Oct. 4, 2013
Rice and Tulsa have met for 16 consecutive seasons since the two were joined as conference rivals in 1996, but Saturday will see that string come to a close.
The 17th meeting between two of the smallest schools (by enrollment) in the FBS level will be the last, as the Golden Hurricane makes the move to the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
It has been a series that was dominated in the early years by the Owls, who won six of the first seven when the two were in the WAC. It later was defined by the saga of Todd Graham, whose defense led Tulsa to three consecutive wins over Rice before coming to Rice in 2006, then returning to Tulsa as head coach after one season in which he lead the Owls to their first bowl in 45 years, a run that was highlighted by a win at Tulsa.
When the game kicks off at 2:30 on Saturday, Jarett Dillard will be front and center in front of his television, having put in the advance work on his law school studies to create a window to watch the Owls try to snap a six-game losing streak to Tulsa.
The former All-America wide receiver, whose 60 career touchdown receptions remain the NCAA standard by a wide margin, will be hoping that his younger brother Darik and the Owls can walk off the field of H.A. Chapman Stadium with the same feeling he and his teammates enjoyed in 2006, when Rice upset the defending C-USA champs 41-38 in double overtime.
It's a game that still resonates with him today.
"I remember each one of the games with Tulsa," Dillard recalled. "They hit the hardest of any team in C-USA and we always knew we were in for a battle when we played them. There are a lot of games that I can't really recall a lot of specific details, but the Tulsa games have always stuck with me."
Dillard caught a pair of passes for 18 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2005 In a 41-21 Tulsa victory.
One year later, he was in the process of a breakout season that would see him rise from obscurity to become a Biletnikof Award finalist. The Owls were riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, but the test against the reigning conference champs stood to be a greater measuring stick of the team's actual progress.
it was Homecoming for Tulsa, an ironic twist of fate given it was Graham's return to Tulsa (as well as with his eventual return to Tulsa as head coach four months later), but it was the Owls who did most of the early celebrating, taking a 20-7 lead into halftime which included a 65-yard Chase Clement to Dillard touchdown pass. As could be expected of a returning champion playing in front of a home crowd, Tulsa rallied to take a 21-20 lead after holding the Owls without a first down in the third quarter.
Late Dash Dooms Owls
Ja'Terian Douglas turned a stout Rice defensive effort on its ear, bursting free on a 75-yard run late in the fourth quarter to set up the winning score as Tulsa downed Rice 28-24 at H.A. Chapman Stadium in Tulsa on Saturday.
Rice appeared headed for deeper trouble after being forced to punt again, but Andrew Sendejo recovered a fumble on the punt and Chase Clement scored on a short run. After a two-point conversion, Rice held a 28-21 lead.
Tulsa sent the game into overtime, scoring the tying points with 1:19 to play. Rice scored first in overtime, on a second Clement to Dillard pass, which Tulsa answered. On the second possession over overtime, Tulsa was forced to kick a field goal, setting the stage for the Owls passing combination to seized the moment.
"We went back on the field, I was worried that we would only get a field goal as well," Dillard recalled. "All year, it seemed as if we played to the level our competition was playing. I was telling myself there was no way we could to that. Playing with a short field was an advantage for us to be sure. We had the perfect play called, an inside fade, and Chase threw the ball before I even looked for it. I was able to get my feet down and make a move. I really wasn't sure I had made it into the end zone before my teammates were all over me, yelling and screaming."
Dillard was so focused, it did not immediately dawn on him that he had just won the game.
"I really had forgotten at that moment that scoring the touchdown would win the game. We had fought so hard, and I was so overcome with exhaustion because it was such a hard physical game. I remember how quiet it suddenly was in the stadium and as I started to run to the locker room, it dawned on that we really had beaten them," he recalled.
The Owls had won despite being outgained by over 200 yards (568-356) and the fact that Clement had completed just 14 of 37 passes. Three Tulsa fumbles had proven crucial, as had the fact that more than half of Clement's completions had gone to Dillard, who finished the day with eight catches for 137 yards and three scores.
