It has now gone on long enough to be considered a routine and so quarterback Dan Persa laughed as we approached. He knew, once again, we were there to check on his health and so, even before the question was asked, he assured, "I'm all right. I'm all right."
And what happened last Saturday when Nebraska's Eric Martin pile drove him into the ground?
"I strained some ligaments in my neck, kind of strained my trap(ezius muscle) and kind of bruised my upper ribs."
Which left him feeling how?
"I had this burning sensation in my neck, in my shoulder. It just felt, every time I tried to move, to throw, it'd just lock up. But I'm fine now."
MIX AND MATCH:
One of the newer wrinkles to the 'Cat defense is that wave of linebackers they now throw at their opponent. Last week, in their upset of the Huskers, they opened with sophomore Damien Proby in the middle and junior David Nwabuisi at the Will and redshirt-freshman Collin Ellis at the Sam, but rotated in throughout the afternoon were seniors Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson and redshirt freshman Chi Chi Ariguzo. "What we were trying to do, number one, is keep them fresh. We knew it was going to be a physical game," explained their position coach, Randy Bates. "Then number two, having younger guys outside in that environment, is mentally draining, and so we once again were trying to keep them as fresh as we could."
"Definitely it helped," said Nwabuisi. "The first four drives at Nebraska we were switching out every series. So Coach Bates is definitely trying to keep us fresh every time we come out there, making sure that our minds are fresh, that we're not too frustrated, that we flush whatever just happened, that we go out there with a good attitude and that we know what we're doing. We talk about it on the sidelines, more than one person is seeing the same plays, we talk about what we're seeing. So it's definitely helpful to have guys like Bryce and Proby, all three of us rotating out and talking about what's going on in the box."
Of all those in that sextet, Nwabuisi is the one challenged the most. For he takes over in the middle when Proby rests and, he admits with a chuckle, "There's been times when I've run out there and stood at the Mike position and Proby has to give me a little nudge to get over to Will. But other than that, I pretty much know where I'm going now after a couple games."
Any problems moving back and forth?
"Luckily, I'm an older guy, so I know every position pretty well. I know Mike and Will really well, I know Sam kind of well. It's tough. You've just got to get natural at it. I know I'm doing things I'm not natural at right now at Will. But at the end of the day you've just got to read keys. It's still football, it's still in the box, you've got to read the same keys, it's just different tendencies over there."
Are they really the same keys at Mike and Will?
"Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, it depends on the formation and the kind of team we're playing. It can be a little different. But it all comes back to basics. You've just got to trust your eyes. Your eyes have to be in the right place."
NOT TO WORRY:
Says Bates, "David's about as bright as they come football-wise, so his ability to go from one to the other is incredibly good. That's why he's the flex guy."
TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT:
The 'Cats, we all know, struggled through a five-game losing streak, which left them cornered, embattled and desperately fighting to keep their bowl hopes alive. They have managed that for two weeks now with their wins at Indiana and Nebraska and that led us to wonder if they had a little more giddy-up in their git-go as they practiced for their Saturday date with Rice. "I think we've had good energy all year," said their coach, Pat Fitzgerald. "Even when we were going through a tough stretch, I still felt the guys came with a pretty positive approach to what we were trying to do and what we were trying to accomplish. Maybe the energy level is at the high water mark level that we've had all year. But I think the guys have been really consistent in their approach."
But now that they have, to use one of his terms, empirical evidence that they can succeed, is their confidence higher?
"Yeah. Yeah," said Fitzgerald. "If nothing else, it boosts morale. They went for five weeks having everyone tell them how bad they were, how our entire coaching staff couldn't win, couldn't coach them, all that (stuff). If you listen to that stuff, that's like putting 50 more pounds on your shoulders. I think they handled it well. I don't think they did that. I don't think they were distracted by the negativity. Now the challenge is just the opposite, 180 degrees opposite. Everybody's been telling them how special they are, la, la, la, you're great. No we're not. We just played the way we're capable of for most of the game, not all of it. But. Some encouraging signs from the last two weeks moving forward."
NOT TO WORRY:
Says Persa, "It (the Nebraska win) definitely gave us a lot of confidence. But we started fresh on Monday and we're not worrying about what happened last weekend."
Rice lands at Ryan Field with a 3-6 record and this in common with the 'Cats: with three games remaining, it too is trying to keep its bowl hopes breathing. . . The wild card on the Owl roster is running back Turner Petersen, a former high school quarterback whom, says Fitzgerald, "They're using in a lot of unique ways." He has a team-leading five touchdowns, which is the same as their 6-foot-5, 260-pound receiver Vance McDonald. . . But what is most-notable about the Owls is the way they go about their business. On offense, says Fitzgerald, "They're up-tempo. They're going to be a glance team. They're going to look over, try to see what you're going to do." On defense, they blitz some 40 percent of the time. . . The Owls' up-tempo style is a big reason 'Cat defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz will again not be in the booth but on the sideline, which is where he has been the last two Saturdays. "With your communication going from the box to the boundary to field, with the coordinator on the sideline, you take one step out of it," explains Fitzgerald. "Then we've also got an alternative signal system when those no-huddle teams try to steal your signals. So a little counter-espionage, I guess. Cool.". . . When discussing Nwabuisi's double duty, Fitzgerald remembers, "Early in my career I did the same thing. I think it made me a better player in the long run. I had a better feel and grasp of the concepts defensively.". . . Owl defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach was the secondary coach at Michigan State in '05 and '06, so is familiar with the 'Cat approach. . . There is also this relationship between Fitzgerald and Owl head coach David Bailiff. "Seems ourselves or Rice," says Fitzgerald, "either win or tie for the No. 1 graduation rate in the country each year, so we get a chance to spend a lot of time together."
AND FINALLY, WHAT'S IN A NAME:
William Marsh Rice made his fortune in real estate and railroad development and cotton trading and then, in 1891, decided to charter a school in Houston that would be created at his death. He now started to put his money aside for just that purpose, and that is how the matter stood when his valet found him dead in bed in September of 1900. But here, unexpectedly, a large check made out to Rice's New York lawyer appeared and, after it was deemed suspicious, an investigation was launched. That lawyer, one Albert T. Patrick, claimed that Rice had changed his will and left the bulk of his fortune to him. The District Attorney of New York, who had started the investigation, determined otherwise, eventually claiming that Patrick had bribed the valet into chloroforming Rice as he slept. That valet, who cooperated with the DA, was not charged, but Patrick was convicted of murder in 1901.
On November 23, 1912, the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Letters, Science and Art opened.