The result: Rice 41, Marshall 24
The records: Rice 10-3, 8-1 in Conference USA. Marshall 9-4, 7-2 in Conference USA
The significance: Rice won its first outright conference championship Saturday since 1956 and clinched a berth in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Memphis. Adding to the excitement, was a dominating performance in front of an excited home crowd, creating pride amongst students and alumni. It also was deeply satisfying to achieve a goal. From the outset, the Owls coaches and players stated the goal of winning Conference USA. Lifting that trophy had to be greatly rewarding.
The grade: A-: Rice got off to a nice start, which is nothing new. But when it looked like Marshall was getting back in the game, Rice put its foot on the accelerator in the third quarter to put the Herd away. The killer instinct on a big stage cemented an “A“ level grade. The offense moved the ball effectively and converted more than half of its third down plays. The defense put pressure on Rakeem Cato. The amount of penalties, nine, was a concern, but only two resulted in Herd first downs.
The play: Marshall had cut the lead to 21-10 by halftime and was on the move in the opening drive of the third quarter. The Herd had advanced the ball from its own 25 to the Rice 40, where it had a first and 10. Cato fired a pass that was intercepted by Rice junior safety Julius White at the 22 yard line. Rice went on to score two touchdowns in the third quarter, while the Herd didn’t make another first down.
The good stat: 2- The number of touchdown passes thrown by Rice sophomore running back Luke Turner in 2 passing attempts.
The bad stat: 9 for 81- The number of penalties committed by Rice, and amount of yardage it cost the Owls.
The X-factor: Houston wasn’t its normal warm weather self on Saturday and the game was on ESPN 2, so there were plenty of places to watch it inside. Nonetheless about 20,000 fans still ventured out to 35 degree Rice Stadium to potentially see history. It appeared the team fed off the fans and vice versa. There even was an uh, creative sign in the stands. “I want to thank the Rice student body,“ Rice coach David Bailiff said. “Wow, was that an incredible site to look across the field and see.”
The David Bailiff quote: “The offensive line was incredible. Charles Ross came and played big for us today. You can go on and on about people who stepped up.”
The player quote (defensive end Cody Bauer): “This team’s been working for five years. To see it finally it come together and happen is indescribable.”
The Marshall quote (coach Doc Holliday) We knew coming in that their quarterback is an excellent quarterback. He threw it well and ran it well against us a year ago. He does a great job. He did that today. He was accurate early, and converted some third downs, hurt us with some draws and we did not get off the field. They are a good offense. They lead the league in rushing and we did not stop the run well today.
The game story: can be found here.
The fun fact: Taylor McHargue’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Taylor in the first quarter was the longest pass play in Conference USA Championship game history. The previous long was 69 yards by Austin Davis of Southern Miss to Dominique Sullivan in 2011 vs. Houston.
The overall series: Marshall 3, Rice 2
Rice Examiner Players of the Game:
1. Luke Turner- 9 carries for 49 yards, 2 for 2 passing for 43 yards and 2 touchdowns.
2. Jordan Taylor- 6 catches for 131 yards, touchdown
3. Charles Ross- 18 carries for 111 yards, 2 touchdowns
Up Next: Liberty Bowl vs. TBA, 3 p.m. CST Dec. 31, ESPN. Most likely opponents: Vanderbilt, Ole Miss or Mississippi State.