The University of Southern Mississippi led 10-0 in the first quarter of Rice football’s homecoming game. Then chaos ensued. The Rice and Southern Miss offenses combined to score on the next 11 possessions before a Rice turnover on downs effectively ended the game in the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles came away from the shootout victorious with a 43-34 win to drop Rice to 1-9 on the season and 1-5 in Conference USA play.
For the first time all season, the Owls did not turn the ball over. They went down 13-0 in the first quarter but then scored touchdowns on five straight possessions. The problem for the Owls was that USM scored touchdowns on four of its next five possessions and managed a field goal on the other.
Southern Miss running back Ito Smith led the way for the Golden Eagles with 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Kwadra Griggs added 311 passing yards and three touchdowns. USM’s offense scored on every possession except for the kneel downs at the end of the game; Rice’s defense could not get them off the field. Sophomore safety Houston Robert said the defense had to do something to stop the Golden Eagles’ momentum.
“We needed to go in there, we needed to get a turnover, we needed to make a game-changing play,” Robert said. “Unfortunately we never did.”
Offensively, Rice relied on the run, and it was working. The Owls totaled 254 yards rushing including 155 from sophomore running back Nahshon Ellerbe. Ellerbe also added four rushing touchdowns, the highest mark for an Owls’ back since 2013. Despite his career day, Ellerbe said he was more disappointed than proud.
“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me unless we win the game,” Ellerbe said. “It’s good to see some of the things work out schematically... but if we don’t win the game I don’t really care much about my stats.”
Freshman quarterback Miklo Smalls played the entire game for the first time in his career. He totaled 127 passing yards and 42 rushing yards. Head coach David Bailiff said Smalls is still a work in progress.
“I see when he makes mistakes he’s putting them behind him,” Bailiff said. “He did not do that in the Army game. He’s learning to live in the moment. That’s what all players have to do, especially at [quarterback]. I think he’s growing all the time.”
Next up, Rice will take on Old Dominion University. That game will take place next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Norfolk, Virginia. The Owls will be trying to get a win to add some positivity to what has been a disappointing campaign.