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2018 LA Tech week

Louisiana Tech 28, Rice 13

RUSTON, La. (Nov. 11) -- The Rice Owls showed brief flashes of what yet might come to pass in the not-too-distant future, in a 28-13 loss to Louisiana Tech here on a cold, dank November Saturday night.

Despite the loss, there were bright spots for the Owls on both sides of the ball, as they were in the thick of the fight through midway in the fourth quarter, when a promising drive stalled and the Institute had to settle for three, bringing the score to 21-13.

It looked as if the Boys of South Main might cut the Tech lead to four at that point, but instead, the Bulldogs quickly put some distance between the two teams when, keyed by a 44-yard pass play on a post route, quarterback J’Mar Smith to his frosh reeiver Wayne Toussaint, they managed to tack on another TD to put the game out of reach.

“I think LA Tech is a talented, well-coached team,” a resolute Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said postgame. “For us to take them into deep water and bring it to within one score in the fourth quarter was huge."

Rice had taken an initial 3-0 lead after the Owl defense had completely stymied the Tech offensive attack for the duration of the first quarter, and beyond, for that matter. The ‘Dogs’ first three possessions resulted in a three-and-out, a short drive ending on a Prudy Calderon interception -- he had two on the night -- when QB Smith tried to go deep, and a fumble recovery when Smith bobbled the snap.

In fact, the Rice defense kept the pressure on the Tech quarterback throughout the first half, keeping him on the run and making him hurry his throws repreatedly.

Walters twins shone offensively

On the offensive side, the Walter brothers, Austin and Astin, were Rice’s stars of the game, putting on a solid display for the Owls, Astin picking up 72 yards on a careeer-high 17 carries and Austin garnering an even hundred yards via the pass reception route, 69 of which came on a spectacular touchdown pass-and-run on the Flock’s first possession of the third quarter.

On that scoring play, Shawn Stankavage’s pass was deep and perfectly delivered, and Austin broke away from the grasp of would-be tackler James Jackson to have clear sailing down the visitors’ sideline.

That score put the Owls up, 10-7, a lead which they held until late in the third quarter. But that’s when things began to unravel, as they so typically have done in this benighted season..

The Techsters scored two quick touchdowns as third quarter ended, sandwiching a Rice three-and-out. The culprit, as usual, was the Owls’ propensity to get beaten deep.

It went from 10-7, Rice, to 21-10, Tech within a span of three minutes, with Tech QB Smith going over the top to hit Adrian Hardy for 49 yars to the Rice one; and then coming back next possession dinking the stretched Rice defenders with quick-release tosses that garnered one first down after another, Smith finally connecting again with Hardy for the score from 16 yards out.

The Owls refused to throw in the towel, though, coming right back to fashion a crisp drive, all but 13 yards of it coming on the ground, as Astin Walker picked up 32 yards and a couple of key first downs, and Juma Otoviana added 16 more.

But the key play on the drive was the 13-yard completion to Rhett Cardwell on fourth and three from the LATech 40. The Owls got as far as a first and ten at the Tech 11, but it seems that when the football gods want to punish you, they give a first and ten at the 11 yard line. Four plays to reach paydirt, 11 yards away.

In this event, two running plays failed to produce, and Aaron Cephus narrowly missed stretching far enough to haul in a fade route in the end zone on third and long. Consequently, Haden Tobola came in to chip over a 30 yard field goal try.

So instead of 21-17, it was 21-13. Thing is, the way the Owls were moving the ball at that point, it felt like a successful comeback might just be in the offing.  Didn’t happen, though.

Tech managed 7-3 halftime lead despite Owl defensive stops

Despite what was arguably the Owls’ best two-quarter defensive effort of the sesaon, Tech managed to wrest a 7-3 lead at the half, as Jacqwis Dancy topped off a 12-play, 61-yard drive going the final 11 yards to cross the pay station with 3:02 to play in the second quarter.

Thing is, the Owls might well have held on a fourth-and-two at the Rice 43, but the defense was out of position when the Bulldogs elected to go for it instead of punt. Rather than use up their final time out of the half, the Flock elected to make do with several out-of-position defensive players. Dancy dived for five yards and a first down in the event.

The Owls almost managed to strike back with under a minute left in the half.  Backed up to their own five yard line, one would think the safe thing to do would have been to run out the clock, but Coach Bloom pulled out the stops and, had the Owls not previously wasted a couple of timeouts early on via positioning snafu’s, they might have picked up a shocking quick six.

“The thinking was, they were out of timeouts,” Coach Bloom explained. “So I knew that on third down I could get us out of the half, So I wanted to give it a play, and see what kind of drive we could get started.”

As it was, Shawn Stankavage first connected with Aaron Cephus for gains of eight and 29 yards, followed immediately by a 29-yarder to Austin Walter. That set up the Owls at the Tech 30 with just that many seconds remaining in the half. However, the call next was for a draw play, which the Techsters sniffed out, so that Jack Fox had to come in for a 47-yard field goal attempt which sailed wide left.

Owls struck quickly to open third quarter

But it didn’t take long, once the third quarter got underway, for the Owls to grab back the lead. It took three plays, in fact. The last of those was the aforementioned 69-yard pitch, catch and run, Stankavage to Austin Walter. Tech paper-shufflers said that it \was the longest pass reception of the season allowed by Tech.

