2016 North Texas game
UNT 42, Rice 35
ALANCE-KA -- Rice receiver Lance Wright hauls in scoots
into end zone from 14 yards out to extend Rice's lead in first
quarter (David Speed Elder photo)
HOUSTON (Sept. 25) -- That giant sucking sound you heard echoing
from within the confines of Rice Stadium Saturday evening was the
desperate din of a season going down, down, down the drain.
The Rice Owls surged to a 17-0
first-quarter lead against a University of North Texas team that was
as green as the numbers on their jerseys, only to fall victim to an
oft-repeated routine: no lack of effort throughout; strong start,
adjustment failure, eventual breakdown in execution.
The resulting 42-35 double-overtime loss
virtually assures the Owls of their second consecutive
bowl-game-less losing season, at a time when Rice's gridiron future
may well hinge on the maintenance of a modicum of competitiveness
among the also-rans of the college football world.
A quick show of hands.....how many of you
would like to be standing in Rice AD Joe Karlgaard's shoes right
And to think the game started out as what
ought to have been a blowout laugher. Rice engineered sustained
drives for three consecutive scores to start out the game, while UNT
sputtered out of the box with a three-and-out the first two times it
got the ball.
Owl quarterback Tyler Stehling got his
sideline passing game cranked up early with a ten yard completion to
Zach Wright, first play. One play later, Darik Dillard broke through
the line for 21 yards and the Owls were in business.
Stehling connected with Lance Wright for
17 yards for a first and goal at the UNT nine, but from there,
things bogged down and Haden Tobola was called on to try a field
goal from 40 yards out; it was true and the Flock led 3-0.
On UNT's first possession, Graysen Schantz
nailed Jeffrey Wilson for scant yardage on first down, and two Mason
Fine incompletions later, the Eagles had to punt.
The Owls picked up where they left off,
driving 77 yards in 13 plays, gathering up six first downs in the
process. On third and four at the North Texas 14, Stehling
connecting with an open Lance Wright who outraced his defenders to
the end zone, and the Owls were up, 10-0.
UNT took the ensuing kickoff and was
driven backwards, Tabari McGaskey nailing receiver Willy Ivery for a
loss of two. Next play, Preston Gordon sacked UNT QB Fine for a loss
On third and 22, Graysen Schantz stormed
in to down Fine agains for a loss of eight – and the football. UNT
managed to come up with the pill in the scrum, but that that point
the not-so-Mean Green faced fourth and 30.
Rice cranked it right back up and drove
for another TD, utilizing both Tyler Stehling and Nate German at the
helm in storming 62 yards in ten plays, a key play being a 26-yard
completion, Stehling to Zach Wright from the North Texas 47. When
Emmanuel Esukpa burled over from the one yard line six plays later,
the Owls had themselves a 17-0 lead two minutes deep into the second
UNT ate into Owl lead, second
At that point, the Owls had rolled to 180
yards total offense to UNT’s minus-17. The home team had picked up
14 first downs to the visitors’ big fat zero. The game was as
one-sided as homestanding Owl fans had seen in, frankly, many a
But from that point, the Owl offense went
into hibernation until late in the fourth quarter, while the UNT
offensive attack sputtered to life and began to gather momentum.
What happened to result in such sea
"It's really tough when you race out to a
17-0 lead and then sit there and watch it slip away and watch your
team make errors on three drives with three turnovers," Rice head
coach David Bailiff said afterwards. "We had too many turnovers and
too many penalties and gave up some big plays to North Texas
defensively. We made too many mistakes, and eight penalties."
On their next possession, the Eagles
suddenly seemed to have solved Rice’s defensive set, connecting on
four big plays, two passing, two running, cutting the Owl lead to
17-7 when Willie Ivery hauled in Mason Fine’s pass from 16 yards
The Owls moved the ball once again until
coughing it up at the UNT 41 when Austin Walter was separated from
the ball after running for nine.
Rice had a chance to extend the margin
when Myles Adams sacked North Texas QB Fine for a loss of ten, and
the ball, at the UNT 31, where Emmanuel Ellerbee recovered the
But a holding and delay-of-game penalty
pushed the Owls back to a third-and-20, whereupon Tyler Stehling
forced a passed that was picked off by the Eagles’ Keith McClain at
the UNT 11.
