With about 24 hours left before kickoff of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Rice University head football coach David Bailiff and Air Force Academy head coach Troy Calhoun addressed the news media at the Omni Hotel in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.
“This has been an unbelievable experience that both teams will remember, and the memories will last for a lifetime,” Bailiff said. Both he and Calhoun thanked sponsor Bell Helicopter and the Armed Forces Bowl staff for the work they’ve put into making this a great event for their teams and fans.
The coaches noted how very similar the Rice and Air Force football programs are.
“We feel extremely fortunate to be involved in a game where there’s another school that’s completely committed to young people when it comes to the academic part of it,” Calhoun said. “And certainly their growth as young men and young women, and that’s pretty neat what they have done at Rice and on the football part of it, too. What a great job David and his staff have been able to really build within that football program.”
“I think it is going to be a fabulous football game, playing the Air Force Academy with the type of young men they have,” Bailiff said. “They are young men that when they graduate here, they are going to go protect this country. I think our players at Rice are going into premed or becoming engineers; they are very similar young men with high goals, just not for this game but for the rest of their lives.”
It was also pointed out that Bailiff and Calhoun coach conduct and respect. Bailiff cited that in a story from last night after the two teams had dinner at a local steakhouse.
“I tell you what has been remarkable,” Bailiff said. “Just when you’re sitting in a restaurant in Fort Worth and you see the Air Force Academy football team walking down the road and you see the Rice football team walking with them; I think they realize they are similar types of young men. And it’s something you really don’t see a lot, where you have two opposing teams that are able to walk down the street. I don’t know that there’s a lot of other bowl games that that could happen in.”
“There are similar guys on these teams,” Rice junior quarterback Taylor McHargue said. “I was recruited by Air Force. A friend of mine who plays there, [senior wide receiver] Drew Coleman, was recruited by Rice. So it’s similar guys, which is why it’s so easy for us to hang out together and talk to them. It’s easy when you get around them to have a conversation.”
There was Xs and Os talk, with a lot of the focus being on how Rice will have to defend against the Falcons’ second-in-the-nation rushing offense and use of the option play.
“To do really well against this offense, you have to find a balance between being an instinctive football player and being really assignment-sound,” said Rice senior defensive end Jared Williams. “You have to have your assignment taken care of, but you also have to be able to make a play on somebody else if needed. The extra practice time has helped us find that balance, but we know it’s going to be much different in the game. So we’ve tried to prepare for that mentally.”
Rice does have a size advantage heading into Saturday’s game.
“The size thing, you just gotta really trust your techniques,” Air Force defensive lineman Nick DiJulio said. “Following your assignments is really important. It’s not something we focus on week to week, because we usually face guys who are bigger than we are. It’s not something we can let get into our heads, because we can’t do much about it. We play efficient, we try to play smart and that helps us.”
“I was laughing, because I think that’s the first time we’ve ever heard that,” McHargue said. “They’re used to playing undersized. They use leverage well. But we’re going to rely on our offensive line. They’ve done a great job for us all season, and we expect the same this week.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 10:45 a.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“It’s cool. It’s bowl season, so people will wake up Saturday morning, turn on ESPN and have us on,” Williams said. “This game, specifically, is also being broadcast worldwide to the military; it’s great exposure for Rice football.”