by Chuck Pool (cpool@edu) -
Nahshon Ellerbe punctured one of the top rushing defenses in Conference USA for 153 yards and four touchdowns, but Southern Miss answered with a flawless offensive effort of its own, scoring on eight consecutive possessions to hand Rice a 43-34 loss on Homecoming at Rice Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
With the Owls missing two of their top running backs, Ellerbe slashed his way to the top effort by an Owl since Charles Ross blasted his way to 215 yards and school-record five rushing touchdowns against Louisiana Tech in 2013. As a team, Rice rushed for 254 yards, more than doubling the 124 per game the Golden Eagles had allowed coming into the game.
Looking to foil Owls' fans Homecoming memories for the second time in as many chances, Southern Miss stormed to an early 13-0 lead on a pair of field goals Parker Shaunfeld and a 51-yard touchdown pass from Kwadra Griggs to Tim Jones.
Rice closed to 19-14 late in the second on touchdown runs of 18 yards by Austin Walter and the first of Ellerbe's four scores, a seven-yard run with 1:28 left in the half. A 51-yard field goal by Shaunfeld sent the teams to the locker room with Southern Miss leading 22-14.
The second half saw the two teams trade touchdowns over six consecutive possessions, but Owls missed their chance to tie the game on a failed two-point conversion attempt after Ellerbe's 12-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the half.
The two teams answered each other, touchdown for touchdown, the remainder of the half until quarterback Miklo Smalls was sacked on fourth down in the game's final moment.
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee led a trio of Rice defenders who were credited with double digits in tackles, finishing with 17. Sophomore Houston Robert, in his first career start, finished with 15 stops while senor safety Destri White finished with 10. It marked the first time since 2011 when the Owls have had three players finish with 10-or-more tackles in game. Ironically, that effort also came against Southern Miss (Xavier Webb-13; Justin Allen-12; and Cameron Nwosu-12).
Southern Miss improved to 6-4 with the win, while the Owls fell to 1-9 on the year and 47-48-3 on Homecoming. Rice will return to the road next week for the final time in 2017, traveling to Norfolk, Virginia to take on Old Dominion at 1 p.m. (central).