Army forces 6 Rice turnovers in 49-12 win
HOUSTON (AP) — For a team that hadn’t been keen on forcing turnovers this season — having just three through its first five games — Army found its rhythm all at once.
Facing Rice, which has been bitten by the turnover bug this season, Army forced turnovers on four straight possessions in the first half to build a big lead early in a 49-12 win on Saturday.
“That was huge getting those turnovers,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “They helped us. We ripped a couple out. Those paid off. That was the difference in the game. It was the spark from the defense that made the difference.”
Kell Walker ran for 127 yards and three touchdowns and Ahmad Bradshaw added 115 yards rushing and two more scores as Army registered its first road win of the season.
“We knew that this was going to be a big game for us,” Bradshaw said. “It’s our first win on the road this year. We knew we were going to have to come out with high intensity initially. It set the tone for the rest of the game.”
It was Army’s first win against Rice in Houston since beating the Owls 14-7 on November 8, 1958.
Rice turned the ball over six times in all — five fumbles and an interception — and has committed 16 turnovers through six games.
“We need to focus,” Rice coach David Bailiff said about the ball being stripped. “It’s fundamentals; you fall to your level of training, which means either we’re not detailed enough in our training or we just can’t go through the motions. Drills are important, and that’s why we do them.”
The Black Knights (4-2) took a 7-0 lead when Max Regan returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. The pick-six was the junior’s first career interception and second defensive score in the 29 career games.
“This is probably the best game he’s played since he had to take over that role,” Monken said. “I am really proud of him. He’s playing in his home state. I’m sure he had a lot of people here. It must have been a thrill for him. He made a big difference in the football game. ”
The Owls fumbled on the first play of their next possession and Army made it 14-0 when Bradshaw scored on a 3-yard run two plays later.
Rice (1-5) fumbled again on the first play of the next drive when Regan knocked the ball out of the hands of Miklo Smalls as he scrambled. It was Regan’s first career forced fumble and second career recovery.
“All week in practice we were trying to strip it out,” Regan said. “I was able to get my hand in there and the guy had some poor ball security, so I was able to rip it out.”
Regan’s defensive play set up Walker’s 23-yard run on the next play — the first of three straight touchdowns by Walker, capped by a 47-yard run that gave Army 35-0 at halftime.
“It’s huge,” Walker said about starting with a short field off turnovers. “If we got to drive 95 yards or 90 yards, we do it. It was definitely refreshing to get the ball on the 30. The defense worked its tail off to get us that.”
Army finished with 418 yards rushing on 65 carries.
“The score is pretty indicative of the game we played,” Rice senior defender Emmanuel Ellerbee said. “The stats are pretty indicative of what Army does. Army doesn’t do too much. They run the ball, they don’t pass the ball. They had two passes and they didn’t complete either of them.”
Saturday’s start for Smalls marked the first time Rice has started a true freshman at quarterback since Chad Richardson in 1996.
Smalls is the third quarterback to start for Rice in 2017. This is the first time Rice has started three quarterbacks in a single season since 2006.
“It was my decision to start Miklo (Smalls), hope we’d catch lightning in a bottle with him and he’d stimulate us, get us going offensively,” Bailiff said. “The three quick turnovers and the points were sure not how I wanted his time at Rice to start. He’s a very talented player; he’s a young player, and we’ll keep working with him.”
Smalls was replaced by Jackson Tyner on the final drive of the first quarter. Tyner finished 7 of 16 for 135 yards and one touchdown.
Emmanuel Esukpa got Rice on the board with a 22-yard run in the third quarter, but the kick was blocked and Bradshaw’s second touchdown, a 7-yard run, made it 42-6.
Esukpa finished with a career-high 56 yards and the score, which was the first of his career.
Yet another fumble by Rice, this one by Austin Trammell, came late in the third quarter.
ARMY: The Black Knights should get a boost of confidence from their performance on both sides of the ball that ended their road woes.
RICE: The Owls will have to figure out a way to hold onto the ball if they hope to end their losing streak. They’ll have an extra week to regroup with their open week coming up next week.
ARMY: The Black Knights host Eastern Michigan next Saturday.
RICE: The Owls are off next week before visiting Texas-San Antonio on Oct. 21.
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