By Chuck Pool (cpool@Rice.edu) -
Rice Stadium opened a new era with a familiar old foe as 19th ranked Baylor withstood a strong challenge from the Owls in the first half to post a 38-10 win over Rice in front of 27,047 in house and a national audience on ESPN Friday night.
The largest crowd to see a game at Rice Stadium since the University celebrated its Centennial in 2012 were treated to the dazzling debut of the new Daktronics video and audio system that was part of the $33 million Brian Patterson Center project as well as to a spirited defensive effort by the Owls against the vaunted Baylor attack.
"The effort this defense played with tonight, I am absolutely amazed with," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "We had to defend over one-hundred plays. To hold Baylor out of the first quarter, you just kept thinking that we'll build on this momentum -- and even to have the opportunities we did offensively at 21-10, we knocked at the door but we can't have those mistakes."
Rice held the Bears scoreless in the first quarter, forcing as many punts in a half (3) as they had needed in the three previous meetings with Rice and headed to the locker room trailing just 21-10. But the Bears clamped down in the second half, holding the Owls to just 74 yards over the final two stanzas to beat Rice for the eighth straight time in the series.
Darik Dillard cracked into the Rice career rushing top 10 by rushing for 124 yards on 14 carries, increasing his career total to 1,941 yards, surpassing Kosse Johnson (1,917 yards) into the top ten and moving to just 59 yards from becoming the ninth Owl to top 2,000 yards in a career.
He piled up 53 of those yards on a career-best carry that seemed to have Rice in position to answer Baylor's third score of the day, but Baylor's Tion Wright knocked the ball free from Dillard as he was tackled at the Baylor 15 with just 52 seconds left in the half.
For the second straight year, Rice opened the scoring against Baylor on the leg of kicker Haden Tabola, who capped 14-play, 74-yard march with a 24-yard field goal. The Bears answered right back with an 84 yard drive in eight plays, then took advantage of an errant rugby punt by Nate German to extend the lead to 14-3.
Rice struck back with a 75-yard march that ended with redshirt freshman Emmanuel Esupka's first career touchdown. Baylor answered to regain its 11-point edge before Dillard's dash near the end of the half.
The Owls (0-3) will open Conference USA play in earnest next week when they open a stretch of three consecutive league games when they host North Texas at Rice Stadium at 5 p.m. on September 24.
"It's disappointing starting the season 0-3," Dillard said. "But if you really look at it I see a lot of improvement, especially in our defense -- just the way they started the first half by being able to hold a Big 12 opponent to zero points in the first quarter. Our defensive backs are doing an incredible job holding some of the best receivers that are in the country. The defensive line is doing an outstanding job being able to hold their running game and their quarterback at bay."
"I'm standing up here and we're 0-3, but all our goals are still intact is what I told the team," Bailiff said. "(If) we'll still have that effort and growing those young ones up; we're going to be in great shape. We're young, we're getting better every rep, and that's what we have to do, and I'm depending on these seniors to keep growing those guys up."