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After hot start on defense, Rice falls to Baylor in home opener

(09/19/16 10:31pm)

In a game that made national headlines for the Rice Marching Owl Band’s performance at halftime rather than the performance of the actual teams themselves, the Rice Owls fell to the Baylor University Bears by a score of 38-10, dropping the team to a record of 0-3 (0-1) on the season.The game began as a defensive struggle, with both teams trading punts throughout the first quarter.

Football closes 2015 with C-USA victory

(12/07/15 11:23am)

In what was likely the final half of his collegiate career, senior running back Luke Turner ran his wildcat package of the offense to perfection, catalyzing a 27-point outburst that secured a 27-7 victory over the University of North Carolina, Charlotte to improve to 5-7 (3-5) on the season.The 49ers got the ball to open the game but were forced to punt after three plays by the Owls defense, giving Rice the ball at its own 29-yard line.

Football closes 2015 with C-USA victory

(12/01/15 3:30pm)

In what was likely the final half of his collegiate career, senior running back Luke Turner ran his wildcat package of the offense to perfection, catalyzing a 27-point outburst that secured a 27-7 victory over the University of North Carolina, Charlotte to improve to 5-7 (3-5) on the season.The 49ers got the ball to open the game but were forced to punt after three plays by the Owls defense, giving Rice the ball at its own 29-yard line. While the Owls were able to drive the ball to Charlotte’s five-yard line, freshman kicker Hayden Tobola missed a 22-yard field goal that set the tone for a scoreless first half. The Owls failed to generate any rhythm on offense throughout the half, going three-and-out on two occasions, while also turning the ball over on an interception and having the missed field goal. Fortunately, the 49ers were no better. Three missed field goals from Charlotte helped keep the game scoreless entering the second half.Rice Head Coach David Bailiff made numerous halftime adjustments that proved effective, such as more frequent utilization of Turner’s wildcat package and additional running plays. While the Owls were unable to score on any offensive drive in the first half, they scored on each of their five complete drives in the second half. The defense also continued to excel, keeping the 49ers off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter. The second half performance provided a strong finish to what had been a very uneven season.Bailiff said he was very pleased with his team’s effort.“I’m really proud of this football team,” Bailiff said. “It was amazing that in the first half, we just couldn’t get rhythm offensively, and the defense just kept playing. It’s a tribute to the type of young men we have. There’s no finger pointing. We just continued to work and pull for each other.”Redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons, who led the team with nine total tackles in the game, said he was similarly impressed with his team’s effort on defense.“I’m very proud of how the guys performed today,” Lyons said. “They sent the seniors home with a win.”According to Bailiff, Turner provided versatility for the offense over his career.“[Turner] is amazing,” Bailiff said. “If you just look at all that he has done for this team this year alone: He plays quarterback for us, he plays tight end for us, he’s played running back, he’s our deep snapper, he’s returned kicks for us, he’s returned punts for us. What he’s done is similar to what [former Rice tight end] James Casey did for us with all of the different skill sets that he has.”In a video that has since gone viral, Turner was emotional in expressing his appreciation for Bailiff’s belief in him as a player and as a person, and said he will never forget his time at Rice.“This was my only Division I offer,” Turner said. “I broke my leg my senior year in high school, and everyone sold me off, but that man right there [Bailiff] stuck with me and I’ll love him forever for it. He helped me get a great education that I know I’ll use very well, and he let me keep playing this game that I love. I love this university and I love that man back there; I’ll do anything for him and anything for this university.”Due to a lack of six-win teams in Division I college football this season, at least two and as many as five 5-7 teams could earn berths to bowl games, depending on the outcomes of several games this upcoming weekend. Should this occur, the Football Oversight Committee will determine the 5-7 teams that will play in bowl games. As such, there is an outside chance that Rice, despite its 5-7 record, could qualify for a bowl game. The Football Oversight Committee will use Academic Progress Rate scores to determine which 5-7 teams will qualify for a bowl. Rice is currently tied with the University of Illinois for sixth place in the rankings, making their chances of receiving a bowl invite incredibly slim.While the team would undoubtedly accept such an invitation to a bowl game, they have already began to look toward next season, and the things they must improve in 2016.“We have a lot to build on,” Bailiff said. “It’s what we’ll talk to the juniors about, and we’ll go back to work on Monday and get this football team better.”

