Rice stalls in 28-6 loss to Northwestern
Just about unstoppable a week earlier, Rice couldn't get anything going Saturday against Northwestern.
The offense stalled. The defense got picked apart, and in the end, the Owls left Ryan Field with their fourth loss in five games.
Dan Persa threw for a career-high 372 yards, Jeremy Ebert set a personal best with 208 yards receiving and Northwestern beat Rice 28-6.
Persa also matched a career high with four touchdown passes, none more spectacular than a 90-yarder to Ebert in the first quarter. It was the second-longest completion in school history, and it set the tone as the Wildcats built a 21-0 halftime lead on the way to their third straight victory.
For Rice, it was simply a dramatic contrast from the previous game.
The Owls were coming off a wild 41-37 win over UTEP. The Owls racked up 671 yards in that one, with Nick Fanuzzi throwing for 405, but it was a rough day all around this time.
Fanuzzi threw for just 92 yards Saturday.
''Their defense was real solid, real sound,'' said Tyler Smith, who ran for 84 yards and a late touchdown. ''Tough to overcome. They executed so well. It was pretty hard to break plays.''
There was no letdown for Northwestern after a stunning 28-25 victory last weekend at then-No. 9 Nebraska.
Instead, the Wildcats (5-5) pulled back to .500 - no small feat for a team that dropped five in a row before this run - and they're now one win away from becoming eligible for their fourth straight bowl.
Northwestern outgained the Owls (3-7) 533 yards to 254 and was poised for its first shutout since the 2007 opener against Northeastern when Smith scored on a 9-yard run with 4:16 left after a 43-yard end-around pass from Jordan Taylor to Andre Gautreaux.
Ebert easily trumped his previous career high of 147 yards against Nebraska, and Persa looked sharp after sitting out the second half last week with an injured left shoulder.
The nation's leader in completion percentage, he was 25 of 32 with two interceptions.
''Persa is a great player,'' Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. ''He reads the field well and knows where to make the throws, and he has a good arm.''
He had similar praise for Ebert, saying: ''He seems to always find his way into the end zone and makes big plays for them. He made big plays last week against Nebraska and again this week.''
Ebert caught just seven passes, including three for 116 yards in the first quarter alone, and had two touchdowns. He fell just short of the school single-game record of 226 yards set by Jim Lash against Michigan State in 1972 and Todd Sheets against Purdue in 1980. Ebert was so good he even caught the ball when he wasn't looking, spinning around and hauling in a 33-yarder with two defenders on him in the third.
But this was the highlight: With the Wildcats pinned deep in their territory, Ebert caught a pass near the Northwestern 40 and turned up the left sideline, beating the Owls' Tanner Leland to make it 7-0 with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
Ebert also caught a 40-yarder from Persa in the second quarter, and he beat a backpedaling Leland on another scoring catch later in the period - this time a 17-yarder that made it 14-0.
That gave him 10 TD receptions, two shy of the school's single-season record set by D'Wayne Bates in 1996, and it came after Demetrius Fields had turned a short pass into a 50-yard gain.
Northwestern added to its lead right before halftime.
A hit by Ben Johnson on Fanuzzi led to an interception by Tyler Scott, the ball simply falling into his hands with just over a minute left, and the Wildcats took advantage.
This time, Fields caught a short pass along the left side at the 9, broke Matt Nordstrom's tackle and juked Cameron Nwosu for a 15-yard touchdown that made it 21-0 with 23 seconds remaining in the half.
The Owls' Chris Boswell then lined a 60-yard field goal off the middle of the crossbar just before the half, temporarily preserving the shutout.
''We couldn't get a drive going all day,'' coach David Bailiff said. ''It was a solid performance by their defense.''