Technically Rice’s win was over UTEP Saturday, but it also in many ways was a win over Harvey.
Between the long trip to Australia, being evacuees in Fort Worth and then seeing what the hurricane did to Houston (not to mention the players’ homes and belongings), it’s been an emotional two weeks. Football, for obvious reasons, took a backseat.
"We talked to them all week that they were going to turn into men sooner than some of them had to," Rice coach David Bailiff said after Saturday’s game. "They had to learn to compartmentalize. They had to learn not only to rebuild what they had lost, but they had to come over and get better as a football team. They had to take care of academics. You come to El Paso, this is a hard place to play, and to execute the way did just really pleased me."
Rice (1-1, 1-0 in C-USA) opened up a 17-0 lead and didn’t look back in the 31-14 road victory. The Owls were especially stout in the run game and run defense.
The Miners gained just 26 rushing yards on 24 carries. Rice’s defense added four sacks and kept UTEP off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter. Defensive end Blain Padgett let the way with seven tackles and 1 ½ sacks.
Meanwhile, Rice ran the ball effectively with five different backs. Samuel Stewart got top billing, gaining 89 yards while Nahshon Ellerbee gained 63 yards and capped the scoring with a three-yard touchdown. Freshman Jordan Myers also added a 3-run touchdown run and had the most catches with four.
"I thought we had an accentual running game," Bailiff said. "Nahshon Ellerbe was really special. Our offense line blocked well and the running backs had good forward leverage."
The Owls also got a significantly better performance in game two from Sam Glaesmann. He ran in a touchdown in the second quarter and connected with Aaron Cephus on a 52-yard touchdown in the third quarter to make it a 17-0 game. Glasemann was 10 of 18 over for 131 yards.
In a scheduling quirk, the Owls first two 2017 opponents were the same teams as the last two opponents in 2016. The results were the same as well with a blowout loss to Stanford and rather easy win over UTEP. Next, Rice gets a new but somewhat familiar opponent. The Owls face Houston (1-0) for the Bayou Bucket on Saturday.
Once again, Hurricane Harvey will be a big topic for that game as it was in El Paso.
"We got here and saw a bunch of people fans in orange shirts that said Houston Strong, and they were telling us how they were supporting us as we rebuild the city," Bailiff said. "A classy move by classy people and it doesn’t go unnoticed how much Rice appreciates that."