Homecoming Heartbreak: Nine-year homecoming winning streak comes to an end

(11/18/15 9:01am)

On Homecoming 2015, the Rice University football team fell to the University of Southern Mississippi in a 65-10 defeat. The Golden Eagles were led by 386 passing yards and five touchdowns from junior quarterback Nick Mullens. The Owls’ senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was sacked five times in the first half and replaced by redshirt junior Tyler Stehling at the end of the second quarter. The homecoming loss dropped the Owls to 4-6 (2-4) on the season and extended the team’s losing streak to three games.The Owls received the opening kickoff and were able to pick up a first down courtesy of a 16-yard run from redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard, though this would be their only first down of the opening quarter. The Owls and the Golden Eagles traded punts on their opening drives, after which Mullens hit sophomore running back Ito Smith for a 28-yard touchdown pass. While the Owls forced Southern Mississippi to punt on their following drive, the Golden Eagles would find the end zone on the following possession courtesy of a fake field goal. Junior punter Tyler Sarrazin found redshirt sophomore lineman Xavier Thigpen for a touchdown that was the turning point of the game. These scores initiated the beginning of a blowout. The Owls’ inability to get on track offensively and defensively eventually led them to a 58-0 fourth quarter deficit and a devastating defeat.The Owls did attempt to turn the blowout around. Redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was pulled out of the game with his team down 28-0, having just lost a fumble and not having completed any of his eight pass attempts. The Golden Eagles racked up 682 yards of offense to Rice’s 214, gained 26 first downs to Rice’s 15 and possessed the ball for just over 31 minutes of the game. Most notably, however, Southern Mississippi set a school record by putting up an impressive 35 points in the second quarter alone, effectively deciding the game long before the final whistle.Predictably, Head Coach David Bailiff was disappointed with his team’s poor showing, and said the team’s performance can be blamed on the coaching staff.“It starts with me,” Bailiff said. “This is an embarrassing loss. We’re going to keep analyzing everything that we do from top to bottom in this program. We didn’t get to three bowl games from being bad coaches, but every year is a different year and every year is a new set of problems and we’ve got to figure out solutions to what’s happening to us.”The Owls were penalized seven times for 67 yards in the game. Bailiff said he was upset with the team’s lack of discipline and eventually changed quarterbacks to try to light a spark.“We start the game with a penalty,” Bailiff said. “Then we get a nice run from [redshirt freshman] Austin Walter on the perimeter and we get a penalty. We can’t do that, we don’t have that margin for error. When I took [Jackson] out, I was hoping Tyler [Stehling] could stimulate it and get it going.”During the postgame press conference, Bailiff said he was particularly frustrated with his team’s poor tackling on defense. According to Bailiff, the Rice team wasn’t playing with a team mentality.“Some of those missed tackles tonight weren’t missed tackles,” Bailiff said. “It’s because we tried to hit them so hard we didn’t wrap up and tackle. That’s not what we work on. We work on tackling. And when we start to put this team first and tackling instead of trying to get the big hit, then we won’t have as many missed tackles. It’s not a team-first attitude, and that’s my biggest frustration at this time.”The Owls are now 4-6 on the season with upcoming games against the University of Texas, San Antonio and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte on the schedule. They will need to win both games to qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl game. While both opponents are not of Southern Mississippi’s caliber, it remains to be seen if Rice can recover from the 55-point loss in time to salvage what remains of their season.While Bailiff and his team are undoubtedly frustrated and unhappy with these recent performances, he said they are prepared to do whatever is necessary to rectify a turbulent situation.“We’ve been a winning football team around here,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to take this frustration and anger in our stomach and turn it into something positive on the football field. We’re going to get this figured out as a team, as a coaching staff, and it’s something I believe we can do.”The Owls will look to snap a three-game losing streak and move to 5-6 (3-4) in a matchup against UTSA in the Alamodome on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.

Late field goal gives UTEP win over Rice

(11/10/15 3:22pm)

