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Nelson triggers Rice’s option offense

September 24, 1997

HOUSTON (AP) _ Just looking at his stats, you’d think Chad Nelson is a running back who sneaks in an occasional halfback pass.

``Best non-passing quarterback in America,″ the Rice Owls quarterback says, poking fun at his lack of aerial production. ``I’ve worked on my passing and it’s improved. But what we do is run.″

And run, and run, and run.

Nelson has completed eight of 12 passes in three games this season while rushing 289 yards on a team-high 61 carries. He directs the Owls’ ground-based spread option that ranks third nationally in rushing with 347 yards per game.

Nelson, a senior, threw a 44-yard touchdown pass (the fourth of his career) to Michael Perry in last week’s 40-34 victory over Northwestern, but the Texas Longhorns won’t be worrying too much about his arm on Saturday.

The last time Texas played at Rice was a rainy night in 1994 when Nelson was a freshman. The Owls pulled off a 19-17 upset.

``I remember that every time Texas offense came on the field, it started raining and when we came out it stopped,″ Nelson said. ``We beat them my first year here. I’d like to go out the same way.″

Nelson doesn’t think the Owls need to depend on the weather for another upset.

``Their defense has to be fundamentally sound to stop us,″ Nelson said. ``No one gave us much credit against Northwestern. They’ve got a great defense but we just went out there and exploited their weakness and tried to get the ball outside.″

It’s no secret the Owls’ will try the same approach against the Longhorns.

``Texas has a great interior line so we’ll just try to get the ball outside and force their defensive backs to make one-on-one tackles,″ Nelson said. ``I think it will be a good, close game that will come down to the fourth quarter.″

Nelson has 1,751 career rushing yards, most ever for Owl quarterbacks. He ranks No. 5 on the all-time rushing list and needs 166 yards the rest of the year to move into the No. 2 spot behind all-time leader Trevor Cobb (4,948 yards in 1989-92).

``I’m just feeling very comfortable with the option,″ Nelson said. ``I know what the coaches want when they call a play. I know what they’re trying to do.″

Rice coach Ken Hatfield thinks Nelson is the best running quarterback in the nation this year.

``The one thing that has kept Chad humble is his (erratic) passing,″ Hatfield added. ``He’s gotten better. Those balls he threw against Northwestern, you could not have asked for better.″

Benji Wood is the team’s leading rusher with 330 yards on 42 carries and Perry is third with 278 yards on 42 carries.

The Owls jettisoned part of their offense after their season-opening loss to Air Force.

``We just tried to do too much,″ Nelson said. ``We did that last year and had to cut back. This year, the coaches thought with a lot of people back we could expand the playbook. It just didn’t work.″

The Owls returned to the simplicity of the option and Nelson expects them to remain with the spread even if they fall behind the favored Longhorns.

``You can still score easily,″ Nelson said. ``Against Northwestern, we had two-something minutes left and we got a field goal (with six seconds left in the first half).

``We just have to stick with it. I’ve noticed in the past when we get down, we start throwing the ball and give up the interceptions and get blown out. We can come back even if we’re down.

``The pass will be open but if you’re down 14, the defensive backs will be looking for the deep pass and that’s when the option is even better to run because the secondary is so vulnerable to the run.″

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