Rice cruised to a 30-6 win in the Hawaii Bowl over Fresno State on Christmas Eve in Honolulu. The Owls wrapped up the 2014 season with an 8-5 record while the Bulldogs fell to 6-8 overall.
Rice junior quarterback Driphus Jackson finished the game 15-of-24 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He added another 41 yards on the ground. The Owls featured a balanced offensive attack, gaining 463 yards on the day.
Some wondered why Fresno State received a bowl invite in the first place. At 6-7, the Bulldogs were the seventh team in the last 64 years to have made a postseason bowl despite posting a losing record, per ESPN College Football:
Fresno did little to bolster the idea of bowls accepting losing teams, putting in a largely listless display. The Bulldogs gained 255 yards of total offense. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer thinks that this is a growing trend under head coach Tim DeRuyter:
The team is 0-3 in bowl games since he took over.
Before the game, DeRuyter commented that the attention paid to the Hawaii Bowl could either prove a help or hindrance to the Bulldogs, depending on their performance, per Bryant-Jon Anteola of The Fresno Bee:
We’re looking to have a really good national name as we reach out to different areas in recruiting. And because people see us out on ESPN regularly, things are real good when you win on national TV.
But when the last thing you leave out there, especially on Christmas Eve when we’re the only game of the day, it’s not a good look for you. It can hurt your image nationally and hurt you down the line if recruits are influenced by it.
He and Fresno State didn't do themselves any favors with this defeat. The Owls outplayed the Bulldogs in every aspect, and it started as soon as the contest began.
Rice couldn't have started the game much better. The Owls jumped out to a comfortable 16-3 lead after a field goal from senior James Hairston and two touchdown passes from Jackson.
Hairston put Rice ahead 3-0 on the first drive of the game, but Fresno State's Kody Kroening canceled out the field goal with one of his own with two minutes and 16 seconds left in the quarter.
That's when the Owls offense kicked it into high gear. Jackson needed five plays to go 78 yards, connecting with senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor for a 14-yard TD pass with 23 seconds to go until the second quarter.
Rice sophomore cornerback J.T. Blasingame then intercepted Fresno State QB Brian Burrell on the second play of the ensuing drive. Immediately following the turnover, senior wide receiver Mario Hull hauled in a 69-yard touchdown reception, scoring Rice's second TD in 19 seconds of game time and giving the Owls a 13-point advantage.
According to Rice Football, the catch was also Hull's career long:
The opening frame was all about setting new records, with Rice's 16 points the most the team had ever scored in the first quarter of any bowl game:
Fresno State was arguably lucky to only be down by 13, considering the disparity between the two teams in total yards. In only 15 minutes, Rice managed to outgain its opponent by over 200 yards:
Only one quarter in, the Bulldogs were teetering on the brink. Another touchdown or two from Rice, and the game could've been out of reach before halftime.
Instead, Fresno State tightened up on defense and held the Owls to four yards for the entire second quarter, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Rice didn't help itself by committing seven penalties for 60 yards in the first half and converting only two of its seven third downs.
Unfortunately, the Fresno State offense could only muster a 40-yard field goal from Kroening to cut the deficit to 10 points, 16-6, before halftime. The Bulldogs' offensive stagnancy wasted the strong defensive performance.
Burrell really struggled in the half, throwing for 40 yards on 9-of-18 passing. On the other side, Jackson completed the same amount of passes but instead gained 195 yards through the air.
Running backs Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller provided little support on the ground, rushing for a combined 55 yards. The Bulldogs averaged 183.9 yards on the ground heading into the game.
The third quarter was more of the same for Fresno State as the Bulldogs offense couldn't find the key to unlock the Rice defense. Two of the team's drives ended in three-and-outs, another in an interception and the last in a missed field goal from Kroening.
Jackson padded Rice's lead with 6:18 remaining in the third. He hit junior wideout Dennis Parks for a 40-yard touchdown. Anteola highlighted a block downfield that allowed Parks to break for the big play:
It was Parks' first touchdown of the season. WNSP's Patrick Woo thinks the wide receiver has a bright future ahead:
Rice carried its 23-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
DeRuyter replaced Burrell at quarterback with freshman Zack Greenlee. The move produced little, with Greenlee finishing the game 7-of-18 for 49 yards.
A one-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Darik Dillard put even more distance between the two teams, giving Rice a 30-6 lead 10:07 from the final whistle.
For Rice, this is both a nice way to close out the 2014 campaign and begin building toward 2015. This was the third straight bowl game for the Owls, with head coach David Bailiff building a consistently strong program in Houston.
Fresno State, meanwhile, wraps up a frustrating season with an even more frustrating loss. This year was a major backward step for the Bulldogs after they won nine games in 2012 and then 11 in 2013.