Nov. 5, 2011
Nick Fanuzzi threw for a career-high 405 yards to lead the Rice Owls to one of their greatest offensive outputs in school history en route to a 41-37 Homecoming win over UTEP at Rice Stadium on Saturday.
All week long, the Rice Owls impressed head coach David Bailiff with a spirited week of practice on the heels of their loss to Houston and on Saturday both coach and team savored the results of that work as the Owls extended their Homecoming winning streak to seven years and their November Rice Stadium winning streak to eight games.
They amassed 671 yards on the day, the third-highest total in school history, their most since the piled up an even 700 vs. Tulsa at Rice Stadium in 2007. They ran nearly double the amount of plays as did UTEP (93 to 50) and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes. But UTEP leveraged a number of short-filed situations to keep the Owls on their heels and in need of additional offensive production.
While the Owls found early success running the ball, if fell to the steady play of Fanuzzi to rally the team in the fourth quarter and secure the victory.
Fanuzzi, who became just the third Owl to throw for over 400 yards in a game, hit on nine of 14 throws for 148 yards and a pair of scores in the final frame. His 23-yard toss to Randy Kitchens capped an eight play, 79 yard drive that was set up by the second interception of the day by freshman cornerback Bryce Callahan.
Callahan's pick quelled a UTEP march that had begun at their own 25 after the Owls had re-taken the lead.
Callahan has five interceptions in his last six games after moving into a greater playing role vs. Southern Miss when Phillip Gaines was injured. He is second in the nation among freshmen with 12 passes defended (five interceptions and seven break ups).
Fanuzzi hit on 30 of 43 passes, including three touchdowns and added 35 yards on the ground to become second Owl to top 400 yards total offense in a game. Chase Clement topped the mark six times and Fanuzzi's total matched Clement's final total vs. Houston in 2008 as the sixth best in school history.
Junior wide receiver Vance McDonald led a parade of nine receivers who benefited from Fanuzzi's big day, setting career-bests with eight catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. Running back Tyler Smith also caught a career-high eight passes for 74 yards and added another 89 on the ground.
After UTEP struck in the opening minutes of the game to take a 7-0 lead, Turner Petersen quickly answered for the Owls, scoring on a career-long, 44-yard scamper out of the Wild Owl formation. The Owls unleashed a balanced attack in the opening stanza, rushing for 122 and passing for 101 to move out to an early 17-7 lead, but the Miners struck back with 17 second quarter points to take a 24-20 lead at the half.
Fanuzzi hit McDonald with a 25-yard TD pass to put the Owls back in front midway through the quarter, but UTEP struck back with a score late in the period to take a 31-27 lead into the fourth.
The Owls will venture out of Conference USA next weekend, traveling north to suburban Chicago and a date with the Northwestern Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and will be televised nationally by the Big Ten Network.