Still, what matters most is the Owls won, and equally as important, ran their C-USA record to 3-1.
Rice made quick work of their Offensive opportunities to gain 19 point leads, on different occasions during the game. Southern Miss didn't go away though, and just like last year made a furious rally at the end of the game to make the score close.
Coming into the contest the Owls knew they would have to contain USM RB Damion Fletcher. They did for the most part, holding him to "only" 120 yards, just shy of his season average. This was an accomplishment for a Rice Defense that has struggled to stop the run. And while they didn't allow Fletcher to beat them – USM's other talented skill players almost did. Freshman WR DeAndre Brown in particular had a huge day and proved his lofty rating as the #3 Receiver prospect in the country coming out of high school last year was well deserved. Pairing with USM Redshirt Freshman QB Austin Davis, Brown had 12 catches for 221 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 6-6 Brown used his height advantage (and some timely pushing) to beat Owl defenders constantly in the second half.
Davis looked impressive in the loss – he completed 32-of-61 passes for 461 yards and threw no interceptions. We said right here that Rice must take away the USM run to beat the Golden Eagles and force Davis to beat them with his arm – he almost did. Davis never gave up trying to win the game, and statistically speaking, the game ended up being very close.
But in a game marred by way too many Owl injuries, Rice will gladly take the win and move on to play Tulane next Saturday in New Orleans.
Line of Scrimmage
- Rice really looked to impose their will with the running game yesterday, and were successful for the most part. The Owls rushed for 142 yards yesterday on 32 attempts. The Owl Offensive Line opened some nice seams, and were able to get a good push on the USM Defensive Line most of the day. The Owls also protected well – Chase Clement was sacked only once. Particularly encouraging was that Rice was able to do so with Tyler Parish playing Left Tackle for a majority of the game after starting LT Scott Mitchell got banged up early.
- The Owls also looked strong on the Defensive Line yesterday. They held USM to just 112 net yards rushing. They slowed the Eagles to just a 3.4 yard average per rushing attempt. And even though Austin Davis put up big numbers through the air, the Owls still sacked him 4 times, looking much more creative in their blitz packages. Rice had sacks from Chris Jammer, Robert Calhoun, and Todd Mohr (2).
Travis Bradshaw showed yesterday why having solid walk-ons is important to any successful program. The former Cy-Fair product walked on the team in 2007 but was awarded a scholarship early this season. He validated that decision Saturday by leading the team in tackles with 11, breaking up 2 passes, recovering a fumble, and blocking an extra point attempt. He made several big hits yesterday and also made a nifty pass break-up in the 4th quarter, but was wrongly flagged for pass interference.
USM Linebacker Gerald McRath was seemingly everywhere Saturday. The 2007 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year made a strong case for earning the honor again this year – he had 19 tackles against the Owls yesterday, 14 of them solo.
Though Justin Hill is officially a Running Back again, he made 3 solo tackles on Special Teams yesterday.
Rice had a ridiculous amount of injuries in yesterday's game. Brian Raines, Scott Mitchell, Chris Jones, Robert Calhoun, and Max Anyiam all left the game with injuries at some point yesterday. Raines and Anyiam did not return.
The Owls had 3 Receivers go over the 100 yard receiving mark yesterday – Jarett Dillard had 141 yards, including a 51 yard catch and run; Toren Dixon had 118 yards; and James Casey had 113, including a fumble of a Patrick Randolph catch that he scooped up and ran in from 26 yards out for a touchdown. All had the lucky number of 7 catches apiece.
Mark Brundage had his first punt as a Rice Owl yesterday – and it came at a high pressure moment. With 1:37 left in the game Rice was forced to punt from it's own 36. Brundage got off a high floater that travelled 32 yards.
Kyle Martens made a touchdown saving tackle in the first quarter he brought down USM's Andre Watson in the open field.