No magic to be found in Orlando for football
After a big win against crosstown rival University of Houston, it looked like the Owls' football program was finally turning the corner. It looked like it was all coming together, with a running game, a defense and a quarterback who could hold it all together. So much for that.
Maybe it was the fact that this was the first time the Owls left the state this year to play. Maybe it was the anticipation of the upcoming bye weekend. But whatever it was, Rice came out completely flat against the University of Central Florida (5-2, 3-0 C-USA) this weekend, never even coming close to being a threat in the game.
"They're a very good football team," junior quarterback Nick Fanuzzi said. "This loss definitely hurts. I give them all the credit, but honestly our team came out flat today, and we can't do that against a good team like this.
"They had a great game and we've got to come out stronger in the first half and play with more passion. I think when you come into a game like this you have to be excited to play. I felt good about the game coming into it; I felt like this team was ready, but actions are louder than words. We just have to look at this and move on."
UCF connected on a 59-yard pass on their first play from scrimmage and never looked back, scoring in three plays on the Owls' struggling defense. The Knights scored once more in the first quarter, missing the extra point to move the score to 13-0.
The second quarter was much of the same, as the Owls still couldn't move the football, giving the Knights excellent field position. UCF scored two more touchdowns in the quarter, sending Rice into the locker room facing a 27-0 deficit. Rice strung together the best drive of the half right as time was expiring, moving the ball into UCF territory for the first time in the game.
Head Coach David Bailiff was not pleased with his team's performance in the first half.
"We started slow; I didn't get them over that Houston win," Bailiff said. "You can't start the game against these guys with a deep play that's not defended. We didn't play defense very well the first half and didn't move the ball offensively.
"We played better the second half, but against a team like UCF, you can't have any letdowns. The only way you can win one of these games is to be the best team, and we didn't do that today."
Rice came out in the second half and fumbled the ball, giving UCF the ball at the Rice 15-yard line. A few plays and another UCF touchdown put the score at an embarrassing 34-0, moving the game completely out of reach for Rice. Throughout the game, UCF Offensive Coordinator Charlie Taaffe showed little respect for the Owls' defense, imploring his team to run a play from scrimmage on four fourth-down situations, converting all of them into first downs.
Finally, in the closing moments of the third, Fanuzzi led the Owls on a drive, finding sophomore running back Sam McGuffie on a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the Owls on the scoreboard. Both teams went nowhere for the rest of the third quarter, as a string of three-and-outs led the teams to play out the rest of the quarter in scoreless fashion.
UCF scored once again to push the score to 41-7 off of a 98-yard drive that took only five minutes. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Cook, who came into the game to replace Fanuzzi, hit sophomore receiver Derek Clark on a 39-yard pass to set up a 1-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Jeremy Eddington, the Owls' second of the game and Eddington's third of the season.
This 41-14 mark was the final score of the contest, pushing the Owls to 2-6 on the season and 1-3 in C-USA play, far from their preseason goal.
This weekend, the Owls enjoy a week off, hoping to use it to get healthy and put in some new plays, aiming to catch opponents off guard. Bailiff is looking for specific players scheduled to return from injury to provide some sort of spark.
"We have to get some guys back; we've got to use this week first and foremost to get better, refresh and get refocused," Bailiff said. "We've got to get [sophomore guard] Eric Ball and [junior running back] Tyler Smith back, some receivers back, and we have to use this week as a get better week, not an off week."
After the bye week, the Owls will venture north to Tulsa, Okla. to take on the University of Tulsa (4-3, 2-2 C-USA), which travels to South Bend, Ind. this weekend to take on the University of Notre Dame. The Golden Hurricane will be another stiff test for the Rice defense, as Tulsa features an offense that averages 38.4 points a game, including a 52-point barrage last week against Tulane University.
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