Led by 107 rushing yards and three touchdowns from sophomore running back Andy Davidson, the Army triple option offense proved to be too much for the Rice University football team as the Black Knights handed the Owls their second loss of the season with a 31-14 victory. In retrospect, however, the game feels meaningless, as sophomore Army cornerback Brandon Jackson, who started the game for the Black Knights, died in a car crash hours after the game concluded.
As for the game, the Owls received the opening kickoff and struck quickly. Senior quarterback Tyler Stehling connected with senior tight end Connor Cella on a 64-yard touchdown on a post route, giving the Owls a 7-0 lead just one minute into the game. Unfortunately for the Owls, that would be their only score of the first half. Army’s defense allowed the Rice offense to cross midfield just once more in the remainder of the half. On the other side of the ball, Army reached the end zone three times in their first four possessions, using an effective rushing attack to head into halftime up 21-7. Although the Owls would cut the deficit in half on sophomore running back Austin Walter’s 37-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the Black Knights ensured that they would get no closer by finishing the game off with 10 unanswered points.
The Owls were outgained in total yardage 414-289, lost the turnover battle 2-0 and earned just 12 first downs the entire game. Most notably, however, they were unable to control the clock, maintain drives or get their defense off the field. Army possessed the ball for 40 minutes of the game, running their triple option offense nearly to perfection.
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee said he was disappointed with the way the team performed in the tough loss.
“They played better than us,” Ellerbee said. “Army’s a disciplined team, and they played more disciplined than us. We just didn’t play as well as we should’ve played. We as a team have to be better, have to be more accountable.”
Cella said the offense, which sputtered aside from two big plays in the game, needed to perform better.
“Army’s a good team [and] they came to play and we didn’t,” Cella said. “Offensively, we didn’t have a good week of practice, and you could see it on the field. At some times it looked like we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Given that the Owls were able to beat Army at home last year on a last-minute touchdown, this result represented a step backwards. According to head coach David Bailiff, the team has been unable to execute during their first two games of the season.
“We c-ame here and expected to win,” Bailiff said. “They won those battles that we need to win to beat an option team. Offensively we’re just way too inconsistent. There’s times out there when we should be having big plays. You’ve got to become consistent, [be] able to move the chains.”
After losing two road games to open the season, the Owls will now shift their attention to No. 21 Baylor University, who they will host this week in their home opener. Although the Bears’ football program has been rocked by a sexual assault scandal that is under NCAA investigation and has cost former head coach Art Briles his job, they remain a formidable component. The Owls will have their hands full against a team that beat them 70-17 just a year ago.
The Owls’ football players, however, are more concerned with improving their preparation and execution than they are with any particular opponent at the moment. Ellerbee, for instance, said the team needs to be more attentive to its coaches and prepare more thoroughly for its games.
“[We need to] pull up our shirts, and we need to work,” Ellerbee said. “[As] players, we need to play. Coaches will need to coach. [Our] coaches have had success before — they won the conference championship in 2013. As players, we talk too much. It’s got to be about the action, and not about the talk.”
Time is ticking for the Owls to right the ship. Though their full-time Conference USA schedule will not open until next week, the upcoming game against Baylor has them staring squarely in the face of an 0-3 start to the season. Though there are many games to be played, an 0-3 start would greatly damage the Owls’ effort to reach the six wins they need to return to a bowl game this season.
After the game, however, tragedy struck. According to the USA Today, Army’s Brandon Jackson was killed in a single car crash across the Hudson River from the West Point campus at around 2 a.m. Police are currently investigating the incident.
Rice will look for its first win of the season during its home opener against No. 21 Baylor on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at home in Rice Stadium.