By SCOTT BELL
After weeks of walking perilously close to the edge, the BYU Cougars finally went tumbling down Saturday night.
The Rice Owls ran rampant, knocking off the listless Cougars 27-14 at Rice Stadium in Houston.
“We were not in sync all night on either side of the ball,” said coach LaVell Edwards. “I am concerned about the rest of our season. We need to regroup and get together. Even if we win now, we have to wait. Rice is in the driver’s seat.”
For the fifth time this year, the Cougars fell behind early. Rice jumped ahead 16-7 on Benji Wood’s 30-yard touchdown run with 14:54 to play in the second quarter.
Unlike the games against Arizona State, SMU and Utah State, the Cougars were unable to ever reclaim the lead.
Brian McKenzie’s 40-yard touchdown burst with 13:07 left pulled BYU within 16-14, and the score remained the same until halftime. But in the second half, the Cougars managed a grand total of nine yards on offense, and couldn’t keep up with the Owls.
The loss left BYU 1-1 in WAC play. Rice and New Mexico are now the only two teams in control of their own destinies in the Mountain Division. Rice is 2-1 and New Mexico is unbeaten. The two play this Saturday, and the winner will be in charge of the division. BYU must now win out and hope Rice loses again.
“This was one of the biggest wins of the season in our conference,” said Rice running back Michael Perry. “This game will maybe get us to Las Vegas and hopefully to a bowl game. We hold our destiny in our own hands.”
The loss also served to further muddle the BYU quarterback situation. Kevin Feterik started the game, but was clearly still hobbled by the ankle injury he sustained against Utah State. Feterik still battled, and completed 8 of 11 passes in the first half for 161 yards. His 70-yard touchdown strike to Aaron Roderick pulled BYU within 9-7 late in the first quarter.
But Paul Shoemaker took over to start the second half. Apparently, Feterik’s injury stiffened over the half. Shoemaker had a tough outing, throwing four incompletions and one interception in five attempts.
Feterik came on for a few more series the second half, but was just as ineffective. He went 1 for 6 for 5 yards. With 3:27 to go in the game and BYU facing its last opportunity at a comeback, true freshman Drew Miller came on for the first time this year. It was an ignominious beginning. Miller was sacked for a safety on his first and only play from scrimmage.
“Drew Miller was in there on the safety,” Edwards said after the game. “We are thinking seriously about using him and we’ll have to address that this coming week. Kevin did no get a chance to practice much because of his injury. I don’t think anyone played well. We’ll just go from here and find out what we are made of.”
On the other side of the ball, BYU’s defense was run over by Rice’s triple option. Wood, Perry and quarterback Chad Nelson took turns leaving their skid marks on Cougar defenders.
Wood finished 167 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Perry went for 132 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Nelson netted only 52 yards on 22 carries, but that figure was misleading due to 31 yards lost on sacks. As a team, Rice ground out 384 rushing yards on 74 attempts, an average of 5.2 yards a carry.
“It was a bad game for us,” McKenzie said. “We just couldn’t move the ball. It wasn’t going our way. We need to have a good week of practice this week.”