Cougars send Rice football back to pre-school
Heading into the game against the nationally ranked and undefeated University of Houston, starting quarterback Taylor McHargue had thrown for eight touchdowns so far this season. Last Thursday night, University of Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw nine touchdowns.
The Owls knew that Houston was going to be one of the most difficult games of their season, with the Cougars having one of the most prolific offenses inside the entire NCAA. After a season-ending injury early in his fifth season last year, Keenum was granted a special sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He has definitely made the most of the opportunity, leading the Cougars to an 8-0 record.
Houston drew first blood in the game, scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return by Tyron Carrier and going up 7-0 before most fans even got into the stadium. Rice rebounded well however, in a downpour, putting together a nine play drive to set up a 51-yard Chris Boswell field goal.
Rice then forced a Cougar fumble, setting the Owls up for a one-yard touchdown run to take a 10-7 lead. The rain helped the Owls, who had no trouble running the ball in the downpour, whereas the Cougars could not place the ball in the air.
The rain continued to help the Owls for one more play, as linebacker Cameron Nwosu recovered a fumble on the 12-yard line and ran it in.
In the closing seconds of the quarter, the rain let up, and Keenum started getting the ball downfield – effectively ending the Owls' chances at winning the game with the clearing sky. Keenum started his passing attack, finding Patrick Edwards on a 57-yard passing route for his first passing touchdown of the night.
The teams would trade field goals on the next possessions, but it would quickly become the Case Keenum show, with Keenum throwing for three straight touchdowns to end the half. The scoreboard would read 38-20 as the teams headed to the locker room.
"Obviously, the defensive performance was something that no one wanted nor expected," defensive lineman Michael Smith said. "I think at this point, senior leadership, now more than ever, is what we have to rely on and I think the senior class will come through with that."
Two more passing touchdowns from Keenum early in the third would put the game out of reach for the Owls, with Houston up 52-20.
Nick Fanuzzi came in off the bench for McHargue and found Tyler Smith on a 67-yard pass. Smith followed up the touchdown reception with a 97-yard touchdown run, setting a Rice (and a C-USA) record, but it was simply too little too late.
Three more Keenum touchdowns, all to Edwards, sealed the game and lifted the Cougars to their 73-34 final total.
Keenum set the NCAA passing record for touchdowns during the game. This is definitely one of the games that will be on Keenum's resume as he hopes to head to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
The Owls struggled mightily defending the pass, with the secondary getting absolutely torn up by the Houston passing defense. The Owls played variations of man almost the entire game, getting beaten by the much quicker Houston receivers.
Head Coach David Bailiff was upset with his team's defensive performance.
"It was disappointing to give up that many points and that many yards," Bailiff said. "You look at the landscape of college football and you look at the yards given up. Oklahoma had 700 yards. It's not the old two-back offenses you hit seven to 10 games. It is about isolating people in space and getting one-on-ones and making plays. Offensively, they made them."
The quarterback situation is officially in flux, with the benching of McHargue and the repeated successful play of Fanuzzi. Bailiff will probably continue to use both quarterbacks in the future.
"If I had to give an edge to somebody right now it would have to be Nick because he has taken care of the football," Bailiff said. "At that position you have to take care of the football. We can't have mistakes, especially costly turnovers there."
Next Saturday, the Owls take on the University of Texas-El Paso (4-4, 1-3 C-USA) at home, another team struggling inside C-USA. Despite its 4-4 record, UTEP only 1-3 inside the conference.
Turner Peterson understands the importance of next week's game.
"I think we definitely need to get that mojo back," Peterson said. "We can't go overlooking the fact that they play better at home than they do away. This is a big game for us, and you know they're going to come out wanting this win just as badly as we do."
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