So what was the difference between the Owls’ first-half defensive successes and their second-half fails? For one thing, Tech offensive coaches made an effective adjustment, having Smith throw more via quick-release short passes or tossing downfield on the run, instead of setting up in the pocket routinely.

And the Owls just didn’t blitz as much. They just didn’t.

Tacked on to one unhelpful first-half pickoff, a couple of inopportune interceptions given up by Owl QB Shawn Stankavage put the Flock in less favorable field position and kept the defense on the field more than in the first half.

“It’s hard to win a game when you turn the ball over three times at the quarterback position,” Shawn said of himself afterwards. Bear in mind, though, that this was the fifth-year Vanderbilt transfer’s first game action in a month, his having been out with a leg injury.  A bit of rustiness was inevitable, and, yep, it was cold out there.

“We were in the game into the fourth quarter, and we let it get away,” Shawn added. “So we’ve got to learn from our mistakes and move on to next week.”

The Vandy grad obviously was down over his performance, but Coach Bloom was less sanguine and took a more positive view of the proceedings.

“I'm really proud of the way our team competed tonight," he said. "We challenged them all week to come out and work and do the things that we need to do to become a football team that wins games. We challenged them on how the defense needed to come out and play, and I'm really proud with how the defense came out. I'm proud of the way they fought. I'm proud of the way they tackled. I'm proud of the turnovers.”

“The thing we’ve got to do, is get over that hurdle. And when we do, I think really good things are going to happen with this program.”


HOUSTON (Nov. 8) – As perhaps a bit of a prelude to the Rice Owls’ Nov. 17 Date in Death Valley with LSU, the South Main Boys travel upstate to the metropolis of Ruston, Louisiana, to take on the Lousiana Tech Bulldogs Saturday, kickoff 6:00 pm.

The ‘Dogs are only 26.5 point favorites in this one, which makes one wonder how wide the line will be for next week’s game. Anyway, in this one, there are at least a few circumstances breaking in the Flock’s favor. Not a lot, but a few.

For starters – no pun intended – Rice senior quarterback Shawn Stankavage has convalesced sufficiently from leg injuries that were thought to be season-ending, that he’s been able to come back and be announced as the starting Rice QB Saturday. Some may not hail the decision. But Stan has shown flashes of competence as a ‘game manager’ at the QB position, something the Rice coaching staff likes.

To have a chance to win – never mind that, to have a chance to make a game of it – Rice has to put together a complete, four-quarter effort. On offense, with Stankavage at the helm, that goal is attainable. So mark it a ‘plus’ -- maybe.

Louisiana Tech had a three-game winning streak snapped most emphatically with a loss last week to Mississippi State, 45-3; one thus hopes to encounter a LATech team still in the throes of a hangover after that one-sided loss. Sure, they’re still in the thick of the battle for a division and league crown, but toes are often stubbed in like circumstances.

The Bulldogs showed distinct fallability against the Cowbell-clangers, being outgained by State to the tune of a a 532-238 margin and losing the turnover battle.

Against Mississippe State, LA Tech was led by back Kam McKnight with 59 rushing yards on 13 carries. On the season, Louisiana Tech is averaging 25.2 points per game and total yardage of 373.8 per game. Of that total, 231.7 have come through the air, while 142.1 have been picked up on the ground..

We interrupt this program to point out that the Bulldogs had to come from behind to defeat the previously-winless UTEP Miners in Ruston.

In that game, LaTech had the benefit of some nearly-free points when their Majerius Sneed picked off a Miner pass and returned it all of 12 yards to a cheapie touchown.

UTEP was able to run the short passing game under Ryan Metz, with lots of pass-and-run yardage on the sidelines. Calling Austin Walter. Calling Austin Trammell. Calling Aaron Cephus.

The game was tied at 24 with just over six minutes left. In Ruston. And with the locals having the one cheap defensive touchdown to allow them to stay even. Comprende?

Offensively, Louisiana Tech has been led by QB J’Mar Smith who has completed 56 per cent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and sic interceptions, while averaging 226.4 passing yards per game.

The top receiving threats for the Bulldogs have been Adrian Hardy (4.3 rec/g; 73.0 yds/g; 5 TD), Teddy Veal (5.6 rec/g; 60.0 yds/g; TD), and Rhashid Bonnette (3.1 rec/g; 42.9 yds/g; TD). So ball disribution is a positive for the LA Tech aeiral offense.

Main sparkplugs in the Louisiana Tech backfield have been Jaqwis Dancy (12.4 att/g; 75.9 yds/g; 6 TD) and Kam McKnight (7.3 att/g; 31.2 yds/g; 5 TD).

On the defensive side, the ‘Dogs are giving up a relatively stingy 24.6 ppg on 368.6 total yards per game (197.7 passing yds/g; 170.9 rushing yds/g).

LATech is led by very capable management in Skip Holtz, coaching legend Lou Holtz’s son, who, though much traveled in his career, and put together a very impressive coaching record. The guy doesn’t win them all. But he wins a lot.

In Ruston, Skip has stayed put as long as he’s done anywhere on any level having been with the Bulldogs for the last six years. He’s 44-30 during that time, putting a quality product on the gridiron year in and year out. In that regard, he’s taken his Bulldogs to four straight bowls with a fifth one more than likely to be realized this year. They’ve also won all four of their previous bowl games.

He’s tough to beat. But his players put on their pants the same way as do our Rice men.

And then there's that UTEP game to consider, in what-iffing the possibilities of an Owl upset  in this one.