by Chuck Pool (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jeff Driskel threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns to spark Louisiana Tech to a 42-17 win over Rice on Friday night at Rice Stadium and keep the Bulldogs (6-3/4-1) on top of the standings Conference USA’s West Division.
Driphus Jackson threw for 180 yards and two scores for Rice, but the Owls (4-4/2-2) were stymied by several key drops as well as several key penalties as they fell to 0-2 at home in league play, dropping two conference games at Rice Stadium for the first time since 2009.
“Going into this week, I had talked about that we had to have a precise football team offensively, defensively and special teams, that we were going to have to do all the little things correct,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said. “We needed to be penalty free and we couldn't hurt ourselves. We worked real hard on being confident, tackling in space defensively and when the opportunities came offensively, we had to make plays. “
After forcing the Owls to punt on their opening possession, Driskel marched the Bulldogs 62 yards in five plays to take the lead as he found Trent Taylor for a 42-yard score.
Jackson answered with an impressive drive of his own, leading the Owls 75 yards in eight plays. Five of the eight plays were pass completions, including a 33 yarder to Nate German to the LA Tech 23. Four plays later, he dumped the ball off to Samuel Stewart and the redshirt freshman found his way to the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.
After Carlos Henderson returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards, Driskel need just five plays to put the Bulldogs back in front 14-7 as he allowed Henderson to finish what he started by connecting on a 14 yard scoring toss.
After the Owls next possession ended with a short punt, Tech took over at the Owls 48, but a Derek Brown sack of Driskel ended the threat.
The Rice defense carried that momentum over to the early second period, forcing a three-and-out. The Owls offense responded by moving the Bulldog 45 where Jackson appeared to have found Dennis Parks behind the defense for an apparent touchdown, but the senior from San Antonio could not haul in the pass in. Jackson was sacked on the next play and the Owls were forced to punt.
"You know, Denis is a little rusty,” Bailiff said. “He hasn't played and it was great to see him back out there. Nine times out of 10 he's going to catch that ball and score with it. He's working on his timing; he didn't practice a lot this week."
Driskel led the Bulldogs to the Rice one on the next possession, but after a pair of tackles for loss, the Owls appeared to have stalled the drive when a third down Drisklel pass into the end zone was off the mark. But Rice was flagged for its second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the possession to refresh the downs and Kenneth Dixon took advantage, scoring from the one on the next play.
“Those are selfish penalties, and we're not going to have a selfish football team,” Bailiff said.. “We start every year talking about how we're going to be the hardest, smartest working football team in Conference USA; that's not smart football, it's got nothing to do with hard work."
Tech added another score just before the half to take a commanding 28-7 lead into the locker room and added to the margin by marching 75 yards on their first possession of the third quarter to extend the lead to 35-7.
Jackson personally drove Rice 50 yards to a field goal on the Owls first possession of the third quarter, continuously scrambling out of danger to gain 31 yards on eight carries before the drive stalled at the Tech 22. True freshman Hayden Tobola drilled a career-best, 40-yard field goal to end a run of 28 consecutive points by Tech.
After Driskel’s fourth TD pass of the day extended the lead to 42-10, Jackson led Rice on a 75-yard scoring drive, culminating with a 15-yard touchdown toss to James Mayden, which allowed him to move into a tie for second on the Rice career list with 43 touchdown passes. "I'm taking all of the blame,” Jackson said. “This loss is more on me than it is on anybody. People can look at stats and say I had a pretty solid game, but solid doesn't get it done.”
Senior defensive tackle Stuart Mouchantaf, who returned to action for the first time since the loss to Western Kentucky, said that any joy he felt in playing again was tempered by the results of the game. But he also had a reminder for his youthful teammates.
"A few years ago we were in this position; we had to win six straight, and we did it,” Mouchantaf said. “We just need to remind the young ones that we can do this and we can keep it alive, but we have to believe and we have to work. We can't show up and play like we did today.
"We're not going to step on the field these next four (games) and leave with this feeling; it's not going to happen," he stated.
Ironically, the game that capped that memorable six-game run in 2012 was a 33-24 win over UTEP in El Paso where the Owls will travel next Friday to take on the Miners, hoping to see history repeat itself.
"We have a big game next week against UTEP,” Bailiff noted. “We need to learn from this one and go on the road and try to win a Conference USA game next week."