Football falls to Texas in valiant effort inside Reliant
As President John F. Kennedy once said, "Rice does not play Texas because it is easy, but rather because it is hard." As the Owls learned last Saturday, it's really, really hard. But, despite the national media giving them absolutely no chance, the University of Texas' (1-0) roster being infinitely more athletic and Vegas' placing the line at 31 points, Rice (0-1) fought valiantly under the bright artificial lights of Reliant Stadium, managing to put a scare into the Longhorns and remind them that sometimes David can get some shots in against Goliath.
Head Coach David Bailiff said that he thought the team played as well as could be expected against the Longhorns.
"You play the game to win, but obviously we gave it a good effort," Bailiff said. "I was really proud of the effort and our passion. We did a lot of things that game."
The 70,445 that filled the stadium on Saturday made it the largest home opener since 73,000 filled Rice Stadium in 1961 to watch Rice defeat Louisiana State University. While a majority of the stadium was decked out in burnt orange, it did not seem to faze the Owls, who played well throughout the first quarter.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor McHargue got the start after a fierce three-way quarterback competition in the offseason and led the Owls down the field on a 57-yard drive to set up a 42-yard field goal by redshirt freshman placekicker Chris Boswell. It was the only score of the quarter, as the Owls regained possession after a huge turnover on downs on a Texas goal-line stand at Rice's own five-yard line with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
Redshirt junior safety Travis Bradshaw felt Rice's play at the beginning of the game showed that they could exceed expectations.
"That was big, the very beginning of the game," Bradshaw said. "A lot of people questioned whether or not we were going to be able to hang with those guys. We proved we could."
McHargue then made his first mistake of the afternoon, throwing an interception just as time expired in the first half, setting up the first Longhorn points of the day: a field goal from 51 yards out a few minutes into the second quarter. The Owls would drive down the field once again, only to be stopped at the Texas 30. This left a 48-yard field goal attempt for Boswell, whose kick swung just to the right of the uprights.
From this missed field goal, Texas would make its first substantial drive of the game, going 69 yards in nine plays to punch the ball across the goal line at the one, making the score 10-3. This possession marked the first time Texas looked like it began to feel comfortable in its offense, as the Longhorns boasted several new players that had played in limited capacities last year. Rice would regain possession, only for McHargue to fumble deep inside Rice territory, his second turnover of the day. It would be picked up and returned for a Longhorn touchdown by linebacker Keenan Robinson.
Rice would go four-and-out on their next possession to set up another long Texas drive, capped by a 31-yard pass over the middle of the field from Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The Longhorns would once again punch the ball in from the Owls' one yard line to go up 24-3. At this point, it looked like the game could quickly turn into one of the routs that are common early in the college football season.
Rice regained possession with a little over a minute to play in the half and moved the ball up to its 40 off of a Texas personal foul. The foul set up a 47-yard pass over the middle to redshirt junior wide receiver Randy Kitchens, despite the fact that the pass was intended for sophomore tight end Vance McDonald. Kitchens was trailing behind the play and managed to grab the ball off of McDonald's tip, proceeding to drag Texas safety Christian Scott the last 10 yards to just barely dive into the endzone. This touchdown catch was replayed on "SportsCenter" many times over the next 48 hours. After the Boswell extra point, the score was 24-10, providing the Owls with the jolt they needed heading into halftime.
After the break, the Rice defense came out to play, as they held the Longhorns scoreless until 3:42 left in the quarter. Texas' offense could muster nothing but two long field goal opportunities in the half, both of which they missed.
The fourth quarter started with a Rice drive that left them just outside field goal range. The ensuing drive from Texas brought another big goal-line stop for the Owls and another field goal for UT, bringing the score to 34-10, the largest margin of the game.
The Longhorns forced a Rice punt; however, it was mishandled by Longhorn return man Aaron Williams, providing the Owls with excellent field position deep inside Texas territory. Junior Nick Fanuzzi, who had come into the game at quarterback, found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Luke Willson on a 13-yard pass to set up sophomore running back Charles Ross' two-yard TD run. The Boswell extra point made the final score 34-17.
Gilbert led the game in passing with 172 yards, while McHargue passed for 90. McHargue had the only passing TD of the game on the pass to Kitchens, who ended the day with 57 receiving yards.
Transfer redshirt sophomore running back Sam McGuffie led the Owls with 47 net rushing yards on 14 carries in his Rice debut, despite having two runs that ended up as huge losses. Junior running back Tyler Smith also contributed to the running game, with 40 yards on 11 carries.
"I don't think we exceeded our expectations in the game," senior left tackle Scott Mitchell said. "We knew we would play well; we just wanted to go out there and try and give ourselves the best opportunity to win."
This weekend, the Owls take their first road trip of the year to Denton, Texas, to take on the University of North Texas (0-1).
North Texas, who lost 35-10 last week at Clemson University (1-0), has one of the best running backs in the nation in Lance Dunbar, who will certainly test the Rice defensive line. Dunbar rushed for 116 yards last week on 23 carries, averaging five yards per touch.
The Owls are excited at this prime opportunity for their first victory of the season.
"I don't think there's a chance of a letdown against North Texas," Bradshaw said. "We didn't get a win last week, so we're still hungry and are looking for that first one.
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