On a grey day in Huntington, the Thundering Herd came into the matchup with 1-2 Rice feeling and looking good. Doc Holliday’s team came in ranked 21st in the nation and use about ready to clinch the East division.
Mike Bloomgren’s Owls had their own plans. Thanks to five turnovers forced — five interceptions of Grant Wells and the Herd offense, and a couple of turnovers on downs. Incredibly Rice held the Herd to just 165 yards passing and kept Brendon Knox to 78 rushing on 20 carries. The Owls dominated possession with roughly 37 minutes of possession and 46 rushing attempts.
The Herd played nice defense, keeping the Owls to 127 yards — or only 2.8 yard per carry — and just 86 total receiving yards. The damage was done by the Rice defense, which played like it was wearing a green ‘M’ on the helmet.
The Owls had just one offensive touchdown, which came in the first quarter on a one-yard dive by Jordan Myers. After that it was a series of field goals until Marshall’s Grant Wells was intercepted and Naeem Smith returned it 36 yards for six.
What It Means
This was a huge upset. For the Rice Owls, the ESPN+ announcers mentioned often that this was the first road victory over a ranked team since 1991, and the first win over any ranked team since 1997. The Herd will drop out of the conversation for best of the rest — meaning BYU and others are going to move up — but will still keep control of their destiny in CUSA.
The Herd were 7-0 coming into this game and needed a victory to all-but-seal up the East division. Instead, a win next week (if it is played) will do the trick and put the Herd into the championship game. The last time Rice beat Marshall was in the 2013 CUSA championship game in which Marshall was heavily favored. The Herd got revenge the next year in blowout fashion. These teams played last season and saw Marshall win 20-7.
Rice moves to 2-2 in the league but is out of the conversation for the division thanks to two losses and no time remaining to catch up to UTSA or UAB.
It is a building block for Rice, which postponed a good portion of its season this year but felt like they should be in the conversation for competing in the division. While this game was more about the Rice defense, which has at times shown some heft, but other times has been taken advantage of (MTSU, UNT) the Owl run game could not get much traction against the powerful Herd defense.