Playing at home for the first time in a month, the Rice University football team was defeated by sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and Western Kentucky University, snapping a five-game home winning streak and dropping the Owls to 2-3 (1-1) on the season in a 49-10 loss.
The Hilltoppers got the ball to open the game and the Owls’ defense promptly forced a three-and-out, after which Rice would march down the field and strike first with a field goal. The lead, however, was short-lived. Western Kentucky would go on to score four touchdowns on its next five possessions, while the Owls’ next five drives yielded two punts, two lost fumbles and an interception.
A game with a promising beginning quickly turned awry for the home team. By the time redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was benched in the second quarter in favor of junior backup Tyler Stehling, the team trailed 28-3 and would do little the rest of the game to decrease the deficit.
In the first-ever meeting between the Conference USA schools, Rice was outgained in total yardage, possessed the ball four minutes fewer than the Hilltoppers, and gained nine fewer first downs than their opponent. While the Owls were unable to force a turnover, they committed five of their own, off of which Western Kentucky scored 21 points. The Rice defense faced an NFL-caliber quarterback for the second straight week, and proved not to be up to the task again. Doughty threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns in a typically strong performance.
Head Coach David Bailiff, who expressed concern following last week’s 70-17 loss to Baylor University about putting the big loss behind his team, said his team was not ready to play the Hilltoppers, and took the blame for it.
“We didn’t play very [well] today, and that’s on me,” Bailiff said. “I didn’t have those guys ready to go. It’s my job to make sure the offense is ready, the defense is ready, and the special teams is ready.”
According to Bailiff, the Owls’ turnovers and poor tackling on defense exemplified unusually poor play, and that the team would need to return to form soon.
“We have more turnovers already this year than all of last season,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to stop that. We have to tackle defensively. We’ve had more missed tackles in the last two games than in the first three. The formula for success has always been take care of the football, get points at the end of drives offensively — we’re not doing that. You just can’t win football games this way.”
In years past, the Owls have gained a reputation as a disciplined team that does not commit many penalties. Bailiff said this year’s team has not been playing like it has in recent years.
“We had eight penalties, and that’s not who we are,” Bailiff said. “We’ve been one of the least penalized teams in Conference USA since I’ve been here. Some of them were late. We need to work on those. It’s not who we are, and it’s not how we’re going to do this.”
According to Bailiff, spectators should not to read too much into his decision to bench Jackson after the quarterback turned the ball over on consecutive drives in the second quarter.
“I was just trying to stimulate the offense,” Bailiff said. “Driphus [Jackson] is our starter. He’ll be right back here as our starting quarterback. [Benching Jackson] was just to rally the troops and throw the ball down the field.”
Rice will next face Florida Atlantic University, who are 1-3 overall, but 1-0 in Conference USA play. The two teams last faced off in 2013, when Rice was able to pull out an 18-14 home victory. While FAU redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson sustained an injury in the team’s second game of the season, FAU boasts a pair of running backs in sophomore Greg Howell and junior Jay Warren that average above five yards per carry.
Following the loss to Western Kentucky, Bailiff said the team needs to turn the page and focus on winning out the remainder of the schedule.
“We have to get better,” Bailiff said. “We have great seniors in here and we have some great leaders on this team. We’re not going to let it go the wrong way; it’s not going to happen. There’s nobody left on our schedule that we can’t beat. We’re going to expect winning, and it’s what’s going to get done.”
The Owls will look to halt their two-game losing streak in a road matchup against FAU at 1:30 p.m. in Boca Raton, Florida.