Two touchdown passes from redshirt junior quarterback Driphus Jackson in the last 19 seconds of the first quarter gave Rice all the momentum it needed.
After throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor with 23 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Fresno State University junior quarterback Brian Burrell threw an interception to sophomore cornerback J.T. Blasingame on Fresno’s first play back. Jackson threw his second touchdown pass in as many plays on the next down, a 69-yard strike to senior wide receiver Mario Hull with four seconds remaining in the quarter.
The two touchdowns took Rice’s lead to 16-3 at the end of the first quarter, and the Owls never looked back. Rice went on to cap its 2014 season with a postseason bowl victory in the Hawai’i Bowl, defeating Fresno State 30-6 Dec. 24.
The win took Rice’s record to 8-5 overall, including winning eight of their last 10. Rice earned its second bowl victory in three years and its 18th win over the last two seasons, the best two-season stretch in school history.
The offense stagnated in the second quarter, but went on to score a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters, while only sacrificing two field goals in the game. It marked the first time since 2011 Rice did not allow a touchdown from the opposing team.
Coming off a 71-36 loss against Louisiana Tech in which they allowed 677 yards of offense, the Owls’ defense looked to rebound against Fresno State, allowing 27 yards through three quarters. Fresno State finished with 93 yards passing on 38 attempts, and Burrell completed 10 of 20 passes for 44 yards and two interceptions. The defense also added four sacks on its way to holding Fresno State to 158 yards and 22 points under its season average.
Senior safety Julius White said the team was out to prove something after the school’s worst defensive performance since allowing 77 points to Louisiana State University in 1977.
“Defensively, everybody had a kind of chip on their shoulder,” White said. “[The Louisiana Tech game] wasn’t the way we wanted to go out in the regular season. We didn’t really play much like ourselves that game, so wemade this game like there was something we had to prove. We needed to make a statement on national television that that’s not the defense that Rice wants to be.”
According to Head Coach David Bailiff, the team saved its best defensive performance for last.
”[It was] probably one of the best defensive performances we’ve had all year,” Bailiff said. “I thought our front four was very disruptive and really thought our secondary was just outstanding. I thought we tackled really well.”
Jackson won the game’s Most Valuable Player award after having his best statistical game of the season, completing 15 of 24 passes for a school bowl-record 318 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers. Jackson also added 41 yards rushing and finished the season with 2,842 yards passing and 24 touchdown passes, good for the third-best mark in Rice single season history.
Senior wide receivers Mario Hull and Jordan Taylor and junior wide receiver Dennis Parks each had a touchdown catch in the game. Parks recorded his first career 100-yard receiving performance, catching five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. In Taylor’s final game, he caught five passes for 61 yards and a score. The senior finished his career with 176 receptions, 2,588 yards and 20 touchdowns. Taylor finished his career third in Rice history in receptions, second in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns.
According to Jackson, his passing statistics were inflated by the play of his wide receivers.
“I had to be on point when it came to reading coverages, but the receivers did a great job of adjusting to balls,” Jackson said. “I get a lot of praise for the touchdown to [Mario Hull], but Mario made a great adjustment to that ball because it was short and he ended up making a play on it. I get a lot of praise for what’s going on, but I’m just doing my one-eleventh and everybody else did their part and it came out the way it was supposed to.”
Bailiff, however, had more praise for the quarterback. Bailiff said Jackson led the team to victory through his play and decision making.
“I thought Driphus did an incredible job of not only managing the game, but at times taking it over,” Bailiff said. “With his big plays and some of the reads he was able to do, we’re really excited he’s coming back next season. It really seemed every time we needed a play Driphus made one for us.”
The bowl victory was Bailiff’s third win in four attempts, and he is now currently tied with Jess Neely for the most bowl wins by a Rice head coach.
Rice will now shift its focus to the offseason and preparing for the 2015 season. The team will lose five starters from this year’s offense and seven from the defense. The team will look to reload around rising senior quarterback Jackson, who will look to build upon his first year starting.