March 27, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
In many ways, albeit for different reasons altogether, the Blue-Gray Game was long overdue for both Taylor McHargue and Vance McDonald.
As a redshirt freshman quarterback, McHargue spent the 2009 season operating in the shadows, neither getting scout team reps nor mounting a serious challenge to join the active roster with a glut of signal callers clogging the depth chart. Before he finally gained the opportunity to put his skill set on display Saturday at Historic Rice Stadium, whispers about his ability to pass and run with aplomb were unsubstantiated.
For McDonald, his upcoming sophomore season promises to be far more fulfilling than a freshman campaign in which he was woefully underutilized at tight end. With a newly minted and enthusiastically creative offensive coordinator - David Beaty - in place, McDonald will get a shot to showcase his dazzling combination of power and grace.
In a glorified scrimmage where frequent substitutions made standing out particularly difficult, McHargue and McDonald were hard to miss, both playing instrumental roles as the Blue defeated the Gray 47-41.
"I know the tight ends are really happy with the offensive system because we get a lot of looks," McDonald said with a smile and after producing five catches for 69 yards including a 21-yard touchdown reception. "We're having a lot of fun out here, definitely.
"The tempo is way faster, but structurally (the offense) is actually a lot easier than it was last year. There's a lot there, but it's not like it's really hard to learn at all."
Given that a dozen different Owls recorded at least one reception, one can only imagine the impact McDonald will have once the rotation is whittled. He made a splendid over-the-shoulder grab of a Taylor Cook pass for a 22-yard gain that set up a 46-yard Chris Boswell field goal, and revealed nimble feet after snagging the ball on a crossing route before beating defenders to the sideline and tiptoeing inside the pylon.
Cook (12-for-18, 111 yards) was on the front end of that scoring play. McHargue completed three scoring strikes to three different receivers. Freshman Klein Kubiak
opened the scoring for the Blue with a 13-yard touchdown grab on a fade pattern late in the first quarter. On his third series, McHargue led the offense on a 10-play, 74-yard drive, converting a fourth-and-1 with a nine-yard run and capping the march with a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior Corbin Smiter
. McHargue didn't waste time on his next series, finding Derek Clark
wide open behind the defense for a 65-yard score that came on the first snap of the drive.
McHargue impressed by air (8-for-11, 126 yards) and by land (10 carries for 25 yards), where his yardage total was damaged by a handful of fumbles. Of greater significance was the brisk pace established by the offense, which had struggled with consistency throughout the spring.
"The best thing we did was get off to a fast start," McHargue said. "Sometimes it takes us a little bit to get into that tempo, but we came out and got it started in the first couple drives. That was a big key for us, and trying to maintain that throughout is what's going to lead to wins for us next year."
Whereas McDonald is entrenched as a starter despite being overlooked as a freshman, McHargue is battling Cook and incumbent Nick Fanuzzi, sidelined with an undisclosed injury, for the starting role. He created a buzz with his efforts in practice last season, but Saturday represented a chance for McHargue to impress others besides his staff and teammates.
"It felt good," McHargue said. "Getting out here and getting in some live action is very satisfying."
Rice coach David Bailiff was satisfied that sophomore tailback Sam McGuffie, bottled up for just 10 yards on seven carries, exploded for a breathtaking 63-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth. Doubly pleasing was the downfield block made by Clark, reflecting a teaching point of the staff for the receivers to show more physicality via blocking.
"It was good to see Sam bust the long one there at the end because I know he really (wanted to make an impact)," Bailiff said. "That's just him. He's driven to do something special."
Defensively the Owls were awarded points for forcing negative plays, turnovers, and three-and-outs. Sophomore defensive end Jared Williams recovered the lone fumble of the afternoon while senior linebacker Justin Hill finished with 3.5 tackles and a sack. Redshirt freshmen safeties Tolu Akinwumi and Tanner Leland combined for eight tackles, include two for lost yardage (both by Akinwumi). With the Owls missing veterans Travis Bradshaw and Joseph Leary in their secondary, several youngsters were pressed into duty and presented chances to shine.
Junior safety Xavier Webb finished with a game-high five tackles while junior cornerback Chris Jammer added four. Williams had 2.5 tackles. Junior tailback Tyler Smith led the Owls with 53 yards on seven carries while sophomore tailback Charles Ross rushed for 27 yards and a score.