Rice beats UTEP, reaches 5 wins for first time since 2015

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON – TJ McMahon threw for a career-high 334 yards, including a go-ahead 23-yard touchdown to Bradley Rozner with 25 seconds left, and Rice edged UTEP 37-30 on Thursday night.

Rice (5-4, 3-2 Conference USA) reached five wins in a season for the first time since 2015.

UTEP backup QB Calvin Brownholtz ran for a 25-yard score to tie the game at 27-all with 11:17 left in the fourth quarter. The teams traded field goals with UTEP tying it with 2:35 left.

Rice used back-to-back 13-yard plays to get to midfield and McMahon later found Rozner in the corner of the end zone for their sixth connection of the game.

McMahon was 21 of 31 with two touchdowns and one interception, and Rozner had 142 receiving yards and a score. Christian VanSickle made field goals of 43, 21 and 38.

Brownholtz was 7-of-10 passing for 56 yards and he carried it eight times for 64 yards for UTEP (4-6, 2-4). Gavin Baechle also made three field goals, with a long of 51.

No. 14 USC routs Rice 66-14 in big debuts by Williams, Riley

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Rice at USC
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LOS ANGELES – Southern California scored on every one of its possessions in the first three quarters. The Trojans’ defense also took three interceptions to the house, and a stadium filled with winning-starved fans went increasingly wild for each and every score.

Lincoln Riley‘s tenure is off to a rip-roaring start, and his players sound confident their revitalization of a powerhouse program will get even better.

“This is definitely a statement,” star receiver Jordan Addison said. “That’s what we wanted to do. Week 1, we had to show everybody that this wasn’t just no hype. We’re ready to play.”

Caleb Williams passed for 249 yards, rushed for 68 more and hit Addison for two touchdowns in No. 14 USC’s 66-14 victory over Rice on Saturday.

Calen Bullock, Shane Lee and Ralen Goforth returned three of USC’s four interceptions for touchdowns while the Trojans scored more points in Riley’s debut than they did in any game under Clay Helton, who was fired last season before USC sank to its worst record in 30 years.

With Williams going 19 for 22 while leading six consecutive scoring drives to open the game, USC had its highest-scoring performance since 2008, when the program still reigned near the top of college football under Pete Carroll.

Riley and Williams left Oklahoma during the offseason and reunited in Los Angeles to rebuild the Trojans, who are hoping for a swift return to regular national title contention. Riley hasn’t shied away from high expectations, and his team’s first outing was tantalizing.

“It’s a fun moment to finally be here,” Riley said. “I think the team was anxious and excited after all the buildup, and just ready to go play, and we responded well. … It’s one of those moments that you don’t want to minimize. It’s meaningful to us all, but those of us that have been on these journeys before, we understand this is just the beginning, and there’s so much left, so much better to play.”

Newcomers made big plays all over the field for the Trojans, who welcomed 24 transfers in the offseason. Stanford transfer Austin Jones and freshman Raleek Brown rushed for early touchdowns, while Addison – last season’s Biletnikoff Award winner at Pitt – scored on USC’s opening drive and finished with five catches for 54 yards.

Darwin Barlow also rushed for a score in the Trojans’ 538-yard attack.

“We have a lot of confidence, and we didn’t just build that confidence coming out here in the first game,” Williams said. “We built that through workouts. We built that recently. Just coming together, all one, that’s the best way to do it.”

Wiley Green passed for 69 yards for Rice before leaving with a right arm injury in the second quarter after Bullock returned his interception 93 yards. Orange County native TJ McMahon took over, but threw three interceptions in the schools’ first meeting since 1971.

Ari Broussard rushed for two scores, and Cameron Montgomery had 99 yards on the ground for the Owls.

After Bullock’s electrifying TD, Alabama transfer Lee brought his interception back 40 yards on the opening drive of the third. Goforth made a 31-yard TD return on Rice’s next drive.

“There’s four plays that really led to this game going the way it did from a lopsided manner, and that’s really those four interceptions, and certainly the three that were pick-6’s,” Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said. “I mean, that’s something that’s really hard to deal with. I’m just proud that our kids did keep fighting.”

