The Rice Owls had no business being in the position to defeat the Tulane Green Wave on Saturday afternoon. The Owls had given up 512 yards to one of the worst offenses in Conference USA. They had given up 48 points to a team struggling to score points. Yet Taylor Cook had just hooked up with Patrick Randolph for a 26-yard TD to put Rice up 49-48 with 2:12 left in the game.
All that was needed was for the Rice defense to make one last stop. So being the Rice defense, they did just what was expected. What they had been doing all season. They let Tulane hit on a 74-yard bomb right down the middle of the field for a touchdown that put Tulane up 54-48.
The Owls took one last shot at the win and with 54 seconds left in the game, the Owls were at the Tulane 14-yard line. And then ended. Not with a bang, but with a fizzle as three plays later, on fourth and seven, Cook overthrow his receiver in the end zone, returning the ball to Tulane who ran out the clock for the 54-48 win.
Tulane didn't win this game without Rice's help. Rice's starting quarterback Nick Fanuzzi threw two touchdowns in the first half. But he turned the ball over four times on a fumble and three interceptions, and the three interceptions turned into 17 points for Tulane. And the Owl defense, which has had trouble stopping everybody this season, had more trouble with the Tulane offense than any team in C-USA has done this season.
Taylor Cook took over as quarterback for the Owls in the second half, and he, too, threw two TD passes. He also operated the offense smoothly, cutting way down on the turnover problem, and his performance was, once again, more than adequate enough to raise the question of why Owls head coach David Bailiff continues to go with Fanuzzi week after week as the starter.
Sam McGuffie had another good week out of the backfield, rushing for 70 yards and two TDs, though his capabilities were once again wasted as the Owls continued with their insistence on going with a wildcat offense that seems to be a waste McGuffie's talents. And tight ends Vance McDonald and Luke Willson did most of the heavy lifting on the pass catching end of things, with McDonald catching a career-high three touchdown passes.
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But the big problem for the Owls, again, was the performance of the defense. It's one thing to give up 62 points to Tulsa, one of the best offenses in C-USA. It's one thing to give up 41 points to UCF, one of the better overall teams in C-USA, but there's no real, justifiable excuse for giving up 54 points to a Tulane team that had scored 30-plus points in only two games, and had topped out with 34 points in an upset of UTEP last month.
Yet it's not too surprising that Tulane's offense took off on Rice. Rice has been unable to stop anybody this season. Even the inept Texas Longhorn offense looked competent against the Rice defense earlier this season. So watching a Tulane offense that has struggled against the rest of C-USA light up the Owls was just a rather too common occurrence for Rice fans.
The 2-8 Owls have two games left in this season, and both are at home. Look for a loss this Saturday as they host the East Carolina Pirates, another of the class teams of C-USA. Then they close out the season with UAB, one of the conference's inept teams, and Rice's last chance to escape with some chance of dignity this season.
But if they play East Carolina and UAB like they played UAB, then escaping the season with dignity will be the least of their concerns.