Taylor McHargue is the first Rice QB to lead the Owls to back-to-back bowl seasons.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sept. 22, 2012 was the day Taylor McHargue outgained Johnny Manziel by more than 215 yards.Yes, there are all sorts of qualifiers. Texas A&M was killing South Carolina State and Manziel donned a ballcap at halftime of that 70-14 mess. Rice needed McHargue to go the distance against a high-scoring Marshall team, and lost when he failed to do so.Nonetheless, there was a whole lot of flashy quarterbacking taking place 97 miles apart on a sticky Texas day. Manziel and McHargue combined for 813 total yards, with the Rice QB gaining 467.Marshall won its first-ever game in the Lone Star State, 54-51 in two overtimes. Herd players know they escaped, and left with all the respect for the Owls' quarterback.That respect has carried into this week, as Marshall is paired with Rice at the Conference USA championship game, back at Rice Stadium. Kickoff is at noon EST Saturday, with the game airing on ESPN2.Yes, Thundering Herd defensive players had to relive the game in video study early this week. They saw McHargue throw touchdown passes of 43, 31 and 50 yards. They also saw him run for a 43-yard touchdown that drew the Owls to within 41-38.And they saw the Manziel-esque 45-yard run that was headed to the end zone and a Rice victory, but ended in McHargue injuring his shoulder short of the goal line. McHargue's absence and a Rice false start helped rescue the Herd.Fourteen-plus months later, several Herd defenders have painful memories of how McHargue befuddled them for 58 minutes, 40 seconds."That was a crazy game," said Herd defensive end Alex Bazzie. "And I remember him running down there, getting ready to dive into the end zone and the game would have ended right there. Instead, he fell short and that's what took us to overtime."The thing is, McHargue had good but not outrageous stats last year. He did run for 11 touchdowns, but threw for only 12 and averaged 239.7 yards per game.
He has thrown for 16 TDs this year but has run for just five, and his total yardage had stepped back to 208.9 yards per game. His first run of the season was a biggie, a 57-yarder against, yes, Texas A&M.But he has become the second Rice QB to top 2,000 passing yards in two seasons, and the first to lead the team to consecutive bowl berths. As with Rice's large senior class, he continues to shine in all the intangibles."Outside of the game, he's stepped up in his leadership role," said Jordan Taylor, the Owls' leading receiver. "He's just so much more aware of what's going on with pressures and blitzes. He has immensely improved, and his throwing has improved."And he has a sturdy running game behind him. Sure, McHargue has netted 432 yards on the ground and can still improvise, but he also has 1,143-yard rusher Charles Ross and others to hand off to."He's a big guy," McHargue said of Ross. "He's every bit of 230, 235 [pounds]. He just wears on teams; by the third or fourth quarter, teams are tired of tackling him."
McHargue does not see another 54-51 game on Saturday. He doesn't see a lot of 40-yard zigzags against the retooled Herd defense."Honestly, it's a different Marshall team than last year," he said. "They're playing a lot better defense this year. [Marshall quarterback Rakeem] Cato's got the offense operating effectively; they were powerful on offense last year and it turned into a shootout."We're prepared for that if we have to, but our defense is also playing better. I don't think we're expecting a shootout."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.