Despite a very strong defensive effort and a furious late-game rally, the Rice University football team fell to the University of Texas at San Antonio 14-13, done in by a series of crucial errors at critical times that ultimately dropped the team to 0-6.
The Owls received the ball to start the game and opened with a methodical, 13-play drive that was highlighted by a one-handed third-down catch by junior wide receiver James Mayden and finished by a 13-yard touchdown run from redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Stehling. Unfortunately for the Owls, sophomore kicker Hayden Tobola missed the ensuing extra point, which put Rice firmly behind the eight-ball for the remainder of the game and appeared to adversely impact Tobola’s confidence on his kicks later in the game. After a pair of punts, however, the Owls relinquished the lead. Junior Roadrunners wide receiver Josh Stewart broke free on a post route for a 75-yard touchdown catch that put UTSA up 7-6. After this touchdown, the floodgates opened for the Owls. A UTSA punt deflected off redshirt freshman running back Nahshon Ellerbe, resulting in a turnover that produced a Roadrunners touchdown. Tobola missed a 50-yard field goal, and while redshirt senior linebacker Tabari McGaskey stripped sophomore Roadrunners running back Jalen Rhodes of the ball and returned it to the UTSA 38-yard line, the Owls failed to get even a field goal try from the resulting possession.
After halftime, Rice scored on its first offensive possession to bring the score to 14-12. Head coach David Bailiff and the Owls’ coaching staff made a rather head-scratching decision to kick the point after touchdown, rather than attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion. As a result, the score stayed at 14-13 for much of the 3rd and 4th quarters, setting the stage for a chaotic final five minutes of play. The Owls first stuffed Rhodes on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line, then drove the ball 71 yards downfield to set up a potential game-winning 42-yard field goal attempt with 1:27 on the clock. Tobola, however, failed to convert on a kick for the third time in the game. The Owls got the ball back one final time, hoping to give Tobola another chance to redeem himself on another game-winning field goal attempt. While they were able to drive the ball to the UTSA 27-yard line, Stehling was unable to spike the ball before time expired. The entire Owls sideline appeared to believe there was one second left on the clock after Stehling’s spike, but the officials deemed that the clock had run out. As such, the Owls were denied the chance to attempt a 44-yard game-winning field goal and were instead left with another heartbreaking loss
According to Bailiff, this loss this was an extremely difficult one for his team.
“You’re heartbroken for that team in the locker room because they tried so hard and fought,” Bailiff said. “That fourth down stop gave us a chance to get down the field. To clock things out, you’re supposed to have three seconds, and apparently we didn’t have that on the clock, so the game expired.”
McGaskey said that while the loss hurt, he recognized that UTSA played well enough to win.
“That sort of loss definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but you’ve got to give credit to UTSA for coming out and playing hard,” McGaskey said.
For the Owls, this game was one full of missed opportunities and, at times, poor execution. The team’s much-maligned defense held a UTSA offense that only last week put up 55 points and accumulated 532 yards to just 14 points and 334 yards, but this effort went to waste. The two missed field goals and missed extra point were all backbreaking errors, as was gifting UTSA an extra possession deep into Rice territory. All told, though, it is very difficult to win football games when scoring only 13 points, so one has to also look at the poor offensive execution when analyzing Rice’s performance.
Coming off the bye week, the coaching staff was tasked with turning around a dismal start to the season. Bailiff himself said both the coaches and players needed to improve. One game into the second half of the season, we can see the results of the adjustments were mixed at best.
As for positives, the defensive execution was a vast improvement over previous games, and the team was only called for three penalties. Rice still appears stubbornly committed to a horizontal passing game that features many passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. On Saturday, the Owls did integrate more aspects of a vertical passing game, taking some more shots down the field against UTSA.
All of that said, though, Bailiff and his staff continued to make questionable decisions. They, of course, turned down the opportunity to tie the game with a two-point conversion in the second half, instead settling for a 14-13 deficit that would ultimately hold up as the final score.
Almost as notably, Bailiff and his staff sent redshirt junior quarterback Nate German in for Stehling on a few drives, a player who, to this point, has been used exclusively as a running quarterback. That the Owls have rarely thrown the ball with German playing quarterback this season made it rather easy for the Roadrunners to play defense against the obviously one-dimensional offense. The decision to resort to such a predictable offense for the first two downs of several drives in the game forced the Owls into third-and-long situations that simply wasted offensive possessions. Put it all together, and what you had against UTSA was an Owls coaching staff that, despite showing some improvement after the bye week, continues to make seemingly elementary mistakes that are holding back the team.
Bailiff said he and his team will work through their tough start.
“That locker room’s a hurting locker room right now, but they believe in each other, and we’ll work through this,” Bailiff said.
Up next for the Owls is their Homecoming game against Prairie View A&M University, an FCS school that theoretically should not be in Rice’s class. As such, they will present a good opportunity for the Owls to pick up their first win of the season and snap their current streak of futility.
The Owls will next play the Prairie View A&M Panthers (4-2) on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m. at Rice Stadium.