Rice University football again failed to protect its home turf as it fell to Florida Atlantic University 42-25 on Saturday for its fourth home loss of the season. The loss dropped Rice to 1-8 on the season and 0-6 in Conference USA.
Prior to the game, ESPN ran a story referring to the game between the Conference USA rivals as “The Pillow Fight of the Century” because each team came into the game with just one victory. Rice’s only win was a 65-44 victory over Prairie View A&M University and FAU’s only victory came against Southern Illinois University in its first game of the season.
Rice got off to a hot start after receiving a short punt from FAU. The home team drove 56 yards down the field to score the game’s first touchdown, a 13 yard pass to freshman receiver Kylen Granson. The 7-0 advantage was Rice’s only lead of the game. After a pair of punts, FAU got its offense moving. Two deep balls from sophomore quarterback Jason Driskel put the visiting Owls at the Rice one yard line, and a short touchdown run tied the game at 7. Then, when a short Rice punt gave FAU the ball at midfield, the visitors took just one minute to add another touchdown, this time on a 33-yard pass.
Rice tied the game again in the second quarter, but FAU responded with a 67-yard drive to retake the lead 21-14. The visitors retained the advantage for the remainder of the game. FAU relied on big plays in the second half, scoring on an 84 yard pass and a 66 yard run. Rice managed a touchdown and field goal of its own, but the Owls never came within ten points after the midpoint of the third quarter.
According to head coach David Bailiff, the defeat was a crushing one.
“It was a disappointing loss once again,” Bailiff said. “It was a game that we thought if we played well, we could win.”
For the sixth time this season, the Owls allowed more than 40 points in a game. They have allowed fewer than 30 points just once this season. Bailiff said the defense has been particularly hurt by injuries this season.
“Defensively, there were too many mistakes and too many big plays,” Bailiff said. “Our biggest issue there is depth right now. We’re just beat up. We had some new guys playing new positions. They did the best they could do on a short week.”
Rice currently has 14 players out for the season with injuries and 11 more missed Saturday’s game due to short-term ailments. The team has started eight different offensive line combinations in nine games this season, leaning on players with little experience against Division I competition to protect senior quarterback Tyler Stehling. According to Bailiff, the team’s health problems have greatly affected its performance.
“We’ve had a hard time being consistent and we’ve had a hard time staying healthy,” Bailiff said. “Those aren’t two things that help you. We’re all doing our best. We’ve won one game this year. We’re a better football team than that.”
Rice will look to prove Bailiff right when it travels to Charlotte to face off against the University of North Carolina, Charlotte on Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will not be broadcast on television.