PEERING INTO a tunnel from outside Rice Stadium, I noticed a sign that told players what they were in for over the next few hours. The banner read something like, "Heat Advisory; temperatures on the field can top 100 degrees."
It's September in Houston, and the TV folks wanted the game at 2:30 p.m. Central. Didn't take The Weather Channel to figure out it just might be hot and muggy.
Perhaps the sign was a ploy to psych out the visiting Marshall team Saturday, give the host Rice Owls a little advantage. And at first guess, the Owls should have enjoyed an edge to some degree - summer has broken in Huntington and Thundering Herd players have enjoyed several fall-like practices.
But because of a supreme coaching effort by Doc Holliday and staff, any such advantage was negated - even reversed.
Yes, the last paragraph was crafted with the sole intention of making you, the reader, spew coffee in random directions.
After watching their team's defense yield more than 600 total yards for the second time in four games, Herd fans are growing disgruntled with coordinator Chris Rippon. Watching the Herd play not to lose in the final four minutes was tough to take. "Pooch" kickoffs should have gone the way of the Snyder administration.
But there should be no criticism of the Herd's offensive line, which bulldozed the way for three running backs to run for a combined 353 yards and six touchdowns. If they sought redemption after the loss to Ohio, they earned it.
And that unit was ready to play as many overtimes as it took.
"I thought we went out in the second half, and I thought we were in good shape," said Herd coach Doc Holliday. "I don't think conditioning was a problem ..."
Hey, did someone mention conditioning? Since the Herd convened for preseason camp, a few players have, lauding the summer program of strength and conditioning coach Joe Miday.
Offensive guard Alex Schooler, a fourth-year junior, told me earlier this month that he did more running in the summer than he ever has - 110-yard runs, 300s, stadium steps, 40-yard sprints, you name it, followed by many a good night's sleep.
Oh, did it ever pay off Saturday.
First, look at that maligned Marshall defense, which looked helpless at times against quarterback/escape artist Taylor McHargue. Not sure when the last time a QB ripped a Marshall defense for 300 passing yards and 150 on the ground, but McHargue was making his best case for offensive player of the year, to say nothing of the week.
Herd defenders needed a big play down the stretch, and had enough in the tank to make several.
When McHargue ran his last 47 yards to the Marshall 2 with 1:20 left and the game at 41-38, the Herd was in a world of hurt. A score probably meant Rakeem Cato would have to direct a 75-yard touchdown drive with 40-something seconds left. (Rice's Chris Boswell would have launched the kickoff halfway to Dallas.)
On first down, Turner Petersen could only pick up half of those two yards, with tackles Jarquez Samuel and Steve Dillon getting credit for the stop. After Petersen's fateful false start, backup QB Driphus Jackson had no chance of running in a keeper from the 6.
On third down, Rice opted for the chip-shot field goal and overtime - a winning result for the Herd.