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2015 UTSA game page

UTSA 34, Rice 24


Zach Wright comes down with 26 yard Driphus Jackson TD pass to put the Owls back up, 17-14, second quarter (David Speed Elder photo)

HOUSTON – Oh, well, at least we can make our Holiday travel plans now.

For Rice fans, students, player families, teams, those plans won’t include a December weekend cheering on the Owls at a bowl game, any bowl game. In a season that initially stacked up to be a near-cinch for an unprecedented fourth-straight year with post-season play on the calendar, things just didn’t work out that way.

The final coffin nail was Saturday’s 34-24 loss to the University of Texas at San Antonio in a head-scratcher of a game in which the Owls outperformed their lesser opponent at nearly every twist and turn. Nearly.

But a determined UTSA bunch made the big offensive plays and the key defensive stops while the Owls doused themselves with enough kerosene for self-immolation in the form of penalities, turnovers and missed assignments. Same song, another verse.

It was yet another bout that, in the past three seasons, somehow would've wound up with celebration in the Rice locker room instead of the dead silence that accompanied the team as it trudged off the field and down the Alamodome corridors.

One could say about this effort for the Roadrunners what the Coogs used to say about Rice: hey, it was their bowl game.

The game started out well enough for the Owls, who appeared to be on their way to an easy win after taking a 10-0 lead early on. Taking the opening kickoff, Rice drove right down the field mixing the pass and run before having to settle for three after an Owl receiver dropped Driphus Jackson’s throw across the middle on third and seven from the UTSA 28.

Hayden Tobola’s 45-yard effort was true, however – a career long for him – and it gave the Owls a 3-0 lead. The Rice defense followed by promptly stuffing the UTSA offensive effort after a single first down, and the Owls took back over at their own 37 thanks to a nifty 14-yard punt return by Sam Stewart.

It took the Flock only five plays to go the distance from there, Driphus hitting a wide-open Nate German for 58 yards and the score on second and 15.

Thus, ten minutes deep into the game, the Owls had themselves a two-score lead. One more stop would have spoken long and loud at that point. But it didn’t happen. Roadrunner quarterback Dalton Sturm was able to connect on two 20-yards-plus passes to set up the UTSAns with first and goal at the Rice two yard line.

There, the Owl defense stiffened, however. On third and goal from the one, UTSA running back Jarveon Williams was stacked up for no gain, but the officials ruled he’d gotten the ball over the goal. He appeared to be down short of the goal, but the replay was adjudged not to have provided indisputable proof of same, so the score stood, and it was 10-7, Owls.

The Rice offense came right back and marched down the field, DJ hitting Sam Stewart with a key connection for 26 yards to the UTSA 31. But on second and nine from the 30, another young Rice OL was flagged for an illegal block, effectly a drive-killer, as Driphus’ deep ball on second and seven, intended for an open Dennis Parks, was picked off by UTSA’s Bennett Okotcha at the 11, whereupon he returned the pill 26 yards back up the field giving the Roadrunners good field position at their 37.

"Dennis just lost it in the lights," Coach Bailiff explained afterwards. "He just couldn't find it. We came here yesterday to work in an indoor stadium, but you could just see that he couldn't see where the ball was. That was where we thought he was about to go up and make a big play, and then you could see that he just lost it."

The Owl defense appeared to wilt a bit at that point; it was beginning to look like a case of deja vu all over again as UTSA’s Sturm once again led the Roadrunners down the field, eventually hitting his Kerry Thomas Jr. for 23 yards and the score on third and 12 at the Rice 23.

But once again, the Owls came right back, Driphus connecting with Dennis Parks and Zach Wright for good yardage. Zach got the last 26 yards and a Rice touchdown after slipping behind the UTSA defense on third and six.

The Owls thus had themselves a 17-14 lead midway in the second quarter. It was a lead that lasted exactly 21 seconds, though, when Jarveon Williams took the first-down handoff, popped the scrimmage line and outran everybody 78 yards for the score, untouched.

“We had a young man who was supposed to blitz on that play, and he didn’t,” Rice head coach David Bailiff explained postgame. In other words, he zigged when he shoulda’ zagged.

The result was a 24-17 UTSA lead that the Roadrunner would never relinquish. The defensive breakdown took a good bit of wind out of the Owls’ sails, and the rest of the contest proved to be frought with frustration for both the Rice offensive and defensive units.

That was made especially so when Driphus was jarred loose of the ball on second and seven at the Rice 29. With field position at the lip of the red zone, the Roadrunners scored in four plays to make it 28-17.