Despite 116 receiving yards from redshirt junior wide receiver Zach Wright, the Rice University football team was unable to come up with what would have been a huge victory over the University of Texas, El Paso. Rice lost the contest 24-21 on a last-minute field goal from UTEP junior kicker Jay Mattox.After a scoreless first quarter in which neither offense was able to sustain any rhythm, both teams got rolling in the second quarter, as the Owls struck first on a three-yard touchdown run by senior halfback Luke Turner. Rice, however, was unable to keep the lead. The defense’s propensity to give up big plays at times again surfaced, as UTEP sophomore quarterback Mack Leftwich connected with junior wide receiver Jaquan White on a 58-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven.For the remainder of the game, the teams engaged in a back-and-forth affair in which neither team was able to take full control, leading to another nail-biting fourth quarter for the Owls. While the Owls were able to pull out close victories against Florida Atlantic University and the Army with game-winning fourth quarter drives earlier in the season, they found themselves on the opposite end this time around. Leftwich and senior running back Jeremiah Laufusa were able to lead the Miners down the field on what would be the game-winning drive, as Mattox put his team up for good with just 48 seconds left in the game.For the second consecutive game, the Owls’ offense appeared to stagnate due to an inability to run the ball consistently. Despite 31 attempts, the team was only able to muster 90 rushing yards, 53 of which came courtesy of redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard. Head Coach David Bailiff mentioned after last week’s loss to Louisiana Tech University how crucial it is for his offense to run the ball effectively, and that was evident yet again. The Owls were out-possessed for one of the few times this season — holding the ball for only 26:36 — which undoubtedly played a factor in the team’s loss.Bailiff, whose team only had 22 plays in the second half, said the team needs to do a better job of capitalizing on offense.“When you’re playing a team that’s keeping the ball and you’re having trouble stopping them, we’ve got to take advantage of when we had the ball, and we just didn’t do it,” Bailiff said. “We weren’t moving people at the line of scrimmage well. You’ve got to sustain blocks, keep your helmets on people. We’ve got to look at this video and figure out why we’re having trouble establishing the run, because earlier in the year we were good at it.”Redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson shared the same sentiments and said he attributes the loss to a lack of physicality.“We just got outmatched,” Jackson said. “They were more physical than us, they wanted it more than us, and they got it.”Several players lamented how inconsistent the team has been this season, as the most recent loss against UTEP added to an incredibly up-and-down season. While there have been impressive victories over the University of North Texas, Florida Atlantic and Army, there have also been numerous bad losses, such as those to Western Kentucky University, Louisiana Tech University and now, UTEP. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Ross Winship said the team needs to work on fixing these inconsistencies.“Tonight we played really inconsistent football and left a lot of plays on the field, defensively and offensively,” Winship said. “We have to make the plays we have to make to score or have stops in the critical times of the game. The inconsistencies of how we’ve been playing has really been eating us up.”The loss to the Miners eliminated the Owls from contention within the Conference USA West Division, leaving the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and the University of Southern Mississippi as the remaining contenders. With a Conference USA title therefore out of reach, the Owls will shift their focus to qualifying for a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year. To do so, however, they will need to win two of their final three games, the next of which comes against Southern Mississippi. According to Jackson, it will be challenging road ahead, but one on which the Owls are ready to embark.“We’re just looking forward to getting back to it this week and moving on to Southern Mississippi,” Jackson said.The Owls will look to improve their record to 5-5 and get one win closer to bowl eligibility with a homecoming matchup against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles on Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Rice Stadium.

Football drops pivotal C-USA matchup

(11/04/15 5:26am)

After sacrificing 320 yards and four touchdowns from Louisiana Tech University redshirt senior quarterback Jeff Driskel, the Rice University football team fell to Louisiana Tech 42-17. The loss dropped the Owls to 4-4 (2-2) on the season.In a game that had major implications in the Conference USA West Division, the Bulldogs struck first on their opening drive, with junior wide receiver Trent Taylor catching a 47-yard touchdown pass from Driskel on third down. While the Owls tied the game on their ensuing drive with a four-yard touchdown run from redshirt freshman Samuel Stewart, the Bulldogs went up 14-7 when Driskel connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Carlos Henderson from 14 yards away from the end zone. The teams traded punts until midway through the second quarter, at which point the Bulldogs went on a drive that would be the turning point of the game. Louisiana Tech marched down the field to the Owls one-yard line with an opportunity to take a two-possession lead in the game. After the Owls stuffed senior running back Kenneth Dixon on consecutive plays, they forced an incompletion on third and goal, appearing to come up with a huge third down stop that would keep the game close. Redshirt freshman safety J.T. Ibe was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play — his second personal foul penalty of the drive — giving Louisiana Tech another chance to put the ball on the end zone. Dixon took advantage with a two-yard touchdown run, and the Bulldogs never looked back: The rushing score initiated a string of 28 unanswered points that would put the game out of reach.Rice Head Coach David Bailiff said he was upset with Ibe’s penalties, as well as several others by other players at key points in the game.“Those are selfish penalties, and we’re not going to have a selfish football team,” Bailiff said. “We start every year talking about how we’re going to be the hardest, smartest working football team in Conference USA; that’s not smart football, it’s got nothing to do with hard work.”According to Bailiff, his team’s inability to sustain momentum was a key reason for the defeat.“After that first half, we got into the locker room and they had three big plays and that was the difference in that half,” Bailiff said. “We thought we could run the ball by throwing the ball around a little bit, but a lot of the woes offensively were where we could move the chains and we’d have a drop or have a stupid penalty, and you can’t do that playing a good football team.”Redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson acknowledged Louisiana Tech’s prowess as a team, but said the loss came from the Owls’ inability to execute.“They were a fast, physical team, but this is one of those games that I thought we lost it more than they actually won it,” Jackson said. “I’m not saying that to take away anything that went on in the game, but I think that [Quarterbacks] Coach [Larry] Edmondson called a great game. Offensively we didn’t execute at all.”In all likelihood, the loss to Louisiana Tech has made the Owls’ chances of winning the Conference USA West Division — and thereby earning a trip to the Conference USA title game— extremely slim. The loss dropped the Owls to 2-2 in Conference USA play, while the Bulldogs and the University of Southern Mississippi are tied atop the division with a 4-1 record. According to redshirt senior defensive tackle Stuart Mouchantaf, the team can draw on their recent season for belief that they can pull off the feat.“A few years ago we were in this position; we had to win six straight, and we did it,” Mouchantaf said. “We just need to remind the young ones that we can do this and we can keep it alive, but we have to believe and we have to work.”

