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UTEP 38, Rice 28

EL PASO (Nov. 21) – Despite a slow start, when the Rice Owls surged to a 21-14 halftime lead against the University of Texas El Paso on the road Saturday afternoon, things were looking up, no matter how you slice it.

The offense had suddenly opened up and and was mixing plays, gaining steady yardage. After an anemic beginning when the injury-riddled Rice secondary gave up just about any passing look that was shown to them, suddenly, the Owl defenders got aggressive.

When Gabe Taylor picked off a Gavin Hardison pass with a minute to go in the half and the score knotted at 14, it set up the Owls at midfield. Just like that, Jake Constantine hit Jake Bailey for 19,and Cedric Patterson for 33 yards and the score -- 52 yards in two plays -- and the Flock took to the halftime locker room with a spring in their steps.

It was a textbook plan. Erase a deficit before halftime, come in and make halftime adjustments that cure first half-shortcomings, and then come out and show a new wrinkle in taking the second-half kickoff for another score.

A 28-14 lead at that point would have been big: after three straight losses, the Miners would’ve found themselves looking another one squarely in the face, and frankly, they’re the kind of team that would be more than not likely to fold their table under the circumstances.

It was at that point, however, that the Rice coaching staff reverted to that same old dance what brung ‘em.

Well, not just right away. Actually, one 12-yard pass completion, Constantine to August Pitre III, augmented by an unsportsmanlike penalty, set up the Owls almost immediately in Miner territory.

But that’s when the Owls’ coaching brain trust reverted to the Intelectualy Brutality Two-Step.

You know the dance: one into the line, two into the line, third-down pass not enough, punt. All together now, one-two-three, one-two-three.

The result: with the offense thus lacking in potency and swimming in predictability, the well went dry. Meanwhile, the UTEP offensive response was to eschew the running game almost entirely, while filling the air with footballs.

Until the Miners’ Ronald Awatt broke away for 74-yard dash to the Owl seven yard line, early in the fourth quarter, the Miners had garnered only 20 yards net rushing on the game.

On the other hand, UTEP quarterback Hardison threw for 366 yards on the day, eclipsing his prior high-water mark and marking the Miner’s most prolific aerial production of the season.

The result on the scoreboard was no surprise: in the first 24 minutes of the secon half, the Miners outscored the Owls 24-0, wrecking the Rice effort and turning the game into a relatively easy win for the home team.

Rice quarterback Jake Constantine, carrying obvious braces on leg and shoulder throughout the game, twisted his ankle and calf early in the final period and thus was done for the day, if not the rest of the season.

In came Luke McCaffrey, who hadn’t played since the UAB game, but managed a respectable outing, leading the Flock on a 75-yard drive to close out scoring. Nonetheless, Luke’s effort turned out to be a mop-up job, to be sure.

In the words of former Rice coach Ray Alborn, it was “save the equipment” time.