A holding penalty stymied the next Owl possession, and that was all she wrote for the first half.

Now in the third quarter, the Flock defense came out and fashioned impressive three-and-outs on the Roadrunners’ initial three possessions. Derek Brown, Zach Espinosa and Preston Gordon came up big among Owl defenders at that point.

Should have been good enough to get the Owls back into the game, and it was, almost, as after Brian Womac sacked UTSA’s Sturm to make it fourth and 19 at the Roadrunner 22, a short punt and a brief return by Sam Stewart set up the Flock at the UTSA 46.

Alternating the short passing game with positive running bursts by Sam Stewart, Driphus got the Owls into striking distance when he hit James Mayden for 12 yards to the UTSA 3. From there, Darik Dillard took it over, and the Owls had cut the lead to 28-24 midway into the third quarter.

Things began to look even brighter when Derek Brown got an 11-yard sack of the UTSA quarterback on third down from the 34. The ensuing punt gave the Owls decent field position at their 35, and it was time to crank up the engine and retake the lead.

The Owls got as far as the UTSA 35 on their ensuing possession, but from there, bogged down, as Austin Walter was dropped for a loss of eight on first down, and Driphus was dumped for a loss of two more on second.

Still, the Owls looked to be in pretty decent shape when James Farrimond punted out 40 yards to the UTSA four yard line.

But it was then that the Rice defense really went into a deep swoon, as, after a 46-yard completion, Sturm to David Morgan II was wiped out by an obvious offensive pass interference, the walk-on sophomore quarterback from Class 3A Goliad went right back to the well, connecting with his all conference tight end for 32 years and a fare-thee-well.

Sturm completed the de facto 142-yard Roadrunner drive when he once again linked up with Morgan for 19 yards and the score. There next appeared to be a possible temptation of the football gods when the UTSA extra-point attempt caromed off the right upright, no good. Now a Rice TD and a field goal, in nor particular order, would send the game into overtime.

Once again, the picture brightened when the Owls took the ensuing kickoff and cranked right up. Nate German did the bulk of the damage with a 45-yard reception which ended at the UTSA 14.

After an incompletion on a quick sideline pass in Nate’s direction, two rushing plays netted nine yards, and the Owls faced fourth and one at the UTSA 5. So it was decision time: go for the first, or pick up the chip-shot field goal. Nobody had reason to complain when the Owl brain trust elected try and pick up the first down.

Only one problem: everybody on the home side of the field knew that the ensuing play would develop in either one of two ways. Either Luke Turner would come and run the Wild Owl, and everybody would key on him (which, incidentally, is not always detrimental to Bob’s intents and purposes in the event). Or Driphus would line up in the spread position, five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and hand off to Darik Dillard who’d drive straight ahead in an attempt to pick up the necessary yardage.

A hustle up to the line, man under, and quick quarterback sneak between legs of guard and center? Not an option. Not in the play book.

The Roadrunners thus were ready, dropping Darik short of the first, and took over on downs, smelling victory in the air.

And still it was that the Owls couldn’t keep UTSA from hanging onto the ball and eating clock. QB Sturm started things by scrambling for 36 yards to midfield. A couple of plays later, the Owls appeared to have the UTSA drive stopped until linebacker Alex Lyons was tagged for a dead ball unsportmanlike foul that preserved the UTSAn’s possession.

"I was stunned that a junior captain would do that," Coach Bailiff said of Alex’ faux pas. "He said, 'I retaliated.' And I said, 'We talked all week about it – the second guy always gets caught.' That was unacceptable."

The Roadrunners eventually pooch-punted to the Rice 10 yard line, and that point, ten points down, with seven minutes to go in the game, and with nothing much doing for the Owls on the offensive side of the ball, it was a bit too tall a mountain to climb.

Hence, the score stayed where it was, leading up to the Institute Boys’ silent march to the postgame locker room.

"As a senior, I'm extremely disappointed we won't go to a fourth bowl game," defensive tackle Ross Winship said after the game. "Timing is a really important thing. When the defense got it done, the offense couldn't. And when the offense got it done, the defense couldn't.”

That just about summed it up – a neat bit of fish wrap for this dead mackerel of a game. And season.

--P.T.H.


HOUSTON (Nov. 18) -- Time to just go out and just have some fun playing the game of football, maybe?

The Rice Owls likely would not be doing themselves any favors by setting up as a do-or-die straw man the vanquishing of their final two foes of the regular season in order to obtain minor bowl game consideration.

