Oct. 26, 2013
Jordan Taylor piled up the third-most receiving yards in school history, while Taylor McHargue threw for four scores and Charles Ross rambled for 152 yards as Rice packaged its most complete game of the season to reach bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons for the second time in school history with a 45-7 win over UTEP at Rice Stadium on Saturday.
The win was the Owls (6-2) fifth straight this year, their eighth straight in C-USA and their 11 in the last 13 games dating back to last year. With their sixth win, the Owls will earn a bowl berth for the second consecutive year, matching the 1960 and 1961 teams as the only Rice teams to do so. It was also the Owls' largest margin of victory in nine seasons of Conference USA play and allowed them to keep pace with Tulane as C-USA's two remaining unbeaten teams in confernce action.
"I really am so proud of this football team," Rice head coach David Bailiff said "We're sitting here after eight games 6-2, bowl eligible and I think we continue to improve as a football team; I think the best is still yet to come."
Rice was staked to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter thanks to the powerful running of Charles Ross, who topped 100 yards early in the second stanza on his way to 153 for the game and the first of three long connections between McHargue and Taylor. Their 60-yard effort put the Owls up 10-0 but UTEP found its footing on the next series as Blaire Sullivan hit Ian Hamilton with a 50-yard scoring pass. This is the third time Bailiff has led the Owls to bowl eligibility in his seven seasons and ironically each of his three teams reached the threshold with a defeat of the Miners and Saturday's encounter seemed early to be on pace for another in a long series of wild offensive shootouts until a last-gasp dive by Julius White foiled an apparent long scoring run by UTEP.
With Rice holding a 17-7 lead with just over five minutes left in the half, UTEP's Aaron Jones bounced outside on a running play and set sail for the Owls end zone. White was the man to have a shot and he tripped up Jones with his dive at the Rice three. After one carry for no gain, Jones again attack the line of scrimmage, only to have Michael Kutzler loosen the ball from his grip, Paul Porras deliver a blow to knock the ball free and Ross Winship fall on the loose ball to end the Miner's last serious scoring threat.
"I think the turning point of the game was the second quarter when UTEP broke that long one on us, the defense gets that turnover on the six-inch line and the offense gets that 99-yard drive; it's a 14-point swing," Bailiff said. "I think that gave us the momentum we needed in the game."
After fending off the UTEP strike deep at the end of the first half, the Rice defense held the Miners scoreless in the second.
"I was really pleased with how we responded in the second half - the third and fourth quarter. I think we came out and made plays - we had a bunch of people make plays today. The offensive line protected well, Charles Ross was amazing again - he had 150-plus rushing yards again, it was good to see Jordan Taylor get back involved - he's a big receiver, and he's playing big for us right now. "
After being quiet for most of the third quarter, McHargue and Taylor gave the crowd a jolt late in the quarter when they connected for 72 yards and a score, then added a third connection from 23 yards early in the fourth.
Taylor finished the day with 185 yards and three touchdowns on just four receptions. This yardage total was the third highest in school history, topped only by James Casey's 208 and David Houser's 196. McHargue threw for 259 yards on just eight completions, including a career-high four for touchdowns.
Ross became the eighth Owl in history to rush for 2,000 career yards early in the game and moved all the way to sixth on the career list, finishing the night with 2,088.
While reaching bowl eligibility earlier than in any time in recent history accomplishes one of the teams stated goals, Bailiff noted this is only the beginning of achieving benchmarks, not the conclusion. "We're thrilled to be bowl eligible, but we have a lot of goals still out there," Bailiff stated. "We're dreaming big still. We're working hard. What's amazing right now with where we are, it's like 'wow, that was a great win, but it's over. Now we have to go to work on North Texas.'"
The Owls will have little time to celebrate their win, with a road trip to North Texas looming on Thursday night.
"We have a tough game coming at us this Thursday," Bailiff stated. "It's a short turnaround; we've got to be back to work in the morning, so we can't enjoy this one very long, because we've got to get to work on North Texas. ... as coaches, that's what we started on yesterday and what we'll work on tonight."