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Football earns fourth consecutive victory

Photo by Jake Nyquist | The Rice Thresher

Junior quarterback Driphus Jackson throws a pass during a 41-21 victory over the University of North Texas. Jackson went 13-26 for 233 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor on the first play of the game. The Owls are now 4-3 on the season and look to win their fifth-straight game against Florida International University on Saturday, Nov. 1.

By Evan Neustater     10/28/14 11:08am

The Rice University football team defeated the University of North Texas 41-21 Saturday, Oct. 25 and improved its record to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA, giving the Owls their fourth-consecutive victory. 

Rice scored on the first offensive play of the game with an 88-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Driphus Jackson to senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor, tying the record for the longest-scoring play in school history. Rice and UNT exchanged scores for the remainder of the first quarter, ending the opening period tied at 14 points apiece. UNT scored the only touchdown of the second quarter and carried a 21-14 lead heading into halftime.

The Owls came out of halftime and scored 27 unanswered points to secure the 41-21 victory. The Rice defense held UNT to only 45 yards of offense in the second half, helping Rice to its 10th home victory in its last 11 home games.

Rice’s offense, led by Jackson, totaled 233 passing yards and 188 rushing yards in the game. Jackson completed 13 of 26 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore running backs Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard combined for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Taylor led the team in receiving, recording 137 yards on four catches and becoming the fourth player in school history to surpass 2,000 career receiving yards.

Taylor said the team’s offensive success in the second half was due to the offensive line’s performance and the team’s ability to adjust to UNT’s defense.

“All year long the [offensive line] has been the focal point of our offense, and this week North Texas made it really hard for us to go in there and run the ball, that’s just what they do,” Taylor said. “Our offensive line did a heck of a job. They kind of struggled in the first half, we all did as an offense, but we picked it up in the second half and made things happen when we needed to.”

Rice’s defense held UNT to 216 yards in the second half, the best defensive performance of the season and 133 yards below UNT’s season average. 

Less than five minutes into the third quarter, junior cornerback Ryan Pollard intercepted a pass from UNT quarterback Andrew McNulty and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Owls their first defensive score of the season.

Head Coach David Bailiff said the quick defensive start in the second half was attributed to the attitude and strategic changes that occurred during halftime.

“Even in the locker room, you’re down 21 to 14, and the defense is talking about getting a takeaway, scoring a touchdown on defense,” Bailiff said. “And it was almost like everything said in that locker room at halftime… that third quarter was almost prophesied in the locker room.” 

Pollard said his interception return for a touchdown was a crucial component of Rice’s defensive effort contributing to the victory.

 “Any time I get the ball [on a pick], I tell myself in my head that I’m taking it all the way back,” Pollard said. “I knew in the back of my head that I was going to take it all the way back and give us a spark and get us going.”

According to Jackson, the defensive effort, particularly Pollard’s defensive score early in the second half, was the most important component of the team’s win.

“I think [the defense] was the focal point; they set the tone for us and we kind of just fed off of them,” Jackson said. “It’s amazing how Coach Bailiff always talks about how we’re going to need each other, and it resonated in this game because in the first half we had a really big play on the first play, and after that we were just stagnant. We weren’t really able to get anything going all the way up to the second half, so for the defense to come out and get us a turnover at that time was very crucial.”

Bailiff said he was proud of the team’s resiliency and determination to win in the face of adversity.

“[I’m] just so proud of this football team, the way they fought and played for four quarters,” Bailiff said. “Even when things weren’t going [well], all you heard were guys talking about what they were going to do the next time they were out there, what they’re going to do for the next play, what they’re going to do for the team.”

The Owls recorded four sacks and nine tackles for loss, led by junior defensive lineman Christian Covington, who recorded one and a half sacks in the game. 

Covington said the dominance of the defensive line in the second half allowed the defense to have fun playing football while also helping the team win.

“It was a great defensive effort, especially in the second half,” Covington said. “To be on the field during that time brings back memories of childhood, just being able to have fun playing football. I’m happy with this defense and I’m so excited for this team to get a win like that.”

Rice will look to earn its fifth-straight victory against Florida International University on Saturday, Nov. 1 in Miami, Florida. FIU currently boasts a 3-5 record, including a 2-4 record against Division 1 opponents. FIU is coming off a 45-13 loss to Marshall University and has the 107th ranked offense in the country, totalling an average of 21.5 points per game. A victory would improve the Owls’ record to 5-3 and 3-1 in conference and would put them one win away from bowl eligibility. 

The game against FIU will kick off at 11 a.m. in Miami, Florida.

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