Football reflects midway through season

(10/20/15 7:58pm)

Redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons’ sealed a comeback win over Florida Atlantic University by sacking redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson on the fourth down, giving his team an inspirational win in what has been an uneven season.It was the type of exciting, uplifting victory that can change Rice’s season, according to Head Coach David Bailiff.“I just don’t know if I’ve ever had a sweeter win at Rice,” Bailiff said. “It was just an incredible experience to see the guys’ faces in that locker room and to know how hard we worked at the end to make that happen.”In many ways, the win over Florida Atlantic was a microcosm of Rice’s 2015 season. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the fourth quarter of the FAU game that Bailiff described as the “best quarter of football we played this year” and the touchdowns Rice scored on their first two drives of the game. There were long stretches of impressive ball control but an inability to put points on the board, as the Owls had a stretch of five drives in which they did not score, despite two of those drives lasting 16 and 11 plays. The defense showed a propensity to give up big plays, as they did in the second quarter with a 94-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to sophomore Kamrin Solomon. Yet amid considerable adversity, Bailiff said there was a team that showed belief in itself and their ability to win games.“We kept our focus,” Bailiff said. “We kept our attitude, and I’m proud of this team and proud of this coaching staff. Nobody gave up. It’s incredible.”Heading into the season, the question for Rice was how the team would replace considerable losses on both sides of the ball. The team had lost three starters on the offensive line, their top two receivers in Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull, as well as defensive tackle Christian Covington, defensive end Brian Nordstrom and cornerback Bryce Callahan. Yet despite these losses, the Owls retained their entire coaching staff, and perhaps more importantly, had stability at the quarterback position, with Jackson returning for his final season. Rice was viewed as one of the favorites to win Conference USA, along with Western Kentucky University and Louisiana Tech University. Given these expectations, results to this point have been mixed.Offensively, the Owls have seen several weapons emerge. Junior running back Jowan Davis and redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard were the established running backs heading into the season, with Davis having run for 956 yards in 2014 and Dillard having averaged 4.9 yards per carry a season ago. In addition to these two players, redshirt freshman running back Samuel Stewart has become a dynamic weapon out of the backfield, with a breakout performance against the University of Texas, Austin where he eclipsed 100 yards rushing. The losses of Taylor and Hull to the NFL figured to be big losses for the team, but redshirt senior Dennis Parks and redshirt junior Zach Wright have been effective in replacing them, with Parks accumulating 381 receiving yards to date and Wright having eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in the comeback win over Florida Atlantic. Despite these weapons, the Achilles heel of the Owls has been turnovers: They have lost nine fumbles and have thrown six interceptions to this point. As a result, Rice ranks No. 116 in the NCAA with an average turnover margin per game of -1.33. Though the offense has established an offensive identity of controlling the ball and methodically moving upfield, their self-inflicted wounds have cost them in some games.Defensively, results have also been mixed. The team was able to make the key stops against Florida Atlantic, and played strong games against Wagner College and the University of North Texas according to Bailiff, Jackson and defensive end Brian Womac. That said, the Owls lost considerable depth in their secondary from a year ago, and that has shown at times this season. In games against Baylor, Texas, and Western Kentucky, Rice has been burned repeatedly by long passing plays, giving Rice the No. 102 pass defense in the country. They have also been unable to generate a consistent pass rush and force turnovers this season, ranking last in Conference USA in sacks and second to last in turnovers forced. Despite the mixed results on offense and defense, Bailiff said he is confident that his team will get on track and put together the complete football game that they searching for the entire season.“When we can stay on track as a football team and keep ourselves out of third and longs, we are pretty effective,” Bailiff said. “We were staying on track [against Florida Atlantic], and we will continue to do so.“By defeating Florida Atlantic, the Owls put themselves in strong position in the Conference USA West division. With a 2-1 Conference USA record, they are tied with Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi for the best record in the division. They control their own fate for the remainder of the season, and with a 3-3 overall record, require three more wins to qualify for a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season.In celebration of a comeback victory over Florida Atlantic, Lyons and his team let out the frustration that came with two consecutive blowout losses, and as the postgame press conference showed, were inspired by a renewed sense of optimism for the rest of the season. Whether the Owls can embark on a winning streak that will turn an up-and-down season into a successful one remains to be seen, but the team is confident in their ability to do so.The Owls return from a bye week and will look for their fourth win of the season in a home matchup against the United States Military Academy on Oct. 24 at 11 a.m. at Rice Stadium.

