There's bad football. There's awful football. Then there's what the Rice Owls played on Saturday night. But here's the thing, as bad as the Rice Owls played on Saturday night, as bafflingly as some of the coaching decisions, as mind-numbingly stupid as some of the officiating, the Rice Owls still won the game, defeating the Owls of Florida Atlantic University 18-14 to go to 2-2 on the season and 1-0 in Conference USA play.
The Rice Owls completed just seven passes on a night when FAU was stacking the box and daring them to throw the football. The Owls quarterbacks often misread the defenses on the read-option, opting time and time again to try and stretch the play around the line for a loss. At the end of the night, Rice had only 273 total yards on offense. But on this night more than any night, the Rice defense stepped up and shut down the opposition, getting key turnovers to spur a fourth quarter comeback win.
"To win in college football, that's hard from week to week," said Rice head coach David Bailiff after the game. "It takes a whole lot to win a football game, so I'm really proud of how this football team continued to fight, and play, and persevere for four quarters. You win as a team. You lose as a team."
Yet it was a troubling win that might not have been but for some strange FAU coaching. And it was a bothersome win because of continuing issues with the offense.
THE TURNING POINTS
FAU had a fourth and one at the Rice 14 early in the fourth quarter. Instead of kicking the field goal to go up 10-6, FAU went for the first down and were denied by the Rice defense - though some really piss-poor officiating tried to give FAU the first down. Rice didn't score, but the lack of points on the drive would hamper FAU's comeback prospects later in the game.
The second turning point came several drives later, with FAU up 14-6. FAU had a third and nine from its 17 when FAU quarterback Greg Hankerson went into scramble mode, trying to find a receiver. He fumbled the ball which was recovered by Rice's Cody Bauer at the seven who then walked it into the end zone for the touchdown.
Then on its next offensive drive, FAU's Hankerson was intercepted by Bryce Callahan. Three plays later, Rice's Darik Dillard took the ball up the middle and rushed 20-yards for the touchdown. Rice missed on the two-point conversion attempt, but were then in the lead 18-14. THE HEAD-SCRATCHING DECISIONS
The number one head-scratching moment has to be FAU going for it on fourth and one at the Rice 14 instead of trying for the field goal. That leads to head-scratching moment two which saw the chains get moved, indicating that FAU had made the first down. The only issue problem was that, the spot of the ball was never measured, and referee Ken Antee had made no signal to indicate that there was a first down. So Antee had the chains returned to their original location, then called for a measurement, measurement indicating no first down.
Head-scratching moment two came at the end of the game, with Rice hanging onto the 18-14 lead. Facing a fourth and ten at the FAU 32, Rice decided against attempting a Chris Boswell field goal and went for the first down. The resulting pass attempt was incomplete, and FAU had the ball at the 32 with 1:56 on the clock.
"The only way we could lose at that point was to get a field goal blocked," Bailiff said, remembering Rice scoring a TD on a blocked UH field goal in the previous game. "And as good as [Boswell] has been, that's what got us into a game a week ago."
WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THE OFFENSE
The offense was supposed to be a Rice strength what with QB Taylor McHargue returning, the same offensive scheme, a big line, and numerous returning skill players. But for the Aggie game, and a couple of drives in the Kansas and Houston games, the Rice offense has been a disaster. McHargue has looked lost and backup QB Driphus Jackson hasn't been of much help in the Wild Owl read-option offense.
The team's leading offensive player, running back Charles Ross, missed Saturday's game due to an injury, and FAU stacked the box, daring the Owls to throw the football. The Owls tried 25 passes, connecting on only seven, for a total of 69 yards. McHargue often had open receivers, but he couldn't get them the ball, most of his passes falling just out of range of a diving receiver. The running game had some effectiveness, primarily when running the ball up the middle. When they attempted to stretch plays and go wide, they had zero success.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Bailiff said after the Houston loss that the coaching staff wasn't going to have to take a look at the offense and see if they're complicating things too much for McHargue. And he mentioned on Saturday that they need to further evaluate things.
"We've obviously got to look - FAU was packing the box with eight and nine people, telling us we've got to throw the ball to beat us - and we've got to look at some of what we're doing in our passing game so that we can get off of man coverage better," Bailiff said.
Rice heads off to Oklahoma to take on conference opponent Tulsa (1-3) on the season. Tulsa was picked to win C-USA West this season, but Tulsa has looked awful so far this season. And the thinking has always been that Rice was built for C-USA play and would take off once that began. But FAU was a bad C-USA team and Rice struggled mightily to get the win. At some point, the Owls need to figure out what's gone wrong with the offense if they want to keep winning C-USA games.