EditorsNote: Changed spelling error on Riccitelli
Naeem Smith scored on a 36-yard interception return to highlight a stellar team defensive effort as visiting Rice blanked No. 21 Marshall 20-0 in a Conference USA clash Saturday in Huntington, W.Va.
Rice (2-2, 2-2 C-USA) played without starting quarterback Mike Collins and leading receiver Austin Trammell due to injuries, but still managed to snag its first road win over a Top 25 opponent since Oct. 12, 1991 at No. 8 Baylor.
The Owls notched five interceptions and three sacks and handed the Thundering Herd their first-ever shutout at Edwards Stadium, and first overall since Oct. 14, 2000 at Toledo.
Marshall (7-1, 4-1) had not trailed in the fourth quarter or at the half all season, but quarterback Grant Wells struggled. He completed 18 of 35 passes for 165 yards but five different Rice defenders tallied interceptions. Brenden Knox rushed for 76 yards on 20 carries as Marshall was held to a season-low 245 total yards.
JoVoni Johnson completed 10 of 14 passes for 86 yards with no turnovers in his first start of the season for Rice. Ari Broussard (62 yards) and Khalan Griffin (56) combined for 118 rushing yards on 36 carries. Collin Riccitelli added field goals of 39 and 40 yards.
Smith’s pick-six came when he jumped a hot-route read on a blitz. He stepped in front of the quick throw and raced untouched for the score to give Rice a 20-0 lead with 7:50 left in the third quarter. It started a run of three interceptions on four throws for Wells.
Rice led 10-0 at the half to put the upset in play. The Herd, playing for the first time since Nov. 14, had six penalties and two turnovers and four possessions that ended on the Owls’ side of the field in the first two quarters.
Treshawn Chamberlain picked off Wells on Marshall’s second possession, and his 21-yard return set up Rice’s first short-field TD drive. Jordan Myers capped the 10-play march, all runs, with a 1-yard plunge for a 7-0 lead with 1:06 left in the first quarter.
A fake punt, and a Marshall pass interference penalty on the play, kept alive Rice’s second scoring drive. Riccitelli finished off another 10-play drive with his 39-yard field goal with 5:49 left in the second quarter.
Riccitelli hit his 40-yard field goal with 9:24 left in the third for a 13-0 lead.
Blaze Alldredge, Andrew Bird and Josh Pearcy all added interceptions for Rice, which won for the first time in six tries at Marshall.
--Field Level Media