Nov. 28, 2009
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
It took all of 15 seconds for the Bayou Bucket to change addresses.
Having endured a bitter three-game losing skid at the hands of its rival, Rice celebrated with extended glee after defeating Houston in the 2008 season finale, a victory that relocated the Bayou Bucket to South Main. In their first crack to reclaim the trophy, the Cougars didn't waste time.
UH receiver/return specialist Tyron Carrier took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, fueling the Cougars to a 73-14 Conference USA win that closed the Owls' season Saturday night at Robertson Stadium.
Whatever hopes the Owls (2-10, 2-6 C-USA) harbored of extending their two-game winning streak into the offseason were quickly extinguished when Carrier dodged a handful of tacklers before dashing down the sideline fronting the Rice bench. UH led 7-0 just 15 seconds into the contest, and after Rice punted to end its first drive, the Cougars (10-2, 6-2) scored on offense before adding another return for a touchdown, this one by Brandon Brinkley when he turned a Nick Fanuzzi interception into a 45-yard touchdown. Just six minutes, 17 seconds in, UH led 21-0.
"They start the game with a kickoff return by Carrier, an offense touchdown and an interception for a touchdown. That's not the way you would start a game against a team like Houston," Rice coach David Bailiff said. "They put us on our heels and we could never recover."
The Cougars added a Matt Hogan field goal and led 24-0 before the Owls recorded their initial first down. The lead swelled to 59-0 by the intermission and 66-0 before Rice freshman tailback Charles Ross tallied two rushing touchdowns in the third quarter. By that point the Cougars were well on their way to the West Division crown and a date opposite East Division champion East Carolina in the C-USA title game.
"I'm speechless after something like that," said Owls sophomore safety Travis Bradshaw, who produced a game-high 11 tackles. "We thought we were going to go in there and compete and it was going to be a good game, and right from the start they took it away. It's tough. Those seniors in there, we put a lot out there for them. It's disappointing."
Ross rushed for 105 yards, his first career 100-yard game. His two rushing touchdowns lifted his season total to 11, the most since Ed Bailey had 12 in 2004. Ross finished the year with a team-leading 491 rushing yards to become the first freshman to lead Rice in rushing since Trevor Cobb rushed for 545 yards in 1989. With sophomore Tyler Smith rushing for a game-high 113 yards, Ross and Smith became the first Rice tandem to rush for 100 yards in a single game since Quinton Smith, Tyler's older brother, and John Wall rushed for 143 and 156 yards, respectively, in the Owls' 42-34 win over Tulane on Nov. 12, 2005.
"The stats mean nothing without the win," Ross said.
Senior linebacker Terrance Garmon closed his career by matching his single-game career high with nine tackles, set last season at Tulsa. Bradshaw posted his sixth consecutive double-digit tackle game, increasing his season total to 121, a figure that ties Larry Izzo's 1995 performance for the eight-best single-season total in program history.