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2015 USM game page


With offense shut down by USM, Rice defense holds on until midway in the second; then implodes as visitors surge to yardage record


Owl defensemen's view of the proceedings Saturday was largely looking up, or in the rear-view mirror (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Nov. 15) -- The Rice Owls' downhill slalom continued here Saturday with a 65-10 Homecoming Game thrashing at the hands of a resurgent Southern Mississippi team.


The loss leaves the Owls with a 4-6 season record with two games remaining. If the Flock manages to beat UT-San Antonio on the road Saturday, and then wins in the season finale at home against UNC-Charlotte the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they'll finish with a 6-6 season record that will render them bowl-eligible, and, with the proliferation of no-name bowl games on the horizon, the result would most likely mean post-season play for the South Main boys.

But consecutive defeats to UTEP on the road (24-21) plus this stinkeroo (you figure out which was the worse loss) pretty much ended the Owls' chances for a season they'd want to tell anyone about.

This one was a ball game, more or less, until midway in the second quarter as the Owl defense forced stops on two out of the Golden Eagles’ first three possession. Down 7-0, it appeared as if the Rice defenders had forced USM’s hand once again when they held on third down and goal to go, but a fake field goal on fourth and goal from the six worked to perfection, yielding up a 14-0 deficit that opened the flood for a bevy of late secon-quarter USM scores, which were piled up via every which way.

“I thought the way that game started defensively we played outstanding in the first quarter,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said afterwards. “ When they ran the fake field goal we had numbers, we just did not make a play – and at that point we went flat.”

Flat, indeed. The fake-field-goal-turned TD occurred with 9:22 left in the half. Over the next nine minutes, the Mississippians scored four more touchdowns to take a 42-0 lead into the halftime locker room.

At the half, the Rice offense had garned all of three first downs. Their efforts faltered, forcing fourth-down punts at the Rice 26, 17,22, 27, 21, 7, 17 and finally the Owl 49 yard line, just before the half. That’s not exactly winning the field position game.

Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson was sacked five times during that skein before he would be replaced late in the second quarter by his backup, Tyler Stehling. It didn’t help.

Putting icing on the cake, the Eagles took the second-half kickoff and immediately scored again on a Jalen Richard 60-yard TD run.  By the end of the game, USM had run up a school-record 682 yards of total offense.

Down 58-0 in the fourth quarter, the Owls broke their goose-egg when Derek Brown forced a fumble by punt returner Jalen Richard which was recovered by Luke Turner at the USM 13.

Unfortunately, from there three Tyler Stehling passing attempts went nowhere, but Hayden Tobola converted a 33-yard field goal try to put the Owls on the board.

Moments later, down 65-3, Driphus re-entered the game and threw eight straight completions against USM defensive reserves to lead the Owls on a ten-play, 77-yard drive that closed out scoring.

So where do we go from here? Anywhere?

"We've got two games left, and we've got to somehow come back in these two games and play the best football that we've played all year," Coach Bailiff said postgame. "We're going to go home and meet on Monday, and we're going to get this figured out as a team, as a coaching staff and it's something I believe we can do."

--P.T.H.


HOUSTON (Nov. 11) -- One thing's clear: the Rice Owl football team that went out the past two weekends and lost consecutive games to Louisiana Tech and, blecch, Texas El-Paso is not a team that should be able to beat Southern Mississippi in Saturday's anticipated Homecoming tilt at Rice Stadium.

This group of individuals will need quickly to coalesce into a different type of fighting outfit if it intends to stand more than a cut dog’s chance Saturday, not to mention in its remaining contests.

There isn't time for Screaming Eagle paratrooper basic training and multiple runs up Mount Currahee. Not even time for a quick Navy Seabees boot camp session courtesy Rice basketball coach Mike Rhoades.

Nope, this transformation, if it is to occur at all, must take place between the ear lobes and inside the noggins of several dozen highly intelligent young men who've spent a good part of their afternoons this week trying to get back to basics on the Rice Stadium turf.

Senior Owl utility man Luke Turner said Monday he’s convinced his teammates have the wherewithal to make a rapid mental turnaround and be ready to play Saturday the way they traditionally show up come each November.

“We have a really good team; we're just not playing to the potential that we have,” Luke told press. “We've got to fix it, and if I had to put it on anyone to fix it, I'd put it on this team -- but first you've got to own it.'

“You have to own up to what you've been doing wrong," he went on. "If we can own up to what we've been doing wrong and see it, then we can change it. We need some help. Our coaches have to help and we have to want to be helped as well.”

Tall order, for such a turnaround to have to take place within a week’s time, particularly against a resurgent Southern Miss which presents a far less-than-ideal matchup situation for the Owls.

First, what’s the Owls’ most deadly kryptonite? The record shows a highly mobile, talented, big, dual-threat opposing quarterback with a strong arm has proven to be a firm recipe for disaster on South Main.

And the Golden Eagles have one of them there fellers. Goes by the name of Nick Mullens; he’s a 6-1, 196-pound junior from Hoover, Alabama, who’s made steady progress in his role since first breaking into the lineup late his freshman season.

Mullens started nine games as a sophomore in 2014, winding up with 2,470 yards passing and 12 TD throws. This season he’s already exceeded those totals, with 25 touchdown passes in his first nine games of the season.

His last outing was two weeks ago against the self-same UTEP team that humbled the Owls on Friday. You’ve figured it out – that one-plus-one means the Owls once again this season are facing a team which had an off week prior to taking them on.

Mullens and his teammates handled the Miners quite readily in Hattiesburg two weeks ago, extending a 13-3 halftme lead to a 34-13 victory, their third win in a row, at 6-3 on the season making themselves bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.

Against UTEP, the junior quarterback threw for four touchdowns as the Golden Eagles tallied 523 yards total offense, 277 through the air and 246 on the ground. How’s that for balance?

In assisting his team's steamroll of the Miners, junior wide receiver D J Thompson caught ten passes for 112 yards and two TDs. Meanwhile, Jalen Richard, a 210 pound senior from Alexandria, LA, picked up 127 yards rushing – his third 100-yard game in a row -- while his backfield mate, Ito Smith, added another 104 while averaging over 11 yards per carry..

On the season, the Eagles are racking up an average of 186.2 yards per game rushing and 321.4 passing. Their 500-plus yards per game offense has dominated all four quarters of play, with a third-quarter scoring margin of 97-57 and a fourth-quarter bulge of 82-57.

Defensively, USM is led by a pair of bullish linebackers, 6-foot, 215-pound D’Nerius Antoine, who hails from New Iberia, LA, and Brian Anderson, a 5-10, 240 pound senior from Little Rock.

In the secondary, the Eagles lead tackler is corner Reed Kalan, with 36 thus far on the season. Meanwhile, the leading big man is defensive lineman Dylan Bradley, a 6-1, 265-pounder from Macon, Mississippi, with 34 stops.

USM coach Jeff Monken has warned his team that they are facing a Rice bunch on their home turf at Homecoming – and Rice has won 10 straight homecoming contests dating back to 2004.

“You’re talking about one of the best programs in our conference,” Coach Monken said Monday. “We’re going to have to be at our best because they have good coaches, and when you have a senior quarterback, you’re always a threat."

Much of the Owls’ limited success thus far this season has come during rainy weather. The forecasters predict a possibly wet weekend coming up, but an anticipated line of thunderstorms is not expected to hit the Houston area until after dark Saturday.

By that time of day, Rice Homecoming attendees should be delving into their evening soirees, scotches and chablis in hand. Those who attend the game might well be needing it.

--P.T.H.