Neither team could garner any offense from
that point until Eagle quarterback Fine, with two minutes showing on
the halftime clock, connected with his Kenny Buyers for a 75-yard
pass-and-run that set up JeffreyWilson’s one-yard scoring plunge to
cut the Rice lead to 17-14 with 45 seconds left in the half. So the
Owls had let the Mean Green back into the game, going into the
halftime locker room.
"We can't do that," Rice linebacker
Emmanuel Ellerbee said in his post-game presser. "Just because we
punched somebody in the mouth first doesn't mean they're not going
to retaliate. Anybody who's a grown man is going to retaliate back
at you, so we should have expected that. For us to sit back there
and act like that wasn't going to happen, that's something, as
defensive players, we need to get together."
Owls extended lead with field
goal in third quarter
Midway in the third, Jowan Davis and Lance
Wright put the Owls in scoring position with an 18-yard dash and a
24-yard reception, respectively. When the drive stalled at the North
Texas 19, Haden Tobola was true once again on his 36-yard field goal
The Owls were able to hold the resulting
20-14 lead for exactly one play.
Jeffrey Wilson gave the Mean Green a 21-20
lead when on first down after the ensuing kickoff touchback, he took
the handofff and cleared for a 75-yard scoring run.
While the Rice offense continued to
sputter, North Texas at length was able to extend its lead to 28-20
with an 86-yard drive that covered nine plays, the Rice defense
being beset by a plague of arm-tackling along the way.
When it looked as if North Texas would win
going away, Tyler Stehling’s 41-yard scramble that carried all the
way to the UNT one-yard line engendered hope among the thinned-out
"We knew we had to score," Tyler Stehling
said postgame. "We were running out of time, down by eight. To be
honest, it was just a pass play and I saw green grass and I took
Darik Dillard scored two plays later from
the one, and the Flock knotted the score with a two-pointer
throwback toss from Tyler Stehling to Robbie Wells.
The Rice defense subsequently held UNT to
a three-and-out, but only 34 seconds remained on the scoreboard
clock when the Owls took over at their own 19. So we go to overtime.
Rice lost the coin toss, thus going on
offense first. The Owls faced a fourth-and-inches from the UNT 16
three plays later, but Darik Dillard converted on fourth down. Three
plays later, the senior running back scored his second TD of the
game on a three-yard pop into the end zone. Rice 35, UNT 28.
Things were looking well for Rice when on
UNT's first play in response, Emmanuel Ellerbee nailed Jeffrey
Wilson for a loss of three on a short pass to the flat. But the next
play, the Owl middle defense succumbed to a trap play that burst the
same Wilson through for a 23-yard dash to the Rice five. Wilson
scored the next play.
It looked as if UNT would have to settle
for a field goal on its next possession when QB Fine misconnected on
third and six from the Rice nine yard line. But a controversial
roughing-the-passer play gave the North Texans new life with a
first-and-goal at the four.
The Owl defender clearly appeared to have
been blocked into the UNT quarterback, and in fact looked to have
held onto Fine to keep him upright. But Mister Magoo saw it
differently, and that turned out to be the difference in the ball
game, when Willy Avery scored from four yards out on the next play.
On the Owls’ next and final possession,
Stehling connected with Zach Wright for eight yards on second and
ten. Pretty much everybody on the field and in the stands knew what
was coming next.
Sure enough, the handoff went to Darik
Dillard who was stopped a yard short of the first down.
Fourth-and-one, same play. After all, it
had worked all night. But this time it didn’t, as UNT’s Jareid Combs
and the center of the UNT line stacked up to drop the reliable Rice
running back for a loss of two – and the game.
"They just made an adjustment," Darik said
afterwards. "They were able to just pinch the middle, and they were
able stop us on that one play."
And that’s how what should have been a
blowout win turned into a miserable loss for the Owls.
