A winless Rice team came into the Alamodome looking to seize opportunity against a wrecked and vulnerable UTSA program on its homecoming day. The Owls, who were actually favored by oddsmakers to win the game, nearly pulled off the feat in a back-and-forth throwdown. With a contest that provided high entertainment value, both teams delivered highlight worthy feats and offensive effectiveness, departments each program has been quite lackluster in.
A few more key late plays made the difference for the Roadrunners, but it was quarterback Lowell Narcisse who played his best game of the season and surged the team to victory. Narcisse had two touchdowns behind 19 for 29 passing for 212 yards, his highest mark on the season.
Zakhari Franklin with an eight-yard TD grab on a gorgeous ball from Lowell Narcisse! Roadrunners take a 31-27 lead with 5:06 left. #BirdsUp pic.twitter.com/x9z0TrkfeY— UTSA Football (@UTSAFTBL) October 20, 2019
It wasn’t just Narcisse’s best game statistically, it was by far the most composed he’s appeared leading UTSA’s offense. His passes had a better touch and accuracy that fans hadn’t seen yet this year. He was also smarter with his decision making and protection of the football, save one interception off of a dropped pass. And even though these last several weeks Narcisse has been tasked with doing more leg work than anything, he only ran the ball seven times for 32 yards (4.6 avg), assuming more of a true quarterback role for the first time. He was poised, and weathered the team through turmoil.
UTSA’s receivers also had more success creating space on their routes as Narcisse connected with eight different targets, five of them more than once. Tight end Carlos Strickland led the way with six receptions for 86 yards.
A big of part of Narcisse’s success was UTSA’s offensive line manhandling Rice upfront, allowing the Owls only one sack and just three tackles for loss. Narcisse was given a clean pocket and ample waiting time on a majority of his dropbacks. Running back Sincere McCormick was also a benefactor of the push with 94 yards and a rushing touchdown on 14 carries (6.7 avg).
Rice had a fair share of offensive success as well. Quarterback Wiley Green piloted the offense through the first half and went 11 for 18 with 135 yards and a touchdown. Rice was managing a 10-7 lead at halftime but Green threw a pick six to UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Pick six, Rashad Wisdom!#BirdsUp pic.twitter.com/dizQPytkv2— UTSA Football (@UTSAFTBL) October 19, 2019
Backup quarterback Tom Stewart played the rest of the game for the Owls and was more efficient in Green’s place, completing nine of 11 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Rice running back Aston Walter also had a day, gaining 109 yards on 18 carries (6.1 avg) and a touchdown. Rice’s offensive line held their own just as well as UTSA’s, allowing the Roadrunners pass rush only one sack.
Before halftime the game already had more than a dose of wackiness. Early in the second quarter, Narcisse was intercepted against his own goal line and Rice took over possession at the UTSA one yard line. Two plays later, Green fumbled the ball in front of the endzone and UTSA took possession back over, again at their own one yard line. Rice would have another fumble in the first half but they still felt mostly in control of the game at the break, leading 10-7.
The second half is when things got interesting. After Wisdom’s pick six, Stewart and the Rice offense answered immediately, going 75 yards in only four plays to retake the lead. Stewart hit wideout Brad Rozner on a beautiful flyer. Rozner led all Rice receivers with 138 yards on nine receptions.
Brad Rozner comes down with it for another @RiceFootball touchdown! pic.twitter.com/52MBjhN592— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) October 19, 2019
UTSA answered with a 34 yard field goal from placekicker Hunter Duplessis and the back-and-forth was just beginning. Rice found a quick touchdown after taking over on downs following a UTSA failed fourth down attempt, and the Owls took a 24-16 lead toward the end of the third quarter.
UTSA responded and marched 75 yards in just two minutes and McCormick found the endzone before the third quarter expired. On top of that, Narcisse hit Sheldon Jones for the two point conversion, tying the score at 24. On the following drive Rice would jump back on top 27-24, after a 37 yard field goal from placekicker Chris Barnes.
What ensued next was undoubtedly UTSA’s most impressive drive of the season: nine plays, 79 yards, all while down three points in the fourth quarter. McCormick rushes for forty yards, Narcisse completes four of his five passes and finds true freshman Zakhari Franklin in the endzone to take a 31-27, game-sealing lead. It was Franklin’s second score of the day.
Narcisse to Franklin for the second time tonight!@UTSAFTBL back on top! pic.twitter.com/fYNh1V2iIX— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) October 20, 2019
It was quite the action for two of C-USA’s (and the FBS) worst programs.
UTSA earns a crucial win as Head Coach Frank Wilson fights to retain his job. If the team, especially the offensive system, can continue to grow and look somewhat cohesive, it will do his resume a world of help no matter what the program decides.
Next up the Roadrunners get a week off before traveling to College Station for a late out of conference matchup against Texas A&M.
As for Rice, they made just enough mistakes to let this game go. Outside of Wisdom’s pick six and Green’s fumble at the one yard line, they probably would have won this game and yet they still felt in control for a vast majority of it. The Owls face Southern Miss at home next weekend as they continue to try and put something in the win column.