The lads obviously have been carrying a lot more than pads on their shoulders over the last three games. The 'must-win' concern hasn't worked, only adding to the burden placed upon Rice's squadmen in what has added up to be a classic rebuilding year -- not to mention a full academic load, you know, having to attend class, study, things that 95 per cent of their opponents' personnay-ulls don't have to bother with.

Senior Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson has spoken repeatedly of focusing on the joy of the game, the same kind of feeling he used to get on the playground as a tyke. “We just need to have fun and play with a chip on our shoulder,” he’s observed.

This week features a short trip down I-10 to a place synonymous with fun weekends for the kids – the Alamo City, San Antone, to take on the UTSA Roadrunners. Head Coach Larry Coker’s team is only 2-7 on the season, but has weathered arguably the nation's toughest nonconference schedule to open the season.

The Roadrunners not only traveled to then-No. 22 Arizona to kick off the campaign and then-No. 25 Oklahoma State, but they also hosted Kansas State and Colorado State at the Alamodome. These four teams all went to bowl games a year ago and picked up a total of 36 wins in the process. The Roadrunners lost to all four to those guys, but stayed within ten to Arizona (42-32) and a couple to Colorado State (33-31).

If you care to play the transitive game, these San Antonians beat their big rivals, UTEP, 25-6, in El Paso the first week in October. Then again, they lost to North Texas, 30-23, three weeks later.

UTSA is young -- younger than the Owls, it turns out. That’s what happens when you graduate, er, de-matriculate, 30 seniors the year before. The UTSAns have seen 33 newcomers make their debut this fall, including 20 first-time starters, compared to Rice’s 31 and 19, respectively.

The main cog in the Roadrunners’ offensive wheel is junior running back Jarveon Williams, who rushed for a school-record 181 yards to lift UTSA to a 30-27 win at UNC-Charlotte last Saturday. Williams rushed for 150 of his yards after halftime, including a 68-yarder that helped kick-start an offense that Charlotte held to 83 yards in the first half.

Jarveon, a Converse Judson alum, has received a program-record 151 of  235 carries, which amounts to 64.3 per cent of the total rushing attempts by UTSA's running backs -- and his rushes have gone for a UTSA single-season record 874 yards.

Another stalwart on the offensive side is Senior TE David Morgan II, who is UTSA's lone returning All-Conference USA honoree. The Marble Falls native is coming off a junior year that saw him catch 20 passes for 255 yards (12.8 avg.) and one touchdown in nine games of action, including six starts. He opened his final season with a school-record nine receptions for 109 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown catch, at Arizona.

At quarterback, soph Dalton Sturm, a walk-on from 3A Goliad, tied Eric Soza's three-year-old program record with his four touchdown passes -- two each to David Morgan II and junior WR JaBryce Taylor -- in his first-ever start as a Roadrunner against Louisiana Tech Oct. 10.

Prior to that start, Sturm had seen limited action in three games off the bench, but was elevated to starter when redshirt freshman QB Blake Bogenschutz was lost for the season due to injury. He's completed 101 of 175 passes for 1,032 yards and 10 scores this season and added another 297 on the ground.

The UTSA defense is led by senior safety Duke Wheeler, who racked up a career-high 15 tackles, including a program-record-tying 10 solos, against Louisiana Tech (Oct. 10. He followed that performance with another 11 at Southern Miss (Oct. 17), 10 more three weeks ago at North Texas (Oct. 31), 13 against Old Dominion (Nov. 7) and another 14 including a UTSA-record 11 solo stops last Saturday at Charlotte, giving him 63 in the past five contests.

Another standout secondary man is junior safety Michael Egwuagu, who leads the team with three pass interceptions and also has picked up seven pass breakups on the safety blitz, to go along with 53 tackles.

The defensive line is workaday, but ably backed up by senior Drew Douglas and sophomore Marcos Curry. Douglas, UTSA's "Mike" linebacker, has racked up 63 tackles including 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He’s matched his career high with 11 stops in each of the past two games. Meanwhile, Curry, who plays "Hawk" in the Roadrunners' 4-2-5 scheme, is fourth on the team with 61 stops, including 3.5 for loss and two sacks.

All in all, the Owls match up reasonably well against this UTSA team, which does not feature the game-breaking quarterback; is less than overwhelming in the offensive and defensive lines, and features a solid, but not unstoppable running attack. Add it up, and you get the kind of team the South Main boys just might be able to have some fun against.

--P.T.H.