Oct. 8, 2011
Rice's defense provided all the points the team would need, while their offensive mates added three additional scores as the Owls downed Memphis 28-6 at Rice Stadium on Saturday to post their fifth consecutive win at home.
The Owls held the Tigers (1-5) to a pair of field goals and then used a pair of stops to allow their fewest points in a game since they blanked UNLV 38-0 in the opening game of the 1995 campaign. It was also the fewest points they have allowed in seven seasons as members of Conference USA. They held Marshall to 10 points in a 38-10 win at Rice Stadium in 2008.
"I'm proud of the defensive coaches, proud of the execution, and how hard those kids played," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "They bent a couple of times, but didn't break even after a turnover when they were already in field goal range and made them settle for a field goal.
After the Owls took a 14-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, junior defensive end Jared Williams broke the game open in the third, returning a deflected pass 47-yards to tally Rice's second defensive touchdown in as many weeks.
Rice safety Paul Porras blitzed Memphis quarterback Taylor Reed on the play, making contact as the ball was released. Williams plucked the ball out of the air and burst past the Tigers' line to score his first career touchdown.
"It felt great", Williams said. "I played a lot of offense in high school so when you see that ball in the air you want to take it and it all comes back to you. It felt great to be in the end zone again with your team all around you. As coach said, it was a big momentum builder for the team coming into the second half."
Senior Tyler Smith provided the offensive spark for the Owls, rushing for a season-high 97 yards on 14 carries. It was Smith's most productive outing since he closed the 2009 season with back-to-back, 100-yard rushing efforts.
Rice opened the scoring late in the first quarter when Turner Petersen scored the first of two, one-yard touchdowns to cap a nine-play, 69-yard drive that was highlighted by a 31-yard romp up the sidelines by Smith.
The Owls offense would be held scoreless on their next four possessions, while Memphis closed the score to 7-3 before Rice mounted an 11-play drive over the final two minutes to push the advantage to 14-3 at intermission. Taylor McHargue found Luke Willson in the end zone for a 15-yard score, one of five passes Willson would catch on the day. McHargue threw for 170 yards and a score, completing 15 of 22 with a pair of interceptions.
Williams took center stage on the Tigers' second possession of the second half to extend the lead to 21-3 and match his roommate, Xavier Webb in the defensive scoring category. Webb returned a fumble 96 yards for a score last week at Southern Miss.
The Owls' defense, which had given up 104 points in the previous two games, kept the Tigers out of the end zone on the strength of 10 tackles for loss, including a season-high five sacks. Both of Williams tackles on the day were for losses.
Senior defensive end Scott Solomon led the defenders with a pair of stops behind the line, including one sack and he also recovered a fumble on a sack by Cameron Nwosu at the Rice 24 to thwart a late Memphis scoring threat. The two tackles for loss moved Solomon into fourth on the Rice career list, one ahead of Matt Sign. His sack moved him to within one of passing ND Kalu for second on the Owls career sack list.
The Owls will return to the road next week when they travel to Huntington, WW to face Marshall at 2:05 (central) next Saturday. They will be back at Rice Stadium in two weeks to host Tulsa as part of Rice Families Weekend. Game time has not been set, pending final work from Fox Sports, who will televise the game nationally.