Owls want to make every possession count against Air Force

By Cary Estes, www.armedforcesbowl.com

Rice junior quarterback Taylor McHargue is going to value every moment that he is on the field during Saturday’s playing of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Not just because it will be his final football game of the season, but because he knows the Owls’ offensive opportunities in the game could be limited.

Both Rice and Air Force rely on a ball-control offense. The Falcons, in particular, are capable of using their run-oriented option offense to grind out lengthy, time-consuming drives. So McHargue said the Owls need to take full advantage of each possession they have in the game.

“This is going to be one of those games where any turnover is really going to be magnified, so we need to make sure we execute and take care of the football,” McHargue said. “All season we’ve been the type of offense to have long sustained drives. We usually have at least two or three drives of 12 to 15 plays (each). Air Force is the same way. Most offenses don’t usually operate like that. So this game might only last a couple of hours. If there are many of those drives, these quarters are going to fly by.

“It will come down to a time-of-possession battle and turnover battle more than any other game we’ve played this season. In the second half it might be one of those things where we know we have to score quickly, because when they get the ball again they might chew five or six minutes off the clock.”

It will be up to the Rice defense to try and prevent that from happening, a task that the Owls know will not be easy. The Falcons rank second in the nation in rushing offense with an average of 328.8 yards per game, an output generated primarily by their triple-option attack. Slowing down that offense requires a measure of restraint that goes against a defensive player’s natural urge to simply swarm toward the football.

“It really kind of takes away from your instincts as a defensive player,” Rice senior defensive end Jared Williams said. “You almost have to become like a trained dog. You have one guy to focus on and you have to get to him.

“To do really well against this offense you have to find a balance between being an instinctive football player and being really assignment-sound. You have to have your assignment taken care of, but you also have to be able to make a play on somebody else if needed. The extra practice time has helped us find that balance, but we know it’s going to be much different in the game. So we’ve tried to prepare for that mentally.”

The Owls will have one unexpected advantage in this game. For one of the few times all season, they will actually be physically bigger than their opponent. During Friday’s pre-game news conference, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun came right out and said that his “No. 1 concern” is his team “not getting overwhelmed with how much bigger” the Rice players are. McHargue had to chuckle at that comment.

“I was laughing, because I think that’s the first time we’ve ever heard that,” McHargue said. “The vast majority of the time when we line up against somebody we’re significantly smaller than they are. But that’s something that Air Force faces week in and week out. I’m sure Michigan was a lot bigger than them and Air Force almost beat them (losing 31-25). They’re used to playing undersized. They use leverage well. But we’re going to rely on our offensive line. They’ve done a great job for us all season, and we expect the same this week.”