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UTSA 41, Rice 7

GANGING UP -- Seems to take a village to stop UTSA QB Harris (DSE photo)

HOUSTON (Nov. 20) -- And then there was one.

To nobody’s surprise, those who were paying attention, anyway,  the Rice Owls, needful of one more win in three of its last games to attain a guaranteed bowl berth, now are faced with having to win the last one, or be relegated to a 5-7 season record with only a scant chance of drawing a bowl.

This, because the Feathered Flock fell with a thump to the 9-2 UTSA Roadrunners here on a rain-soaked, chilly Saturday, to a talented, fearsome crew that stands well to make some serious noise in the post-season.

The best coaching in the world likely couldn’t have won this one, given the mismatch exacerbated by injuries to crucial Owl contributors. When the Owls were down to their number three and number four quarterbacks, after putative number one QB Wylie green  went down with another season ending injury in the first quarter, it was all academic from there.

“Knocking their quarterback out, I feel bad for Mike,“ UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor said afterwards. “We got home on pressure. That was their original starter and they finally got him back, and then we knocked him out. We did not enjoy this. I’ve been through that, so I’m very empathetic for coaches. I feel bad for Mike and that staff because it’s just hard to operate when that guy goes down.“

Meanwhile, across the way the Owls faced Frank Thomas, a man mountain of a man-under who has tossed the Owls around like so many fiddlesticks in his last three outings with them. The guy is a stud. We knew that. And he showed it once again  on the floor of Rice Stadium Saturday.

This one was close to being over before it started. As it was, the Roadrunners surged to an easy 21-0 first-quarter via TD runs of 63 and 15 yards by who else, Frank Harris, who also tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to Franklin Zakhari while the Owl offense sputtered, particularly stymied on the ground, as in negative yards rushing at the half, 5 yards the whole game.

Not many ball games are going to be one that way. Behind the signal calling of third-string quarterback Shawki Itraish, the Owls went nine for 19 for 88 yards through the air with one interception. Then came on the fourth string quarterback, freshman Blaine Padgett, who flashed a dashing figure on the field and showed signs of future competence, if not greatness.  Blaine went seven out of 18 for 110 yards.  Moreover, late in the game,  against the UTSA second unit, he connected with Bradley Rozner in the end zone from 43 yards out to save the Owls the ignominy of a shutout.

Rice still leads the nation in turnovers, thanks to three more cough-ups in this game. UTSA was not perfect in that regard either, tossing up an interception and giving up a fumble on consecutive possessions in the third quarter. But by that time, the Owlies were down 28 to nothing, being that Chris VanSickle‘s field goal kicking was inexplicably off this day, as he missed two attempts that he would’ve normally made easily. Chalk it up to the weather, one supposes.

“When things aren’t going well for your football team and you have a chance to have a spark, the defense gets a turnover and then you’re driving and you get the ball down to the four or five yard line, you call a couple really good plays, you feel like there are some things there -- but you just don’t get it done,“ Rice head coach said Mike Bloomberg after the game. “As good as anything draws up or as open as anyone is, none of that matters. We have to make sure we have all 11 executing.“

True, and it helps if your Executors are more mobile, agile and hostile than the other guys across the line.  This Saturday they weren’t – especially considering the key man absent.

At the end of it all, Coach Bloom said resolutely, “We’ve been in this place before where we got our butts kicked by UTSA and we responded the next week,“ referencing Rice’s 45-zero road loss to the Roadrunners in the two teams’ last outing. “And that’s going to be our charge right now. As coaches we’ve have to put them in a position to be successful next weekend to go to play a very good football team in North Texas at their home, we need to find a way to get a win.“

Ah but one wonders: with whom behind the wheel? Rice’s third and fourth string quarterbacks are just too green, even talented enough, to get the job done against North Texas, or just about anybody for that matter for the time being.

Of course one remembers that we have a couple of quarterbacks-turned-receivers who could have been, just might be taking snaps at man under on the practice field this week. You do know who they are, Luke McCaffrey (assuming he’s physically up to it) and a certain fellow named Jovoni… could either of them find a spark? One wonders.

Whatever the case, whatever the Owls come out with on Saturday, they need to do some things on both sides of the ball that are a complete surprise to the North Texas warriors and brain trust. They certainly can’t come out doing the exact same things they’ve done for the past several weekends, which they probably will. Prospects are fairly grim, unless a new quarterbacking hero surfaces.

Or an old one.