Prospective attorney John Gioffre rose this week in defense of the Rice defense.
The Owls may have been roughed up a time or two in the first five games, but he remembers tougher times. Like his freshman year of 2008, the last time the nose tackle played against Marshall.
Actually, that was a banner year for the Owls, who rode a high-powered offense to a 10-3 season. The Owls downed Marshall 35-10 as the Thundering Herd drove 99 yards for a touchdown but mustered little else the rest of the way.
Gioffre and the Owls face Marshall again at 3 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. A senior political science major who recently took his Law School Admission Test, Gioffre is scheduled to start his 18th consecutive game at nose tackle.
He and his defense are coming off another big game, a 28-6 win over Memphis. A good day was had by all as the Owls surrendered their lowest point total since that 2008 Marshall game. Gioffre picked up a sack, always a bonus for those gladiators on the nose.
"It was the first time we hadn't given up a touchdown since 1995. It's a pretty awesome feeling," he said.
Between the '08 Marshall game and last week's Memphis game, Gioffre and his mates have taken their lumps and yielded more than their share of points - 1,195 in 31 games. That's close to 40 per outing for a majority of a man's college football career.
Yes, Gioffre knows his way to the oxygen supply, the Gatorade bucket and the whirlpool.
The reasons for Rice's defensive struggles have been numerous. For starters, the opposition has been consistently potent.
Check out the 2009 season, in which Rice fell to 2-10. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State came back-to-back. A Navy-East Carolina-Central Florida stretch was no fun, either. And there were all those Conference USA West Division attacks, including a Houston team that jumped to a 59-0 halftime lead.
Depth was a foreign concept, injuries took a toll at times and true freshmen were given key roles by necessity. Gioffre was one of eight true freshmen playing in the Owls' 2008 opener, but the number fell to two this season.
Coach David Bailiff has called this the deepest of his five Rice teams, and the 6-foot-1, 285-pound Gioffre concurs. He should know, as his muscles and joints have borne the brunt of previous depth problems.
"I used to play 60 to 75 snaps a game. Oh, man, it was brutal," Gioffre said. "But now, it's 35-40, maybe 50. That's another reason things are going well on defense."
That's still an up-and-down proposition for the Owls' 4-2-5 defense, though. In consecutive weeks, Baylor's Robert Griffin III went 29-of-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns and Southern Mississippi's Kendrick Hardy ran for 172. Both teams had 33 first downs and more than 650 total yards.
But the highs have been high. More satisfying than the squelching of Memphis was the 24-22 win over Purdue, Rice's first victory over a BCS school in 22 games. There were some huge defensive plays.
"We stopped them on third-and-[short], fourth-and-1 in the third quarter," Gioffre said. "Earlier in the game we held them [to a short field goal]. After that, we held them around our 15-yard line, then blocked a field goal to win."
That block came from weakside linebacker Justin Allen, the team's No. 2 tackler behind strongside 'backer Cameron Nwosu. Veteran defensive end Scott Solomon leads with seven tackles for loss and four sacks, and strong safety Paul Porras leads with five pass breakups.