Rice quarterback Tom Stewart tries to get up as Texas linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch steps over him in the first half Saturday. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Why does Texas play Rice? Well, because it’s easy

Posted September 15th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Easy is when you score the first four times you have the ball and on eight of your 10 full possessions. Easy is sitting your starting quarterback with three minutes to go in the third quarter. Easy is everybody plays.
  • This one, to no one's surprise, was over almost as soon it was under way. After all, by the time the game was 24 minutes old, Texas had four touchdowns and Rice had one first down.
  • "That's a heckuva football team on that other sideline," Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said. "If I had to pinpoint any one quality about Texas, it would be their athleticism. They are an athletic group with great length and great skill."

HOUSTON — JFK had it backward.

When the president adlibbed during his ambitious 1962 speech at Rice Stadium about going to the moon, he slipped in a catchy phrase on the fly and posed the question, “Why does Rice play Texas?” The president should have queried, “Why does Texas play Rice?”

We learned why Saturday night in a 48-13 blowout by the Longhorns.

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While the charismatic JFK, in perhaps his most inspiring address ever on that steamy October day almost six decades ago, said the underdog Owls play the Longhorns because it’s hard and it’s challenging, the tables seem to be turned for the visiting team.

Texas plays Rice because it’s, well, easy.

And the Longhorns made it look easy.

Texas wide receiver Jake Smith (16) pulls the ball in as he runs to the end zone for a score against Rice Owls in the first quarter of the game during an NCAA football game at NRG Stadium in Houston Texas on Saturday, September 14, 2019. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Easy is when you score the first four times you have the ball and on eight of your 10 full possessions. Easy is sitting your starting quarterback with three minutes to go in the third quarter. Easy is everybody plays.

And the 12th-ranked Longhorns (2-1) will need some easy because the Big 12 is suddenly taking on a new, hard look of validation with non-conference wins Saturday by Kansas State, West Virginia, TCU and, yes, even Kansas over SEC, Big Ten and ACC teams. And there’s always forever-defending champion Oklahoma. The Big 12, which opens next week, looks a lot more potent than it did a week ago.

The remaining schedule for 2-1 Texas just became a little more difficult.

So why does Texas play — and crush — Rice?

Texas running back Keaontay Ingram (26) runs into the end zone for a score against Rice Owls cornerback Andrew Bird (15) in the second half during an NCAA football game at NRG Stadium in Houston Texas on Saturday, September 14, 2019. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Because it helps the Longhorns emotionally get over a stinging loss to LSU.

Because it lets second-stringers like wideouts Malcolm Epps, Jordan Pouncey and Marcus Washington, linebacker Juwan Mitchell, quarterback Casey Thompson and center Rafiti Ghirmi gain valuable game reps.

Because it cleanses Keaontay Ingram’s bruised psyche after a dropped touchdown pass the week before.

Or just because.

Hey, if SEC teams can load up on cupcakes, why can’t Texas have a little dessert once in a while? If the Longhorns can take out their frustrations on an 0-3 Owls team that Texas has now beaten in 42 of their last 43 meetings, why shouldn’t they? The Horns, by the way, may still be peeved about that shocking upset at Rice Stadium 25 years ago because this time, they played to the standard they hope to create.

This one, to no one’s surprise, was over almost as soon it was underway. After all, by the time the game was 24 minutes old, Texas had four touchdowns and Rice had one first down.

That bleak picture for the hosts didn’t get a whole lot better as Sam Ehlinger shredded the Owls secondary for 279 yards and three touchdowns, two to freshman Jake Smith. He completed all but four of his 27 passes, continuing his masterful season.

Saturday night at NRG Stadium, Rice certainly cured what ailed ’em.

Even the Texas secondary got fixed — OK, it wasn’t much of a threat — against an Owls bunch that completed only 12 passes, just five through three quarters when this thing was decided.

Texas coach Tom Herman looks on during warm-ups before a game against Rice at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sept. 14, 2019. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
“That’s a heckuva football team on that other sideline,” Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said. “If I had to pinpoint any one quality about Texas, it would be their athleticism. They are an athletic group with great length and great skill.”

And a short memory.

The Longhorns put the narrow loss to LSU in their rear-view mirror and took care of the business at hand. That’s what elite teams do.

There was no bigger example of that than Ingram, who rebounded in a big way with 74 yards and two touchdowns.

Tom Herman made certain Ingram didn’t sulk for long. The coach gave him the ball the first five plays of the game, all the better to heal some wounds from the LSU defeat. It was on purpose.

“Coach wanted me to get in the flow,” Ingram said. “It showed they trust in me.”

They’re building trust in themselves, one step at a time.

As for healing, running back Daniel Young made his first appearance of the season as well, coming back from his high ankle sprain in a cameo appearance.

Texas may well need all hands on deck for next week’s home game against surprising Oklahoma State, a long-time thorn in the Longhorns’ collective sides with five consecutive wins in Austin by an average of 12 points. It hopes to have back top receiver Collin Johnson and nickel back B.J. Foster, both of whom sat out with a hamstring injury, as well as center Zach Shackelford, who limped off with a foot injury that may require an MRI, and linebacker Joe Ossai from a shoulder injury.

“Coach Herman talked all week about how elite teams play at an elite level every single game,” Smith said. “We don’t play down to an opponent or up to an opponent.”

For Texas and everyone else in the Big 12, except maybe OU, it figures to be a rugged path. Pending the outcome of the Texas Tech-Arizona late game, the league stood a robust 22-4 as the Longhorns prepare to begin conference play.

Easy does it.

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