The Rice Owls earned a sixth straight win on Saturday afternoon. The 17-7 win over UTSA improved the team's record to 6-3 while giving the Owls a tenth straight homecoming game win. The victory also made the Owls bowl-eligible for a third straight season, something that has never happened in Rice history.
Meanwhile, across town, the team UTSA defeated to open the season, the Houston Cougars, were hosting conference foe Tulane. A win would have earned the Cougars bowl eligibility. The Cougars will have to wait for that, however, as Tulane pulled off the 34-27 upset win.
The Rice win over UTSA further solidified the Owls' status as the best football team in Houston. In years past, the Owls would have lost this game as the offense self-destructed on numerous drives. On four occasions, Rice got inside the UTSA 30-yard line, only to throw an interception, miss two field goals and fail to convert on a fourth-and-one. But the Rice defense, instead of collapsing, strengthened, putting together a dominating performance.
The Owls limited UTSA to a total of 257 yards on offense (only allowing 83 yards in the first half). Rice was able to shut out UTSA until late in the fourth quarter, by which time the game was out of reach. The Rice offense cranked out 420 yards on offense, with running back Jowan Davis rushing for 121 yards on 25 attempts. The Owls punted just twice for the entire game, and converted on 12 of 20 third down attempts. But though the Owls dominated the game, the team was just not able to score points.
"That's just the beauty of the game," Rice QB Driphus Jackson said. "You're playing with a team. If it was just the offense out there by themselves, this game probably would've been totally different."
The Owls were frustrated by the win. Especially since they dominated the game from start to finish, moving the ball up and down the field with ease until getting into scoring territory, where things always found a way to break down. This was a problem for the Owls earlier in the season, running off long drives of more than ten plays yet failing time and time again to come away with points. This hadn't been much of an issue in the prior five wins, but it resurfaced today.
"Too many times we had an 11-play drive, a 13-play drive, and we don't get points," head coach David Bailiff said. 'You don't want to settle for field goals, and [we ended up] trying to settle for field goals and we weren't making those either. We really need to go back to work on finishing offensively." Jackson said after the game that he preferred winning ugly to looking nice and losing. And across town, it's likely that the Cougars (5-4) would have preferred any type of win. The Cougar offense cranked out 432 yards as the team rediscovered its passing game. The defense also gathered two more turnovers -- the 32nd straight game it has forced a turnover -- and those turnovers, which came in the last 1:53 of the first half, contributed to 10 UH points. But the Cougars turned the ball over four times (including three Greg Ward Jr. interceptions), and at this time, the Cougars are just not capable of winning games in which they make more mistakes than the opposition.
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"I talk about it every week," Houston head coach Tony Levine said. "Our formula for winning starts with turnovers. Not creating them, by themselves, but winning the turnover margin. We did not do that today. "
After the game, Levine addressed criticism of the team's offense, noting that when UH has passed the ball, the fans want the team to run, and that when it has run the ball, the fans want to pass. Levine noted that it was the nature of his offense to take what the defense gives, and that if the defense gives him the pass, he's going to pass.
"Probably a week ago, I got more comments of 'Why can't we throw the football anymore?' and then we threw for 342 yards today," Levine said. "A couple of weeks ago, 'Why can't we run the ball anymore?' and then we run the ball last week. So again, I think I've said this publicly before, teams have to decide what they have to do. Whether they try to take away our run game or take away certain receivers."
This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between the Owls and the Cougars this season. The Owls seemingly hit each game with an offensive game plan in mind and set out to dictate the play on the field. Adjustments are made, but the plan doesn't change. The whole Cougar game plan seems set on letting the defense dictate the style of play, then making the necessary adjustments. Maybe that's why the Owls are 6-3, bowl-eligible and riding a six-game winning streak while the Cougars are 5-4, struggling and still hoping for bowl eligibility.