De­fen­sive duel ul­ti­mately tilts Road­run­ners’ way

Even change in QBs can’t lift of­fense as Owls lose 5th in row

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Glynn A. Hill glynn.hill@chron.com twit­ter.com/glyn­n_hill

UTSA pow­ered past Rice to win a 20-3 de­fen­sive bat­tle at Rice Sta­dium on Sat­ur­day night, hand­ing the Owls a fifth straight loss in the process.

“Tonight our of­fense did not per­form,” Rice coach Mike Bloom­gren said. “Where we’re go­ing to start point­ing the fin­ger right now with our of­fense is at me.”

Com­ing into the game, Bloom­gren felt that if his de­fen­sive unit — which en­tered the game ranked 13th in Con­fer­ence USA in to­tal de­fense — could get enough stops, then his of­fense could carry the team to vic­tory.

But when the game started, Rice’s of­fense missed the memo.

Both de­fenses con­trolled the game from the open­ing kick­off un­til UTSA (3-3, 2-0 C-USA) drew first blood on Jared Sack­ett’s 44yard field goal in the first quar­ter.

The Owls (1-5, 0-2) man­aged just 18 yards to UTSA’s 77 yards of of­fense in the pe­riod, in­clud­ing six rushes for 1 yard. As Rice run­ners were stuffed at the line of scrim­mage, how­ever, the Road­run­ners’ re­ceivers dropped passes that likely would have con­trib­uted to a larger lead.

The Owls’ of­fen­sive strug­gles in­vited a change halfway through the sec­ond quar­ter when Bloom­gren in­serted Jack­son Tyner at quar­ter­back. Un­for­tu­nately for Rice, he pro­vided more of a spark for UTSA.

“I did ev­ery­thing I knew to do to jump-start an of­fense to­day that was strug­gling and noth­ing worked,” Bloom­gren said. “Point the fin­ger squarely at me, we will get it fixed.”

On his sec­ond play, Tyner was in­ter­cepted by Cas­sius Grady, who re­turned the ball to Rice’s 3yard line. On the next play, B.J. Daniels rum­bled over the goal line for the game’s first touch­down to put UTSA up by 10 points.

Two plays later, af­ter Rice got the ball back, Tyner was buried un­der a pile of bod­ies af­ter fum­bling the snap away at Rice’s 15.

Rice’s de­fense held strong, lim­it­ing the Road­run­ners to a field goal for a 13-0 half­time lead.

The Owls lim­ited UTSA to 178 yards of of­fense in the game, the fewest they’ve yielded since 2013. They also al­lowed just 43 pass­ing yards, the fewest to a C-USA op­po­nent since they joined the league in 2005.

“I’m proud of our de­fense. I thought our de­fense came out on fire,” Bloom­gren said.

Rice’s of­fense emerged for its open­ing drive of the sec­ond half with kicker Haden Tobola pro­vid­ing the team’s first points on a 28yard field goal. De­spite split­ting time with Jack Fox this sea­son, it was Tobola’s 20th ca­reer field goal, a Rice record.

“Spe­cial teams-wise we were stel­lar again, start­ing with Jack Fox,” Bloom­gren said of his punter, who booted four of his six punts in­side the UTSA 20.

Rice spent much of the sec­ond half in four-down ter­ri­tory. On the game, the Owls con­verted half of their six fourth-down at­tempts, in­clud­ing a 25-yard com­ple­tion from start­ing quar­ter­back Shawn Stankav­age to run­ning back Austin Wal­ter

Wal­ter, who en­tered the game as the na­tion’s leader in all-pur­pose yards, fin­ished the game with 101 yards of of­fense. Stankav­age com­pleted 15-of-27 passes for 158 yards and a pick.

UTSA sank the dag­ger in Rice’s chest with just un­der five min­utes left. On a fourth-and-one from in­side the Owls’ own ter­ri­tory, run­ning back Em­manuel Esukpa tried to reach the ball over the pile be­fore it was stripped and re­cov­ered for a UTSA touch­down.

A penalty erased the touch­down, but the Road­run­ners capped off their vic­tory when Jalen Rhodes punched the ball in from a yard out.

“I am so proud of where our de­fense is and our spe­cial teams,” Bloom­gren said. “If our de­fense can per­form like that in this pro­gram, we’ll win a lot of games here.”

Joe Bu­vid / Con­trib­u­tor

UTSA de­fen­sive back Cas­sius Grady, cen­ter, in­ter­cepts a pass in­tended for Rice’s Aaron Ce­phus in the sec­ond quar­ter Sat­ur­day night at Rice Sta­dium.

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