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2021 WKU game page

Western Kentucky 42, Rice 21

HOUSTON (Nov. 13) – First off, to respond to the question – nope; it’s not even good enough to compete in lowly Conference USA.

With Saturday’s 42-21 loss to Western Kentucky, the Owls now drop to 3-7 on the season, 2-4 in league play, removing them from bowl consideration – said by management to be a minimum goal, prior to season’s start– and relegating them for the seventh straight year to the second division of Conference USA.

No offense to our present league brethren, but it's a damnable status that simply can’t be denied or ignored, after all those years of bottom-20 results under two coaching staffs.

Thing was, the relative athleticism of the two teams matched up on the Rice Stadium floor this day was about as equal as it gets. So why was WKU able to jet out to a 28-0 halftime lead, effectively putting the game away in a three-minute period in the second quarter when the Hilltoppers ripped off three quick touchdowns?

Why did it seem virtually inevitable to Rice’s die-hard but dwindling fan base that that was exactly how things were bound to transpire on on yet another benighted fall Saturday?

It’s simple. WKU has a system. Rice has none – or at least, a system which is ill executed, ill-manned and ill-suited for a place like the Institute on South Main.

From the school behind the strip centers on the Southwest Freeway, once there emerged former Houston Baptist offensive coordinator Zach Kittley at WKU to take a like position there, it was inevitable that Husky quarterback Bailey Zappe would soon follow him.

In a football uniform, this young man is quite unassuming, without excessive height, bulk, jackrabbit speed or other obvious stand-out qualities -- that is, until he gets a ball in his hands.

What he is though is a system quarterback, who relishes his field generalship like a machine and throws with an accuracy and precision that is, indeed, downright machine-like, game-long.

Behind the 2017 Victoria East schoolboy star, the Hilltoppers took the opening kickoff and immediately set up to work, moving with a seemingly programmed efficiency from which they never deviated.

The WKU offense slogged right down the find, dinking and chunking passes without incompletion until Naeem Smith rather shockingly shut down the advance with an interception in the Rice end zone.

The Owls immediately began to proceed tit for tat, marching in excess of 80 yards downfield behind Jake Constantine’s passing. It looked as if the Flock would take the lead when Jake hit Monsieur August Pitre III at the WKY 15, where he eluded a defender and twisted goalward. But he sustained a solid hit as he stretched to reach the goal, coughing up the pill at the three yard line, and there it was: 82 yards, no points.

When WKU responded by surging 97 yards in seven plays, all but eight clicks via Zappe pass-and-runs, things became clear on the home side of Rice Stadium – at least in the stands: Western Kentucky, the machine-like, could do this again and again all evening, if they just wanted to.

Sloppy Rice special teams play helped the Toppers -- or maybe we should call them the Zappers -- score three quick TDs in the second quarter, while the Owl offense went dormant. Thirty-four yards in two plays, 39 yards in five plays, and 70 yards in two plays told the story.

“At times the defense did a really nice job, but the second quarter was rough on us,” Rice head man Mike Bloomgren said afterwards. “It just wasn’t enough to give us a chance to win.”

While the game outcome was a fait accompli by halftime, the Owls made it just a little bit interesting in the second half, as Constantine led the Owls on three TD drives. The Owls finally hit their stride midway in third quarter, traveling 80 yards in seven plays to get on the scoreboard, the touchdown coming on a 23-yard pass and run, Jake Constantine to Cedric Patterson III.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Flock followed up with a 75-yard, nine-play TD drive, again mostly through the air,  Khalan Griffin reaching the pay station on a seven-yard burst.

Both times, though, WKU was able to respond with yet another methodical scoring drive of their own, so that the Owls were never to get closer than 21 down.

One more short scoring drive rounded things out for Rice, Juma Otaviano emerging from the end of the bench and getting his first points of the season. One wonders where he’d been. Probably in that same old coach’s doghouse tto which Jovoni's obviously been relegated.

The Owls exceeded 500 yards total offense for the game, their most prolific production of the season, as Jake was 28 of 50 for 380 yards for Rice. It didn’t help matters, thouh, that he also threw four interceptions, which undoubtedly helped WKU maintain its margin throughout.

August Pitre once again showed real star power in the game, gathering in 10 receptions for 133 yards and looking darn good in the process.

Zappe, meanwhile, completed 34 of 42 passes for 482 yards, just an average day at the office for him.

But the guy was the difference in the ball game, Coach Bloom lamented. “He was outstanding, and we picked a bad day to have a bad day.”