Having moved back to Houston, I had been anticipating this game since last season when I heard the series with Rice was a home-and-home. At least as much as anyone can be anticipating a Rice-Kansas football game. I've been describing this to friends as "two bad football teams playing each other so we might have a chance to win". Onto the pictures:
Before the game, there was a Houston Kansas alumni tailgate. Supposedly over 300 people bought tickets, which is quite the turnout. Texas has a big Kansas presence, though. What are the top 5 major cities that feed into KU? Obviously KC is #1. But I would blindly guess that Houston is the #5 city that feeds into KU (after Chicago, St Louis, and Dallas). The one disappointing thing for us was that it was so crowded that it was hard to meet people as it was loud and a lot of people had cliqued-off into smaller groups.
Then there was the weather. Houstonians, like everyone in the world, think they have the most unpredictable weather. They're wrong but we do have some silly things like the "monsoons" in the summer where it pours rain for about 30 minutes and then it's hotter and more humid than it was before the rain. After the rain let up, it was about 93 and swampy, by game time it was 87 and swampy, and by the end, it was probably about 83 and swampy. Houston is not the hottest place in the world, by any stretch. But the heat is unrelenting. There will be sustained periods of highs in the 90s as early as March and as late as November many years. I haven't gone through and checked day by day, but most years, there is not a day from June through August where it drops below 70, even at the "coolest" part of the night. So that's at least 90 straight days where the temperature will never drop below 70- sounds pretty predictable to me. By the end of the game, we all had a nice sweat sheen covering us.
The Kansas faithful were numerous- it was at least 30% of the crowd. The loudest the crowd got was when the team came out onto the field at the start of the game and I thought our crowd might be able to hold its own but I was disappointed as the game went on. Also, I think there were quite a few family and friends of players. I thought I saw somewhere that about a quarter of the team was from Texas. My wife commented at one point that this felt like a cross between minor league baseball and high school football. Nothing makes it seem more like high school when you have someone in the crowd yelling for about 2/3rds of the game about how their son needs to be on the field because he's better than the guys out there.
Rice had a blow up owl tunnel and the smoke machine and I thought it was cool. It's the best you're going to do for a liberal arts school whose major sport is baseball. The owl is a quality mascot and befitting the school. On the one hand, it can look vicious for sports, and, on the other, it's studious. Speaking of owls, each of their "colleges" or something had names like Duncan and Baker. I think most of the Kansas crowd made the "where's Gryffindor" joke. That's the Marching Owl Band (MOB), forming the line the players through. We'll get to them at halftime.
Like I mentioned in my previous Fanpost, picked up my tickets by calling the Rice Box Office. They were at the fifty yard line about 20 rows up for a little over $20: you can't beat that. Kudos again to the guy working the phones the day I called.
Onto the game, with this disclaimer: I don't know much about our team this year so the football observations may be terribly off. Heck, I'm still in baseball mode and don't think football should start until the MLB regular season is over so my head it just not in football. This is the first game that I've seen more than 15 minutes of at all this season.
The Offensive line was bad. This is my best pic of Sims all night. You can't even see him in most of my pictures as he's getting stuffed at or behind the line by a couple of Rice defensive linemen or linebackers who were unblocked. He had a couple of really nice runs when he had open space. But most of the night, he was getting hit at or near the line of scrimmage. And he did drop a wide open pass that should have gone for about 15 yards.
I think this is one for the "good" column. Heaps looks like he has the same happy feet and hold the ball problems Crist did but when he does throw, the accuracy is better. Then again, the WRs didn't do him any favors. If you can't get open against Rice, that's just sad. But he just has no confidence that he can throw it to them and they will catch it so he wants them to be super open before he even attempts a throw. That's not just on the WRs, that's on him, too. On the whole, however, I think, he is substantially better than what we saw last year.
I don't have a good picture of the WRs dropping a ball but it's not for a lack of opportunity. But I couldn't operate a camera because I was just stunned each time a college player dropped a ball that hits them square in the numbers (and it was a good half dozen). Correct me if I'm wrong about the makeup of our team but they seemed short, slow, and with bad hands as a group. I get that we're not an elite school but we should be able to get 2 of the three for starters (short guys who are fast with good hands or tall guys with good hands who are slow- that sort of thing). But we had nothing there.
I thought the DBs looked pretty good. They had two picks and just missed a couple more. They also have good timing and tend to hit right when the ball hits the receiver or get a hand in that knocks the ball loose. It will probably lead to some crappy calls against us later in the year when our guys actually make a good play but a home field official will call interference, but I was pretty happy. They would occasionally get beat long but most of the time it would be on something like this where it ended up being an uncatchable or out of bounds ball.
The Marching Owl Band (MOB) has violins. Yes, violins. And most of them had funny hats. Apparently they also like to make fun of opposing teams and, unfortunately most of my pictures of halftime didn't turn out. They made some jokes about how all the most interesting people from Kansas were fictional and a witch with some flying monkeys chased a girl in a Superman costume and something else. It was some good natured hazing and enjoyable.
There was also a giant (wet) flag that was the size of the football field. I think it had to do with 9/11 or something. I missed the presentation as I was in the restroom and only returned in time to snap this picture.
Here's the crowd waving the wheat as we took our only lead of the game at 14-13. Speaking of getting up and missing things (previous picture) and Kansas TDs, I missed the first TD of the game when I was up getting food. I guess our baseball superstition can carry over to football. The first time my wife got up to go to the bathroom at her first baseball game (during the inexplicable 2003 Royals season), whoever the Royals were playing scored. A superstition was born so we are now only able to get up when the Royals are coming up. So, in the future: no getting up unless the Jayhawks have the ball. She also commented today that a lot of going to this event just felt right. After living in Lawrence for over 10 years, I have to agree that it was cool to recreate a little of that on the road
But, ultimately, besides the bad offense, we just couldn't stop the Rice running game and the option. "Option" is a bit of a misnomer as the QB only kept the ball a couple of times. At least 20 times, he ran out wide, was about to get tackled, and then pitched the ball to Ross who had all sorts of room to run and racked up more than 150 yards. The front seven looked both slow and weak, unable to plug gaps or push the offensive line of a Conference USA team. The defense needs to improve in a hurry or we're going to get killed against the run heavy teams in our conference.
And so, there's the final from Rice Stadium. When the opposing college kicker connects from 56 yards, perhaps you are not fated to win the day. Rice sweeps the series from Kansas and we might be in for another long season.