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FIU 36, Rice 17

Owls picked up on fact at FIU that one way to move the rock is to loosen up defense with short passing game first (PTH photo)

MIAMI (Oct. 21) – In the waning moments of the third quarter, with his Owls down but still battling with a division-leading FIU team, Rice quarterback Evan Marshman found a gap, headed for the pylon and scored from 22 yards out to cut the lead to 26-17 and arouse hopes for an upset victory.

But when the freshman signal caller arose from the din and ran off the field to greet his celebrating teammates, his left hand was left dangling from his side. An injury it was, the verdict unknown, but speculation centered around the little finger of his (non-throwing) hand.

In the event, he didn’t take the field for the remainder of the game, and the Institute Boys were left to press on without him, having found a definite spark of ignition in his field generalship the first three quarters of the contest.

Whether they could’ve continued the comeback without him was pretty much made moot on the next series of downs, however, when the defense appeared to have the Panther attack bogged down just short of midfield, at fourth and four.

FIU punter Stone Wilson seized the opportunity to slash through an uncovered lane and picked up just enough for the first down when yellow flags came flying in.

On went the referee’s mike. “The call on the field is, personal foul – targeting. The play is being reviewed.”

Several minutes seemed to tick by as the local press box crew in an apparent attempt to rile up the minuscule crowd repeatedly ran a video sequence showing an FIU player crashing into the back of an unsuspecting Owl who was five or ten yards out of the play, the perpretrator’s helmet making firm contact with the good guy’s.

Finally, the mike clicked back on. “The call on the field is changed. There is no foul. First and ten, FIU.”

Now, it wasn’t that the targeting was waved off – the entire call was waived off! Preposterous, not the rules, right – the purpose of the review is to determine whether the offending party gets kicked out of the game, right?

“No, that’s a rule change they made this year,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren glumly reported, post-game. “They can wave off the whole foul.”

And so the gendarmarie did, and four plays later, resilient FIU quarterback James Morgan kept from four yards out to bring the score to 33-17 with just under ten minutes left in the game.

“The fake punt was really a critical deal,” the Rice head man averred. “It kind of turned the momentum in the game.”

Owls took fight to FIU from opening kickoff

It was a game in which the Owls took the fight to their opponents from the onset.

Rice took the opening kickoff, resolutely driving down the field for 75 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead midway into the first quarter. The difference in propulsion clearly appeared to lie in changed offensive tactics – no longer trying to move the rock via pile driver on first and second downs, but cutting loose a more mobile quarterback who, at least up to this point, is no Johnny Unitas but showed consistent accuracy in the short passing game.

In short, Evan Marshman made plays, converting a low snap into first-down yarage, completing pressure passes for first-downs on third-and-medium, exhibiting good scrambling ability and pretty decent pocket presence for a neophyte.

Wait, you, say, the kid flushed out of pocket in an instant. Fact is, under pressure, he had no choice, and managed consistently to move his team down the field despite the travails of his offensive line.

On that first touchdown drive, he completed key passes to Aaron Cephus for ten and a first down (first play of the game!), to Austin Trammell for 14 more, and Austin Walter twice. Unpredictability and versatility on first down definitely moved the machine down the field.

“We started the game exactly the way we wanted to,” Coach Bloom said afterwards. “Eight-minute drive; we went down and scored some points; kept them from scoring in the first quarter.”

The FIU offense did get cranked up in the second stanza, however.

With the Owls trailing 16-7 and just under three minutes to go in the first half, the Rice offense fashioned another impressive drive which covered 51 yards to the FIU 24 before the clock caught up with them and a couple of misfires meant the Flock had to settle for a 47-yard Haden Tobola field goal, the longest of his career. It propelled the Owls into the halftime locker room down by a single score, though, with high hopes for a winning second half effort.

Marshman's one pickoff result of defender's grasp

The score likely would’ve been deadlocked had not a Marshman pass been picked off deep in Rice territory when an onrushing defender managed to brush his arm on the downstroke with ten minutes to go in the second quarter. One play later, FIU quarterback James Morgan hit his receiver Austin Maloney for a diving catch in the end zone to give the locals the lead for the first time in the game.

The bulk of FIU’s scoring production came from that short “drive” plus a 51-yard jet sweep by the Panthers’ Maurice Alexander, his having narrowly evaded the grasp of a Rice defender closing in for the tackle. It was a play that was going to go for a loss of six or a TD. An FIU TD won out. Juuust a wee bit more athleticism would’ve won out for Rice.

FIU took the second-half kickoff and got moving quickly, Morgan connecting with Austin Maloney again for 16 yards and a first down. Owl defenders stiffened their necks, however, when Brandon Douglas-Dotson first nailed the Panthers’ Cadarius Gaskin for a loss of four yards, then batted away a Morgan pass attempt on third and nine.

FIU scored again at 4:13 of the third quarter when James Morgan hit his Shemar Thornton for the TD from 29 yards out – another score on a big play where Rice defensive containment broke down. The defense was largely solid throughout, although giving up a couple dozen first downs. Big scoring plays were the key. Gotta work on that.

Still, down 26-10, the Owls weren’t at all ready to fold their tent. Instead, they responded by driving 75 yards in seven plays, Austin Trammell getting a couple of key, first-down-producing receptions along the way, and Juma Otoviano surging for 15 more yards to set up Evan Marshman’s 22-yard TD scamper.

But without benefit of the productive freshman at the wheel the rest of the way, the Rice offense couldn’t get untracked, backup Wiley Green making a couple of pass completions – one short, one deep – but they were both to the wrong guy, someone wearing the other team’s uniform.

“We played a lot of true freshman, a lot of young guys who got their first experience in college football,” Coach Bloomgren noted postgame. “They did some really good things; never felt like the moment was too big for them.”

“I’m proud of the effort we gave, on the road, against a really good football team,” he added. “We’re going to keep building. This is a process; we’ve talked about it since day one. Our kids are continuing to work – and that’s all we can ask for them. We’re going to continue to control the controllable.”

“When we come in Monday, we are absolutely going to attack the next opponent.”