. “That’s one where you go in dreaming big. We’re dreaming big right now. We’re trying to work hard. We know Texas has great athletes everywhere.”