Baylor 21, Rice 13

HOUSTON (Sept. 22) – Well, that was fun – and at the same time, excruciating.

The Rice Owls continued their tortuous journey back toward football respectability here Saturday in a 21-13 home loss to Baylor that was not as close – and at the same time closer – than the scored indicated.

Not as close, because the gap between Baylor’s and Rice’s size, skills and especially speed was ever obvious, as was the visitors' superior capability in implementing a winning game plan. Closer, though, because the Owls showed spirit, resilience and fire in staying in the game until the last minute and showing they totally belonged on the same field as their Big 12 foe.

It was a fun game to watch because the Men of South Main took an opponent who obviously came in expecting to win by four or five touchdowns, and kicked them right in the teeth.

But it was an ever-so excruciating spectacle in that Rice’s seemingly predictable, conservative offensive game plan, minus several key players, led to a string of frustrating failures at turning yards gained and plays made into points on the scoreboard.

Hard to find fault with a defensive effort that in the second half totally shut down and shut out a Baylor offense that, going in, led the nation in scoring. But then there was that defensive sequence right before the half, where, after an opportunistic Rice ‘D’ forced a turnover close in, the Owl offense went nowhere with it, missed a field goal, and then...

Show of hands...for how many of you out there did the thought cross your mind, right then, that the Baylor offense would blow right down the field to score in less than three plays in well under the 50 seconds left on the halftime clock? Nobody? A few? Quite a few of you?

First-half-ending sequence a demoralizer

It looked as if Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle had wanted to apply the coup de gras, or perhaps add insult to injury, in cramming the ball down the Owls’ throats after Rice demoralizingly failed to score once Anthony Ekpe pounced on a Jon Lovett fumble at the BU 26. Four plays produced but minus one yard, though, and then when Chris Barnes came in to spell Will Harrison at the field goal kicker slot, his 44-yard effort went awry.

So, instead of 14-6, or maybe even 14-10 as a quite workable halftime deficit, the Owls were down 21-3 after the Bears surged for 74 yards in a mere 29 seconds, chalking up their third TD of the half with 15 second to play in the second quarter.

Some folks figured, at that point, that it was going to get really nasty in the second half, as Coach Ruhle is not know for taking his foot off the gas pedal when dealing with lesser opponents.

Did he do that? Did he let up in the second half? Nope.  Didn't. After the game, he gave  credit to the Owls' effort.

“In a lot of ways, Rice deserved to win,” the Baylor head man said after the game. “You can see the job Coach Bloomgren is doing there.”

Initial offensive possession, quarter three:  no dice

It’s a wonder more Rice fans didn’t hit the exit after the Owls went three-and-out having received the third quarter kickoff. A six-yard completion to  Brad Rozner on first down, followed by two Aston Walter plunges into the lline; result: Fourth and three.

It looked as if the route were on. But the Rice defense refused ot give in.

“Third quarter, no score. Fourth quarter, no score,” Rice linebacker Antonio Montero said postgame, regarding the Owls’ defensive effort. “That’s just the way we want to play. Our scheme didn’t change, we just executed at a high level because we were ready to go every play.”

Going into the contest, the Bears were leading the nation in scoring at a 59.5 points-per-game clip. Course they weren’t playing Alabama, rolling up those points against Stephen F and UTSA. Still, the offenive output was impressive, one has to admit.

Baylor offensive output way down, virtually nil in second half

“Baylor, coming into this game, averaged 318 yards on the ground and we held them to 124 yards – which is a testament to our D-line and our linebackers,” Antonio continued. “I thought we held them to a really low yardage considering how potent their offense is.”

And as the second half wore on, the Rice offense appeared to pick up steam as the Flock managed to sustrain drives with some regularity. And that was so, by the way, under the field generalship of both starter Wiley Green and backup Tom Stewart.

In fact, when a Baylor defender Terrel Bernard leveled a clearly cheap shot at Wiley Green, third and one at the Baylor 37 with ten minutes to play, Wiley had to leave the game, and so Hah’vahd man Tom Stewart came in, and, next play,  read the defnse as he rolled left and bolted into the end zone to make it 21-13 at 8:42 left in the game.

Previously, Tom had directed Rice’s first scoring drive of the game, resulting in a 28-yard field goal by Will Harrison to make it, momentarily, 7-3, early in the second quarter. The three-pointer was Will’s first successful attempt of the season.

Despite the hit on Wiley, he reentered the gqme and remained resolute,  sustaining Owl drives in a way that breathed hope into long suffering alums.

Promising Owl possessions ended at BU six and five

Only he and his teammates just quite couldn’t get it into the end zone, two of his second half drives sending on the six and five yard lines.

On that trip as far as the six, the Owls had faced first and goal, but failed to connect on three consecutive fade routes, and so elected to tighten the score to 21-6 with a short field goal, Will Harrison’s second of the night.

The play that ended the drive on the BU five yard line was a fourth and 10 sideline route to Jack Bradley, who struggled manfully to reach the sticks at the three, but fell about four feet short. Ball over on downs, no points.

It did seem that Wiley played more loosely in the second half, once he shook a few cobwebs off.

“Sitting out two games, dealing with some neck stuff, it was tough getting back in there,” Wiley commented, post-game. “Shake a little rust off, complete a few passes here and there, and we’re ready to go. In the second half, the ball moved well. We were calling the right stuff, making the right plays, executing well — we've just go to score when we get in the red zone.”

After Rice TD, defensive stop turned up the heat

Two minutes later, in fact, the Owls had their first and only TD of the game, and the Baylor sidline grew subdued. An Owl defensive stop at that point would have really turned it into a nail biter, and they darn well did that job.

First, Myles Adams and Naeem Smith made key stops, consecutively, forcing the Bears to punt after gaining a single first down, ext possession.

From the Rice 25, however, the offense just ccouldn’t make a go of it, when, after Brad Rozner hauled in a Stewart pass for ten yards and a first, the usual Aston Walter plunge into a sea of big bodies produced the typical result: a loss of two yards.

Baylor sent the student body in to pressure Tom Stewart on the next two downs, and got consecutive sacks.

Baylor got the ball back at its 37 with 3:02 left in the game. From there, the Owl defense rose up once again, Blaze Aldredge and Isaiah Richardson making consecutive stops for scant yardage. A Baylor delay of game penalty made it third and 13 with a tad over two minutes remaining.

But alas, Bear quarterback Charlie Brewer tossed to his receiver, Charlie Mims, right at the first down line to gain. Mims lept, grabbing the ball at one end, as if he were peeling a persimmon. As he fell to the turf, the ground clearly abetted his “reception.” The call was close, but in the end, the gendarmes ruled it a catch, and first down, and that, folks, ended the old ball game.

“While I’m disappointed at the result, I’m absolutely over the moon and proud of the effort our kids gave, the way they fought, and the way they stayed together,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said afterwards.

“(Wiley and Tom) threw the ball effectively and didn’t miss many throws,” Coach Bloom said. “Tom had the big touchdown run, Wiley had two in a row where he moved the sticks with his feet. They’re selfless, they’re doing everything we ask, and they’re playing pretty good.”

“But when the game was on the line and the defense had gotten the ball back with a chance to go down and tie it, they just came at a level we couldn’t go and protect the quarterback,” he added.. “They overwhelmed us offensively, and didn’t give ourselves a chance.”


“We’re gonna turn the freaking page,” the second-year Rice head man concluded. “We’re going to move on to conference play and we’re going to come the most focused we can possibly make ourselves, and we’re gonna take with us these lessons in our first four games against some outstanding opponents, and we’re gonna go for it.”