Rice Struggles But Gets Out Of Denton With A Win
The Rice Owls didn't get their first victory until November last season, starting off at 0-8. That's not going to be the case this season as, on Saturday night, the Owls something they never accomplished last season.
They hit the .500 mark as their come from behind 32-31 win over North Texas moved them to 1-1 for this young season.
The game was a hot, muggy, miserable experience for those watching in Denton, as well as for those playing, and the weather conditions seemed to affect the play on the field as both teams played sloppy football.
There were numerous fumbles and interceptions. Wide-open receivers dropped numerous passes -- at least two Rice passes were dropped in the end zone. And often times the Rice red zone resembled that of the Houston Texans.
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But in the end, for the Owls, none of that mattered.
"I mean that one went down to the wire," Rice coach David Bailiff said afterwards. "[North Texas] had some big plays, you know what we did. We had a lot of missed opportunities, really early in that game. As the game progressed, I know we missed two touchdown passes that we dropped. We missed two field goals. We threw an interception down there before the half, we were in the red zone. I thought we left maybe 24 points out on the field."
That the Owls had to come from behind to get the win was something of a shock seeing as how they jumped off to the 16-7 first-quarter lead.
Rice went up 7-0 on their very first play when starting QB Taylor McHargue found running back Sam McGuffie behind the North Texas secondary and lifted a pass along the right sideline that McGuffie gathered in and took 51 yards for the touchdown.
But that was about the last time the Owls offense was truly effective.
They then recovered a North Texas fumble at the North Texas 19, but ended up needing kicker Chris Boswell to nail a 50-yard field goal.
With the score at 10-7, and after a Boswell field goal attempt had been blocked, Rice blocked a North Texas punt and had the ball at the North Texas six-yard line. Then had to settle for another field goal to make it 13-7.
North Texas then shanked a punt, putting the ball at their 36. But once again, the Rice offense couldn't move the ball, and once again, Boswell had to nail a 50-yard field goal.
Frustrated with his running game, Bailiff took the opportunity of a slight injury to McHargue to bring in Nick Fanuzzi to handle the QB chores. And Fanuzzi started finding his receivers. They just, for the most part, had problems with holding onto the football.
All except for one guy, Luke Willson, who grabbed a Fanuzzi pass and took it 22 yards for the touchdown late in the second quarter.
"We were having a hard time running the ball," Bailiff said of the QB switch. "[Fanuzzi] throws the ball, he's got a little more velocity on the ball. It was time for a change. Taylor McHargue's still a good quarterback. Still have a lot of confidence in him. But we've got a lot of confidence in all of our quarterbacks, but that's just how we thought we had to do it to win a game."
Then with the Owls down 31-26 late in the fourth quarter, Willson grabbed another pass to get the Owls to the North Texas three. And from there, for the first time the entire game, the Owls offensive line and running backs were able to get the ball into the end zone from the red zone, taking the 32-31lead, which would be the final score after Rice failed to convert the two-point conversion.
So Rice had the win, their first of the season, this time taking only two games to get that win. But the team made a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes troubled Bailiff, especially the team's inability to score touchdowns.
"Going forward we must get better in some areas," Bailiff said. "We connected on field goals, but we need to get the ball in the end zone more consistently. The good thing about tonight is that our kids never quit. They kept plugging away for this win."
And they'll get that chance on Saturday when they host Northwestern at Rice Stadium.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
Several of the Rice players admitted,after the game that this was the type of the game they would have lost last season. They would have let losing like this get to them, and they would have given up....Kicker Chris Boswell tied a Rice record by making four field goals. This has now been done three times in Owls history....McGuffie's first-quarter touchdown was the first of his Rice career.
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