When Rice’s quarterback Taylor McHaruge ran in a touchdown Saturday on the opening drive of the second half against UTSA, it quietly ended a streak of third quarter offensive ineptness.
The Owls had been shutout in the third quarter of every game this season until McHargue’s six- yard scoring run. The touchdown gave Rice a 27-7 lead, but the 27-21 victory was not secured until an onside kick recovery with 1:24 left.
“We started the third quarter, where the defensive gets a three-and-out and the offense gets the ball and scores and it’s 27-7 and we’re thinking we’re going to be a four-quarter team,” said Rice coach David Bailiff at Monday’s news conference. “We’ve been emphasizing being a four-quarter team and we thought this was going to be the day we are [one].”
Rice is dynamite in the first quarter. The Owls have scored first in every game and outscored its first six opponents 54-31. Things go downhill from there. Rice trails 27-7 in third quarter points and has been outscored 80-52 in second halves this season.
The Owls (4-2, 3-0 in Conference USA) were shutout in the second half at Tulsa Oct. 5, losing a two touchdown lead before winning the game 30-27 in overtime.
“For that game [UTSA] to end up 27-21, we’ve got to be a better football team for the first, second, third and fourth quarters,” Bailiff said. “We’re also operating from a place where we’ve got to learn how to play all four quarters. We have expectations now, we’re getting some bigger leads and we can’t sit on them. We need to not look at the scoreboard and play each play as they come toward us.”
The Rice offense will attempt to keep that in mind against winless New Mexico State Saturday evening. Kickoff is 7 p.m. CST in Las Cruces. The nonconference game won’t be televised.
The Aggies are 0-6 this season and have lost 17 straight games dating back to a 49-19 win over against Sacramento State in the 2012 season opener. The last win over an FBS team came Nov. 11, 2011.
“They’re a bunch of proud young men in Las Cruces,” Bailiff said. “They may be 0-6, but they’ve played a challenging schedule.”
The Aggies have traveled to Texas (56-7), UCLA (59-13) and New Mexico (66-17). Their closest game was 26-16 home loss to San Diego State.
Rice again will have opportunities to score early, but the question is will they score often. New Mexico State is 123rd out of 126 FBS teams in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. They are better against the pass (70th).
Rice has been strong at running the ball (40th nationally, 2nd in C-USA) but the passing game is only averaging 183 yards a contrest, which ranks 107th among FBS squads. McHargue has more interceptions (6) than touchdown passes (5), though Rice didn’t commit a turnover Saturday.
Bailiff said after the UTSA game he was proud of McHargue.
“He took care of the football and he made great decisions,” Bailiff said. “It may not always be a great pass, but the decisions he is making made us very effective in our hurry-up tempo. We only had 340 yards of offense. Early, he was delivering the ball effectively and our receivers were having a hard time hanging on to it. If we are going to continue to throw it that much, we have to make sure that we are going to catch it.”