"You've got to have the mentality when you
get that kind of start that it becomes a frenzy of wanting more and
more and not putting sunglasses on and enjoying your work," Coach
Bailiff said. "We had a bad mentality and that's something we've got
to fix fast. We can't make the mistakes we're making and win
football games. And that all starts right here with me."
"The guys are hurt right now," the Rice
mentor added glumly. "There will be a lot of soul-searching. And I
have to, too. Everything in this program begins with me. I've got to
look at what we're doing. Players win games, coaches lose them, and
this is one we darn sure should've won."
HOUSTON (Sept. 22) -- One
thing's perfectly clear about Saturday's 5 p.m. tilt at Rice Stadium
between the homestanding Owls and the visitors from North Texas.
They don't do ties in college football anymore; there's going to be
a winner, and there's going to be a loser.
the Owls are winless in three tries -- as all of us who keep track
of the grid Bottom 10 and Bottom 25 columns know -- the Mean Green
are 1-2, but with their lone win coming against FCS entrant
Each side will be pretty much desperate
for a victory -- the players, their fans, and, lord knows, certainly
the respective coaches of each team.
North Texas is a cipher. Last week
against monster opponent Florida, UNT lost "only" 32-0, but in so
doing they gained a grand total of 53 yards total offense. Turns out
that's the stingiest defensive effort ever put up by Gator gridders
in their over-century-long history.
UNT's true freshman quarterback, Mason
Fine, was sacked seven times by the Florida defense, but arose to
fight again each time -- no mean feat, given that he checks in at
only 5-11, 170 pounds soaking wet, and just a season ago was bowing
under as QB for the Pirates of Locust Grove High School in rural
As a schoolboy, Fine put up some
beyond-impressive numbers, accumulating 13,081 yards passing, which
ranks number eight, all-time, in national high school ranks. He also
ran or passed for 166 touchdowns, fifth all-time in high school
Shades of Kenneth Hall. (Is anyone out
there old enough to remember who Kenneth Hall was? Sugar Land
Actually, “shades of Kyle Herm” would be
a more accurate analogy, and a much more recent reference.
The greenhorn was sent onto the field
for the first time in the fourth quarter of UNT's opening-game loss to SMU,
immediately leading his team on a face-saving TD drive. Once he got
the job, he's kept it.
He did show some reflections of his
prolific high school career in the Eagles' 41-20 win over
outmanned and overmatched Bethune-Cookman, not exactly one of your
small-college football powers.
But last week, hard times came at
Gainesville. Suffice it to say that his ability and performance
level stands to land somewhere between the varying results he
displayed in the Bethune-Cookman and the Florida games.
Ah, but where?
Rookie head coach Seth Littrell has gone
about installing a new spread offensive scheme in Denton this
season. The Owls have been notoriously susceptible to even fairly
feeble spread attacks when they're run by a mobile quarterback with
speedy wideouts who can push the attack downfield.
Yet the South Main boys, after whiffing
against both Western Kentucky's passing game and Army's running game,
showed signs of life defensively against Baylor last week,
especially early in the contest.
Ironically, then, it may be the defenses of
the two teams upon which the game's outcome ultimately turns.
Mean Green defenders put up a third-quarter goose egg against the
Gators, and displayed a capable goal line defense, twice stopping the
Floridians on fourth down inside the ten.
Defensive back Nate Brooks was key in the effort, intercepting a
pass, breaking up a couple other passing attempts, and putting up
eight tackles on the night.
Elsewhere on defense, the Meanies are
paced by junior safety Kishawn McClain (out of Rosenberg), a
preseason All-Conference USA selection, who led the team in tackles
in 2015, recording 110 as a sophomore, which ranked within the top
There’s also Junior linebacker Joshua
Wheeler ( from Grand Prairie), a transfer from Tyler JC, where he
excelled as a juco All-American pass rusher.
With those guys roaming the turf, in
their 41-20 win against Bethune-Cookman, the UNT defense gave up
only a single score.
Bethune-Cookman took an early lead via
an 88-yard punt return, and later registered a pick-six for their
second score of the game. Were it not for an 83-yard touchdown run
by backup quarterback Akevious Williams with 2:42 remaining in the
fourth, North Texas' defense would have pitched a shutout.
But that was against Bethune-Cookman.