Updated: December 29, 2012 at 12:00 am
FORT WORTH, Texas -- These weren’t the usual suspects who took down Air Force.
Jordan Taylor looked like a polished receiver, but he entered the game without a touchdown this season. Driphus Jackson had just one collegiate start to his credit, and he was jittery as can be in that one.
Even Rice’s team as a whole is new to this. The Owls hadn’t been to a bowl since 2008. This is their second bowl victory since 1954.
But they all sure looked the part of world beaters Saturday in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
“In the second half the game kind of slowed down for me,” said Jackson, whose experience prior to Saturday’s relief appearance was limited to a start in a 35-14 loss to Houston on Sept. 29 and a few additional plays in mop-up time. “I kind of settled myself down and I was able to get all the moving parts together. These guys made it easy, all I had to do was get the ball to them.”
Jackson’s favorite target proved to be the 6-foot-5 Taylor, which made sense considering he had about nine inches on Air Force cornerback Chris Miller.
With 48 catches for 673 yards coming into the bowl game, Taylor wasn’t exactly off anybody’s radar, but his nine-catch, 153-yard, three-touchdown performance was the best of his career. Coming into the game he had two career touchdowns, both coming in 2011, and his lone 100-yard game came in a victory over Kansas on Sept. 8 when he went for 101.
The timing couldn’t have been much better for the sophomore as he played in front of a throng of friends and family from Denison, Texas, which is about 100 miles from Fort Worth.
“I was kind of playing in front of a hometown crowd and a lot of people,” Taylor said. “It feels great. I can’t express how much it means to me.”
The biggest surprise was just that Rice was in this position to begin with. The Owls' seniors endured seasons that included records of 2-10, 4-8, 4-8 and started this season 1-5.
That was followed by a stretch in which they’ve won six of seven and now have just their second bowl victory since toppling Alabama in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1954.
It was only fitting then, that the Owls capped that season with a come-from-behind victory.
“It was a surreal moment,” Jackson said.