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NCAAF Team Report - Rice - INSIDE SLANT
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Tulane Green Wave.
Second-year coach Curtis Johnson's team announced its presence on the Conference USA stage in a big way Saturday, defeating East Division leader East Carolina 36-33 in a triple-overtime classic. The Green Wave did it while sustaining injuries to its starting quarterback and running back.
"I think it's just another game that we showed that we can come out and play well," Johnson said. "When you say what's the benchmark, I think you have to look back at the season as we get going. When this season is over, with whatever it is we do, we'll look back and say that that was the turning point, but right now, we have a week off, we have to breathe a little bit, and we have to get some guys healthy."
Tulane is now a win away from bowl eligibility. Perhaps most importantly, it is continuing to turn heads in the league race. Both it and Rice are tied for the West Division lead at 3-0.
The strange thing is how Tulane is getting it done. The Green Wave has the 115th-best total offense in the FBS. The Green Wave's rush defense ranks among the top 20, but that could be credited in part to playing pass-heavy teams. Indeed, Tulane's total defense remains right around the middle of the pack.
But if you want to know one stat that is driving Tulane's resurgence, it's this one: The Green Wave ranks fourth in the nation in turnover margin, with a plus-9.
EAST CAROLINA (4-2, 2-1)
Game: Tulane 36, East Carolina 33 (OT) Tulane's Cairo Santos kicked five field goals, including the game-winner in the third overtime, to lift the Green Wave to a win in a game that the Pirates otherwise relatively dominated. It was ECU's first conference loss in an unlikely spot.
Takeaway: The stat sheet shows domination by ECU. The final score does not. East Carolina outgained Tulane 480 to 225 and had 31 first downs to Tulane's 15. But it also committed two turnovers and settled for field goals four times in the Tulane red zone, leading to the tough three-overtime loss in the Superdome.
"That was a tough loss," ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. "The kids are taking it pretty hard. There were a lot of opportunities before overtime. I was proud how we fell down by ten points and fought back. I thought we made some good decisions to give us a chance to win in the end. You have to make plays and we came up short. But, I like the way the kids kept fighting."
Next: vs. Southern Miss, Oct. 19
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (2-5, 1-4)
Game: Marshall 24, Florida Atlantic 23. Marshall scored the final 10 points of the game, including a 42-yard field goal by Justin Haig as time expired to crush FAU's hopes yet again. Jaquez Johnson was 16-for-28 passing with 187 yards and a touchdown and added 78 yards rushing with a score.
Takeaway: The hits just keep coming for coach Carl Pelini and the Owls. FAU's fifth C-USA loss of the season was much like some of its earlier ones: crushing, last-minute defeats. "We're a good enough team, we should be winning these games, we just need to figure out how to do it," Pelini said, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
How much more can this FAU team take? It'll have a week off before traveling to a newly minted top-25 team in Auburn. FAU must win out to become bowl eligible.
Next: at Auburn, Oct. 26
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (1-5, 1-1)
Game: UAB 27, Florida International 24. UAB's Ty Long kicked a 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining lifting the Blazers to the win over FIU and snapping any momentum that may have come from FIU's first win of the season a week earlier. FIU had trouble moving the ball in the second half, gaining just 109 yards. But it was able to tie the game with 2:41 to play, only to watch UAB march 70 yards down the field to set up the game-winning field goal.
Takeaway: Two weeks after being the laughingstock of college football for a moribund 0-4 start, FIU was oh-so-close to moving to 2-4 on the season, if not for Ty Long's field goal. That appears to be progress, even though FIU coach Ron Turner isn't buying into the idea of moral victories.
Stay the course, he believes.
"We didn't get to win today and it hurts, it hurts because they care and they're passionate about it," Turner said. "We keep doing that, a lot of good things are going to happen.
Next: vs. Louisiana Tech, Oct. 26
LOUISIANA TECH (2-4, 1-1)
Next: vs. North Texas, Oct. 19
MARSHALL (4-2, 2-0)
Game: Marshall 24, Florida Atlantic 23. Justin Haig boomed a 42-yard field goal as time expired to lift Marshall to a much-needed win Saturday. It capped a comeback that saw the Thundering Herd score the game's final 10 points. QB Rakeem Cato was 18-for-34 for 216 yards and accounted for 70 yards on the final drive.
Takeaway: On a night that East Carolina, the team it's battling for supremacy in the East Division with, found every possible way to lose, it's comforting for Marshall that it found a way to win when everything was stacked against it. The Herd only had 355 yards, a season-low. But it had a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown and excelled in other phases of the game.
"I don't care if it's pretty or not," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "If you get the win, that's all that matters. I'm just proud of how this football team fought and it will help us down the road."
Next: at Middle Tennessee, Oct. 24
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (3-4, 1-2)
Game: North Texas 34, Middle Tennessee 7. North Texas blew open a tight game early with a rushing touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown in a 16-second span in the middle of the second quarter, then cruised to a home win over the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee managed just 205 yards. "We just couldn't get anything going," coach Rick Stockstill said.