It was yet another in a series of game-changing performances for the sophomore that allowed him five days later to be announced as a finalist for the Biletnikof Award. Dillard and Rice would continue to roll the following two weeks of the season to earn a berth in the New Orleans Bowl, where Dillard's late TD catch vs. Troy allowed him to set the NCAA record by catching at least one TD pass in 13 consecutive games in a season.
It also would be the Owls last win to date vs. Tulsa, but Dillard's final two meetings with the Golden Hurricane were far from mundane affairs.
The following fall, Tulsa and Graham came to Rice Stadium to close out the 2007 season. It was a year that had started slowly for the Owls under new head coach David Bailiff, but over the last quarter of the year, the Rice offense found its footing after James Casey's formidable gifts were added to the options for Clement.
Tulsa once again was leading the conference was headed to the C-USA title game the following week. On yet another cold and wet day, an outmanned Rice squad and Tulsa staged one of the wildest offensive shootouts in school history, before TU could escape with a 48-43 win.
Clement sliced through the Tulsa defense for 601 yards of total offense, connecting on 40 of 66 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns. His total offense total set a conference single-game record at the time, as did his 66 attempts and 84 total offensive plays. His 541 yards passing and 40 completions were Rice single game marks, as were his total for attempts.
Dillard caught six for 89 yards and a touchdown despite withering coverage. Casey took advantage, catching 11 for 110 yards and Joel Armstrong added five for 109.
On the surface, the Owls' 3-9 campaign in2007 left little for most to use to build predictions for 2008, but the members of the team had seen the potential of their offense and spent the offseason eagerly awaiting the chance to pick up where they left off.
"We took a step back for a while in 2007, because it was our third offensive coordinator in as many years," Dillard stated. "It wasn't entirely different than what Major (Applewhite) had us doing in 2006, but Coach (Tom) Herman's system had different terminology and we needed time to get really comfortable. We knew the going into 2008 we were ready to play like we were at the end of '07."
Rice rolled to a pair of opening wins in conference games, but then dropped games at Vanderbilt and Texas while shaking off the impact of Hurricane Ike. A rout over North Texas set the stage for Dillard's final matchup with Tulsa, one that for the first time he felt was the Owls to win.
"Before 2008, I always knew that we had to play our best and Tulsa had to give us some breaks in order for us to win," Dillard said. `But in 2008, I was confident that we had the team to do it no matter what they did."
Clement found Dillard for a 25-yard score in the second quarter to allow him to set the NCAA career record for touchdown receptions and tie the game 14-14. A TU touchdown just before halftime gave the Golden Hurricane a 21-14 lead, but the Owls saw their hopes evaporate in a nightmarish second half as Tulsa scored 21 points in each of the last two quarters on its way to a 63-28 win.
"I remember running off the field and being very upset," Dillard recalled. "That was not my nature after a game. But I knew we had the team that year. In '07 we weren't supposed to win the game, but this was our year. I don't think I have ever been as mad after a game. But most of it was on myself. Early in the game, I had dropped an easy throw from Chase.
"I kept asking myself what was going on," Dillard continued " I told myself on the flight home that I was taking some things for granted and I had to get back to what I did best. So the next practice and for the rest of the year, I started doing extra ball drills. I was not going to let that happen again."
Dillard and the seniors would not lose the remainder of their careers, culminating with a dominant win over Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl.
It closed a glorious chapter in Rice Football history as Dillard moved on to the NFL with a nearly every Rice receiving record, save for the season catch record that Casey grabbed from him after catching 111 passes.
Now the history is being written by a new group of Owls, including his younger brother who once was a fixture on the Rice sidelines at practices. Jarett Dillard was able to see Darik Dillard provide the winning points in Rice's 18-14 win over FAU, adding a 61st Rice touchdown to the Dillard family ledger.
And nothing would make him happier than to see his younger brother coming off the field where he lost his final college game with a win on Saturday.
"I hope Darik and all of them get to have that experience, " Dillard said. "Tulsa's stadium has the fans very close to the action and it is a great atmosphere. I would love to see him and his teammates have the same feeling we had in 2006.
"But no need to take it to double overtime," he added.