Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cheers to the Owls. Jeers to the Texans.

Yesterday the Rice Owls defeated Air Force, 33-14, in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. The win caps an amazing turnaround for head coach David Bailiff and the Owls, who began the season with a 1-5 record but then notched victories in five of their last six games to become bowl eligible.

Things started out poorly for the Owls, as quarterback Taylor McHargue was forced to leave the game with a head injury, and Rice trailed 7-14 at the half. However, backup quarterback Driphus Jackson stepped up to complete 15 of 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns (Rice receiver Jordan Taylor caught both, as well as a touchdown pass from McHargue in the first quarter), while the Owl defense kept the Falcons scoreless in the second half. Air Force's vaunted rushing attack, the nation's second-best, was in fact held to only 166 yards for the entire afternoon.

The result was Rice's first winning season since 2008 (when they went 10-3 and beat Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium for their first bowl win 54 years) and their first bowl victory outside of Houston since January 1, 1954, when they beat Alabama, 28-6, in a game best known for Alabama's Tommy Lewis coming off the bench to tackle Dicky Moegle.

Congratulations are in order for the Rice Owls for their turnaround season and bowl win.

The Texans, on the other hand... Ugh. The team that was 11-1 at the beginning of the month and was barreling towards a first-round bye week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs has since collapsed, losing three out of its last four games and making its case for a spot on my list of top ten Houston sports chokejobs. Today's woeful 28-16 loss to Indianapolis portends a quick exit from the playoffs for the Texans, who host Cincinnati in next weekend's first-round game.

As was the case against Minnesota last Sunday, nothing seemed to go right for the Texans today. The team was tentative, fragile and error-prone. Consider this: immediately after the Texans scored their first touchdown in eight quarters - a very problematic statistic in and of itself - on a Arian Foster run to cut the Indianapolis lead to one, the Colts shot back with a 101-yard kickoff return by Deji Karim. That was the back breaker from which the Texans never recovered. This team is cratering at the worst possible time; they've lost their will to win.

The Texans might actually succeed in beating Cincinnati next weekend. But, unless something miraculous occurs, that's likely as far as they're going to go. Given the way the season started, that's rather disappointing. But it's also par for the course for a Houston sports team.

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