Football suffers loss to Western Kentucky

(10/07/15 3:41am)

 Playing at home for the first time in a month, the Rice University football team was defeated by sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and Western Kentucky University, snapping a five-game home winning streak and dropping the Owls to 2-3 (1-1) on the season in a 49-10 loss.The Hilltoppers got the ball to open the game and the Owls’ defense promptly forced a three-and-out, after which Rice would march down the field and strike first with a field goal. The lead, however, was short-lived. Western Kentucky would go on to score four touchdowns on its next five possessions, while the Owls’ next five drives yielded two punts, two lost fumbles and an interception. A game with a promising beginning quickly turned awry for the home team. By the time redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was benched in the second quarter in favor of junior backup Tyler Stehling, the team trailed 28-3 and would do little the rest of the game to decrease the deficit.In the first-ever meeting between the Conference USA schools, Rice was outgained in total yardage, possessed the ball four minutes fewer than the Hilltoppers, and gained nine fewer first downs than their opponent. While the Owls were unable to force a turnover, they committed five of their own, off of which Western Kentucky scored 21 points. The Rice defense faced an NFL-caliber quarterback for the second straight week, and proved not to be up to the task again. Doughty threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns in a typically strong performance.Head Coach David Bailiff, who expressed concern following last week’s 70-17 loss to Baylor University about putting the big loss behind his team, said his team was not ready to play the Hilltoppers, and took the blame for it.“We didn’t play very [well] today, and that’s on me,” Bailiff said. “I didn’t have those guys ready to go. It’s my job to make sure the offense is ready, the defense is ready, and the special teams is ready.”According to Bailiff, the Owls’ turnovers and poor tackling on defense exemplified unusually poor play, and that the team would need to return to form soon.“We have more turnovers already this year than all of last season,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to stop that. We have to tackle defensively. We’ve had more missed tackles in the last two games than in the first three. The formula for success has always been take care of the football, get points at the end of drives offensively — we’re not doing that. You just can’t win football games this way.”In years past, the Owls have gained a reputation as a disciplined team that does not commit many penalties. Bailiff said this year’s team has not been playing like it has in recent years.“We had eight penalties, and that’s not who we are,” Bailiff said. “We’ve been one of the least penalized teams in Conference USA since I’ve been here. Some of them were late. We need to work on those. It’s not who we are, and it’s not how we’re going to do this.”According to Bailiff, spectators should not to read too much into his decision to bench Jackson after the quarterback turned the ball over on consecutive drives in the second quarter.“I was just trying to stimulate the offense,” Bailiff said. “Driphus [Jackson] is our starter. He’ll be right back here as our starting quarterback. [Benching Jackson] was just to rally the troops and throw the ball down the field.”Rice will next face Florida Atlantic University, who are 1-3 overall, but 1-0 in Conference USA play. The two teams last faced off in 2013, when Rice was able to pull out an 18-14 home victory. While FAU redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson sustained an injury in the team’s second game of the season, FAU boasts a pair of running backs in sophomore Greg Howell and junior Jay Warren that average above five yards per carry. Following the loss to Western Kentucky, Bailiff said the team needs to turn the page and focus on winning out the remainder of the schedule.“We have to get better,” Bailiff said. “We have great seniors in here and we have some great leaders on this team. We’re not going to let it go the wrong way; it’s not going to happen. There’s nobody left on our schedule that we can’t beat. We’re going to expect winning, and it’s what’s going to get done.”The Owls will look to halt their two-game losing streak in a road matchup against FAU at 1:30 p.m. in Boca Raton, Florida.