USC hadn’t returned three interceptions for scores since Nov. 11, 1982, at Arizona. The Trojans fell one short of the NCAA record for pick-6’s.

“Hopefully we can get four pick-6’s next week,” Riley said with a laugh when asked where his defense needs to improve. “That would be awesome.”

HOT ONE

A success-starved crowd of 60,113 braved 95-degree temperatures around kickoff to welcome Riley, Williams, Addison and the rest of the new Trojans to the 99-year-old Coliseum.

“This stadium is so elite,” Riley said. “Even those of us that have coached in a lot of really cool stadium, this place, watching a college football game here, I don’t know how it gets any better.”

RALEEK THE FREAK

Brown had a stellar debut with 76 combined yards on just eight touches, and he celebrated his impressive 14-yard TD run by striking a Heisman pose.

The freshman left the field postgame on a cart with ice around his right ankle, but the Trojans didn’t seem seriously concerned about his health.

THE TAKEAWAY

Rice: The Owls were competitive before the turnovers. The potential seriousness of Green’s injury is a much bigger concern than the blowout, but Bloomgren had no immediate update on his quarterback’s condition.

USC: The first quarter could resemble much of this season under Riley, who landed far more offensive talent than defensive difference-makers in the transfer portal. USC racked up 9.3 yards per play, but had some rough defensive stretches. Big 12-style, high-scoring shootouts could be the norm.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

USC has spent nearly every September during the 13 seasons since Carroll’s departure failing to live up to overly optimistic early rankings. This new team is still imperfect, but Riley’s Trojans immediately look like they deserve their spot.

UP NEXT

Rice: Host McNeese State on Saturday.

USC: At Stanford on Saturday.

Arizona-Utah canceled, Pac-12 down to 4 games to open season

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The Pac-12 football season is getting off to a shaky start.

The opener between Utah and Arizona on Saturday in Salt Lake City was canceled due to a rise in positive COVID-19 cases within the Utes program.

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said a number of positive coronavirus tests Friday morning put Utah below the Pac-12’s minimum threshold of 53 available scholarship players under the conference’s game cancelation policy. The Pac-12 approved the request on Friday.

“The cancellation of the our football game is a very difficult outcome to accept, but it absolutely is the right decision under the circumstances,” Harlan said in a statement. “While I am heartbroken for our student-athletes and everyone associated with Utah Athletics, as well as our great fans, our No. 1 guiding principle is the health and safety of our student-athletes.”

The cancellation is the second in two days for the Pac-12, which is set to kick off its seven-game season this weekend after spending the past several weeks watching as other conferences began playing. The game between Washington California was canceled Thursday.

Games between Arizona State and No. 20 Southern California, UCLA and Colorado, Washington State and Oregon State, along with Stanford at No. 12 Oregon are still scheduled to be played Saturday.

“The cancellation of this game, following yesterday’s cancellation of the Washington at Cal football game, is of course incredibly disappointing to our student-athletes and our fans,” the Pac-12 said in a statement. “At the same time it is an indication that our health and safety protocols are working in identifying positive cases and contact tracing cases.

“While all of us want to see our football student-athletes on the field competing, our number one priority must continue to be the health and safety of all those connected to Pac-12 football programs.”

In all, 10 Bowl Subdivision games this week were either canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the total to 47 since Aug. 26.

Two Conference USA games scheduled for this weekend, Charlotte’s game at Middle Tennessee and UTSA’s visit to Rice, were postponed earlier Friday due to positive tests and contact tracing protocols.

Utah will, barring more positive tests, now open its season Nov. 13 at UCLA.

Arizona’s new season opener will be Nov. 14 against USC.

“Our football program and athletics department have worked incredibly hard in preparation to take the field on Saturday,” Arizona AD Dave Heeke said in a statement. I could not be more disappointed that our players, coaches and staff will be unable to experience game day, which they have prepared months for. With that said, health and safety must continue to be our guiding principles throughout these uncertain times.”