Takeaway: Does MTSU have a quarterback controversy? It certainly appears so. Austin Grammer played from the third series on in Saturday's loss, as Logan Kilgore, the veteran senior, was benched. "By then, we knew we couldn't run and we couldn't protect, and at least Austin gave us chances to extend plays and scramble and get some quarterback runs where Logan was not able to do that," coach Rick Stockstill told the Daily News Journal. "It was nothing against Logan. Austin was just the best option."
Stockstill was noncommittal about the next game; MTSU has two weeks to prepare for Marshall. Grammer is younger but gives Middle a more mobile option. Still, it would be curious if the Blue Raiders moved away from their veteran senior, Kilgore.
Next: vs. Marshall, Oct. 24
NORTH TEXAS (3-3, 1-1)
Game: North Texas 34, Middle Tennessee 7. The Mean Green scored two touchdowns -- a rush and an interception return -- in a 16-second span in the second quarter and never looked back, cruising to a win over MTSU. The Mean Green outgained Middle 416 to 205.
Takeaway: The Mean Green's offense through the first half of the season had chiefly been built around QB Derek Thompson. And while he performed OK Saturday, credit the UNT rushing game with this win.
North Texas had a season-best 303 yards and had two backs reach career highs. Brandin Byrd (139 yards) and Reggie Pegram (88 yards) were those two backs. UNT coach Dan McCarney said his team's running backs started to take personally their recent lack of production, hence Saturday's outburst.
"We won with our preparation," McCarney said. "There was about as much intense preparation and focus this week as I've seen I took the job here."
Next: at Louisiana Tech, Oct. 19
RICE (4-2, 3-0)
Game: Rice 27, UTSA 21. After a sluggish start, Rice scored touchdowns on each of its final two second half drives to lead 20-7 at halftime and then 27-7 after the first drive of the third quarter, effectively ending any chances UTSA had of a comeback. Rice had a so-so 340 yards and was outgained by UTSA by nearly 100 yards, but played turnover-free football. The Owls are 3-0 in C-USA play for the first time since joining the league in 2005.
Takeaway: Charles Ross was back for Rice, making a tough rushing game even tougher. Ross had been out since suffering an injury on Sept. 21. His output wasn't fantastic, with just 59 yards on 11 carries, but he showed sparks of his old self, such as one 34-yard run.
Rice has been able to build its 3-0 league mark largely because it is the conference's pre-eminent rushing team. Ross's return only makes Rice even more dangerous -- and even more likely to win the West Division. That said, there's work to do: Rice's 157 rushing yards were its fewest of the year.
Next: at New Mexico State, Oct. 19
SOUTHERN MISS (0-5, 0-1)
Next: at East Carolina, Oct. 19
TULANE (5-2, 3-0)
Game: Tulane 36, East Carolina 33 (3OT). Cairo Santos kicked a school-record five field goals, including a 42-yarder on the final play of the game to lift Tulane to the upset home win and a 3-0 league record. WR Ryan Grant had two overtime touchdown passes.
Takeaway: Coach Curtis Johnson had a great line for finally benching his beat-up starting QB, Nick Montana: "I didn't want the police to come and arrest me for child abuse, so I had to sit him." That only opened the door for Devin Powell, who he said played "lights out" in the overtime periods. The redshirt freshman threw for 224 yards, including two touchdowns in overtime.
For all of the big-picture niceties with Tulane's win, it's probably most comforting for Johnson that he has discovered his young quarterback can be an ample backup for Montana, or even useful in a two-quarterback system.
Next: vs. Tulsa, Oct. 26
TULSA (2-4, 1-1)
Game: Tulsa 34, UTEP 20. Cody Green was 14-for-17 for 226 yards and two touchdowns and Trey Watts ran for 142 yards as the Golden Hurricane found an offensive groove in a road win at UTEP. The Miners pulled to within a touchdown late in the third quarter but Tulsa's defense shut them out the rest of the way.
Takeaway: For a season too often characterized by frustrations, especially on offense, Tulsa's 430-yard blast against the Miners was a welcome sign. The Golden Hurricane pounced early and couldn't be stopped in a UTEP comeback attempt late.
The game should be confidence boosters for a number of Tulsa players, most notably QB Cody Green. Green thought the offensive performance was a carryover from the second half of last week's loss against Rice, which could foretell a trend. "I think that was the best execution we've had overall," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said.
Next: at Tulane, Oct. 26
UAB (2-4, 1-1)
Game: UAB 27, Florida International 24. Ty Long's 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining lifted UAB to its second win of the season. The Panthers tied the game at 24-24 but UAB managed a 10-play, 70-yar drive to get the field goal. UAB's defense, which has undergone a shift in coordinators, had a respectable day, allowing just 376 yards -- 109 of them in the second half.
Takeaway: The Blazers' rushing game has been a strong suit this year, what with the reliable play of RB Darrin Reaves. But at FIU Saturday, UAB got an even better shot in the arm -- a 159-yard, 20-carry day from true freshman Jordan Howard.
