The Rice Owls football team was not going to let it happen again.
Just two weeks ago, Rice suffered a 62-7 shellacking at the hands of then 14th-ranked Stanford University during the first game of its season in Sydney, Australia.
Last Saturday, the Owls delivered a bounce-back performance against conference foe University of Texas, El Paso, winning 31-14 to secure their first win of the season.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Glaesmann threw for 131 yards and a touchdown without an interception. Glaesmann also scored on a five-yard run early in the second quarter. Junior running back Samuel Stewart, who beat out senior Darik Dillard for the starting job in the backfield last season, almost hit the century-mark with 89 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Glaesmann said the team channeled the frustration of the Stanford loss into a complete effort on both sides of the football.
“I felt awesome today,” Glaesmann said. “It is a great feeling to get my first win. The defense played their butts off and the offensive line definitely won the game today. If we can establish the running game like we did today the passing game will continue to open up.”
In total, the Owls firmly outpaced UTEP in total yards, 437-229, and in rushing yards, 306-26. Rice also dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for almost 10 minutes more than the Miners. Both advantages allowed Rice to take an early 3-0 lead and never trail for the rest of the game.
Despite the significance of the first conference game of the season for both teams, a stronger message was sent in the stands than on the field. Many UTEP fans wore orange shirts displaying the message “Houston Strong” to support victims of Hurricane Harvey and express Texan unity in Houston’s rebuilding efforts.
Rice head coach David Bailiff praised the fans at Sun Bowl Stadium, calling the support “a classy move by classy people.” Bailiff also credited his team’s ability to set aside the emotions of the tragedy and put forth an impressive performance.
“I am so pleased with these young men,” Bailiff said. “They had to learn how to compartmentalize, they had to learn how to rebuild, and they had to come over here and get better as a football team. This is a hard place to play. I am really proud of them.”
Junior defensive end Blain Padgett echoed similar sentiments. According to Padgett, many players are dealing with the fallout of Harvey: flooded homes, lost personal items and concerned families. Padgett said the team had a gritty week of practice in Dallas that translated onto the field.
“We knew we had to come in here and be the more physical team,” Padgett said. “It was clear that our defense dominated their offense. Their offensive line was supposedly one of the best in the conference but we dominated the person right in front of us every single down. I was impressed with our offense. Just overall intensity. That’s how we got the win.”
Rice football plays next Saturday at the University of Houston at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time.