Army struggles against Rice defense in 41-21 loss to Owls

It was a simple explanation for Army head coach Jeff Monken but that didn't make it any easier.

Army lacked in the fundamentals, overwhelmed on both sides of the line of scrimmage by a physical Rice team in a 41-21 loss on Saturday.

"We weren't a good blocking team or a good tackling team today and that cost us," Monken said. "We had them tackled several times or had hands on them and weren't able to make the tackles. We've seen that the last couple of weeks. Last week was better than the week before but just not a good enough job."

Rice made 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack of Army quarterback Angel Santiago, and forced two fumbles.

Linebacker James Radcliffe made three of his seven total tackles for losses. Army, which came into the game ranked No. 2 in the nation by averaging 338.2 rushing yards per game, was held to 250 yards on the ground.

Army converted just 5 of 13 third downs and was 1 for 3 on fourth-down conversions.

Christian Covington recovered a Santiago fumble at the Army 41-yard line with 12:40 remaining in the third quarter. On the next play, Driphus Jackson found Jordan Taylor for a 41-yard touchdown reception, giving Rice a 31-14 lead 10 seconds after Santiago's fumble.

"The center-quarterback exchange to start the second half on that drive was awfully disappointing, and they score on a one-play drive," Monken said. "We were in a coverage and didn't play the coverage correctly. A guy missed an assignment and (Taylor is) obviously running straight down the field with no contest."

"We have 11 guys on defense that were just hungry to get after the ball," said Covington. "Things are going to happen. I'm glad to be part of this team and I'm glad to be a part of this defense. I'm very proud of the way we played today."

Covington finished with seven tackles, including one for a loss.

"He was outstanding. There's just no other way to say it," said Army fullback Larry Dixon. "He plays hard."

Jackson completed 15 of 21 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 13 of his first 14 passes, was not intercepted and was sacked just once.

The Owls (3-3) converted a pair of third downs on their game-opening drive, which concluded with Brandon Hamilton's 2-yard touchdown run.

Army (2-4) responded later in the first quarter when Dixon scored from 2 yards out. It was career touchdown No. 22 for Dixon, moving him into a tie for ninth place on Army's all-time list with Charlie Jarvis (1966-68).

Rice opened the second quarter with 17 consecutive points. Darik Dillard scored on a 15-yard touchdown run, James Farrimond kicked a 23-yard field goal and Jackson completed a 5-yard pass to Mario Hull as Rice took a 24-7 lead.

Santiago was sacked by Alex Lyons for a 7-yard loss on the first play of the Black Knights' final first-half possession, but he still managed to lead a scoring drive. Dixon gained 43 yards on a run up the middle on the next play and Santiago connected with Xavier Moss on a 7-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining in the half to cut the Rice lead to 24-14.

"It was good for us to go down there and score, but we came out in the second half and couldn't build off that momentum," Santiago said. "We just didn't finish and that's all it comes down to."

Santiago scored on a 24-yard run midway through the third quarter, bringing Army within 10 points. Jackson hit Dillard on a 10-yard touchdown strike later in the third to put Rice ahead by 17.

On an option play early in the fourth quarter, a low pitch from Santiago intended for Tony Giovannelli was fumbled and recovered by Rice's Bryce Callahan at the Army 32. Rice couldn't turn that turnover into points, ending the drive with a punt after a holding penalty negated a 46-yard field goal by Farrimond.

Farrimond made a 24-yard field goal with 6:48 to play to cap the scoring.

Army, which defeated Ball State at home last week, has not won back-to-back games since beating North Texas and Duke in consecutive weeks in mid-September 2010.

"Things like that are awfully disappointing and we can't make mistakes like that here and overcome them," Monken said of Santiago's third-quarter fumble. "We have to be able to play better in terms of those things. It's my job to get our team prepared to do that and the job of our staff and also the responsibility of our players and they understand that. We have to play better if we hope to be a good football team like Rice. They are a good football team."

Rice running back Jowan Davis ran 21 times for 77 yards and wide receiver Zach Wright had five receptions for 47 yards.