Rice misses chance for upset of Texas, falls 34-9
Rice so seldom has a chance to beat Texas, the Owls players figured this year could be the best opportunity they would ever get.
But even a Longhorns team that still looks a bit shaky after a 5-7 meltdown in 2010 was too much for Rice, pulling away late for a 34-9 season-opening win behind second-half touchdowns by Jaxon Shipley and Fozzy Whittaker.
Texas has now won 40 of the last 41 meetings with the Owls.
Rice came in with a veteran team facing a Texas program that had overhauled its staff under coach Mack Brown and started 12 freshmen and sophomores.
The Owls stayed within 13-9 on Chris Boswell's three field goals before Shipley scored on a trick play in the third quarter and Whittaker put it away in the fourth by running for one touchdown and catching another.
''You go out there and you expect to win and it hurts when you don't,'' Rice coach David Bailiff said. ''I thought we played a tremendous first half, but the second half we gave up too many big plays.''
Shipley, the younger brother of Texas career receptions leader Jordan Shipley, put the Longhorns ahead 20-9 in the third on a pass from wide receiver John Harris.
Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert passed for 239 yards, with 115 going to Mike Davis in Texas' new offense under first-year coordinator Bryan Harsin.
Shipley's touchdown came on a reverse pass where backup quarterback David Ash handed off to Whittaker, who tossed the ball to Harris to find Shipley in the end zone. Shipley took the ball away from Rice safety Paul Porras at the goal line.
''That guy was right on me,'' Shipley said. ''When the ball was in the air I just knew I needed to make a play and fortunately did.''
Gilbert, scorned by many Texas fans after throwing 17 interceptions last season, did not have a turnover and showed a deft touch on his deep passes and his 26-yard TD pass to Whittaker.
The Longhorns also unveiled a new wildcat formation that kept the Owls off guard near the end zone, and a tougher running game that was able to grind out 229 yards. Freshman tailback Malcolm Brown came on late and finished with a game-high 86 yards on 16 carries.
Texas' defense, under new coordinator Manny Diaz, was solid, giving up 224 yards and keeping the Owls out of the end zone.
But none of it came very easy.
Boswell booted field goals of 42, 49 and 26 yards. Tyler Smith led Rice with 67 yards on 10 carries.
''We had the ball in their red zone two three times and came away with field goals. We're going to have to turn those into touchdowns,'' said Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue, who was 14 of 29 passing for just 79 yards.
Two sacks on Gilbert early in the third quarter drew boos from the home crowd of 101,000. Gilbert, who had to win a four-way battle to keep his starting job in training camp, was solid if not spectacular against the Owls. He connected with Davis for completions of 56 and 53 yards. The first set up a first-half field goal. The second came during a 99-yard drive that Whittaker finished with a 7-yard TD run for a 27-9 Texas lead. Gilbert also scrambled 22 yards early in the game to set up another field goal.
''I felt like we could have (won),'' Rice defensive tackle Scott Solomon said. ''We just needed to eliminate those big plays.''