Next: at UTSA, Oct. 26
UTEP (1-5, 0-3)
Game: Tulsa 34, UTEP 20. The Golden Hurricane exploited UTEP's weak-to-date defense and found an offensive groove in a road win at UTEP. The Miners pulled to within a touchdown late in the third quarter but Tulsa's defense shut them out the rest of the way. UTEP coach Sean Kugler lamented his team's perceived trend of not "throwing the first punch," and getting down early.
Takeaway: Jameill Showers, UTEP's promising quarterback, has plenty of growing up to do. He was 12-for-30 for 166 yards, with one of those a 71-yard bomb. Take that away, and he averaged 8.6 yards per completion. He also threw two interceptions.
Kugler didn't anticipate that. "I felt we would be able to throw the ball consistently against them and thought that we could run the ball efficiently," he said. Instead, the Miners fell to 0-3 and are about to play five of their next six on the road.
Next: at Rice, Oct. 26
UTSA (2-5, 1-2)
Game: Rice 27, UTSA 21. UTSA outgained Rice by nearly 100 yards but fell behind 27-7 early and couldn't dig out of a hole made larger by its own mistakes. "We missed two field goals, leaving six points on the field had a muffed punt which ended up giving them seven points and we lost by six points," UTSA coach Larry Coker said. "I still think if we had recovered the onside kick we would have won the football game. But it's whether you win or lose and we didn't win."
Takeaway: The Roadrunners' first year in Conference USA has been an eventful one, but by midseason Coker and crew are starting to learn about the step up in competition. UTSA played well in its own mind Saturday but made too many mistakes to compete with an upper-tier C-USA team like Rice.
Bottom line: The open week, which will involve a lighter practice schedule, could not have come at a better time.
Next: vs. UAB, Oct. 26
NCAAF Team Report - Rice - NOTES, QUOTES
--The second-largest crowd in FAU Stadium history, 19,760, came to see the Marshall-Florida Atlantic game, only to watch the Owls lose as time expired. The only larger crowd was when the stadium made its debut in 2011.
--Tulane's win over East Carolina was its first in the series since 2003 -- a five-game losing streak snapped. Tulane's 3-0 record is its first in conference play since it started 3-0 in 1998 en route to a 12-0 record.
--No matter who the Middle Tennessee quarterback is, WR Kyle Griswould remains consistent. Griswould has caught a pass in 29 consecutive games, which is the fourth-longest such streak in Middle Tennessee history.
--UTSA had a season-best 264 yards rushing, with is the third-highest total in the short history of the school. QB Eric Soza had 85 yards, his highest output this year. RB David Glasco II led the backs with 78 rushing yards and a touchdown.
--Tulsa and UTEP played an almost mistake-free game, at least as far as penalties are concerned. The Golden Hurricane didn't commit a single penalty, and UTEP committed just one for 15 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's big for us. We needed a conference win. We have no nonconference games left so we have to crawl out of that hole one game at a time." -- Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship on his team's 34-20 win at UTEP.
NCAAF Team Report - Rice - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 7 IN CONFERENCE USA:
1. With five wins already, Tulane isn't just a win away from bowl eligibility -- it has guaranteed it will have its best season since 2004, when it finished 5-6. That's the low bar for coach Curtis Johnson, who is in his second year there.
He appears to be on the good side of a rebuilding effort. Not only is Tulane winning, it is now beating good teams, and is a legitimate contender for the league title. Saturday's win over East Carolina amped up the importance of two upcoming games: Oct. 26 at home against Tulsa and Nov. 30 on the road against Houston.
2. Marshall and East Carolina continue to cruise toward that Nov. 29 game during which the East Division of Conference USA will likely be on the line, but signals from Saturday showed that perhaps the Thundering Herd might have something going toward getting a leg up.
Marshall survived a game at Florida Atlantic in which it had every opportunity to lose. And ECU? It lost a game at Tulane in which it had every opportunity to win. There's plenty of football between now and then, but the message was clear: Marshall is here to fight.
3. Middle Tennessee has an unexpected quarterback conundrum. Logan Kilgore, the veteran, was lifted for freshman Austin Grammer and never returned in the Blue Raiders' puzzling 34-7 loss at North Texas.
It seems inconceivable that Kilgore could be losing his job, but Grammer gives the Blue Raiders a running option they didn't already have.
4. Tulsa isn't in a tailspin. The preseason pick to win the league got off to a rough start, including last week's nail-biting loss to Rice. There's no shame in losing to the Owls this year, but considering what Tulsa had done out of conference (1-3), one wondered if the Golden Hurricane's problems would become mental and pack it in for the season.
Not quite, at least that's what a 34-20 win at struggling UTEP showed. Even more, it had promising signs for the Tulsa offense, hinting that the Golden Hurricane isn't out of this race, not yet.
5. It's been a rough go for first-year UTEP coach Sean Kugler. His offense, while promising at times, wasn't much in Saturday's loss to Tulsa. And his defense ranks among the worst in the nation.
To make matters worse, his team is about to leave El Paso for five of its next six games. Rebuilding is tough, but appears to be especially frustrating for Kugler, a former UTEP offensive lineman.