HONOLULU — Despite starting its season with three straight losses, Fresno State made it to a bowl game for the 14th time in the last 16 seasons.
Winning is another matter.
The Bulldogs lost their sixth consecutive postseason game Wednesday night when they didn't have an answer for Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson and couldn't budge against the Owls' defense in a 30-6 loss at the Hawaii Bowl.
"It's frustrating," Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We've got to figure out a way to get over the hump."
It wasn't for a lack of trying against Rice.
The Bulldogs (6-8) found an early spark from running back Josh Quezada, and they were able to keep a few drives going thanks to penalties on Rice, two that wiped out sacks and another that kept a drive going on a fourth-and-7 play.
What they couldn't find was the end zone.
Fresno State broke its own Hawaii Bowl record for fewest points — it had 10 in a lopsided loss to SMU two years ago. It was the first time the Bulldogs did not score a touchdown in any game since a 51-0 loss to Boise State four years ago, and the six points were the fewest for them in any bowl game in school history.
"Give credit to Rice," said linebacker Karl Mickelsen, voted the MVP for Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. "They're physical. We've just got to be more physical. When it comes down to it, everybody has just got to get to the ball."
All it took was 19 seconds late in the first quarter for Rice (8-5) to seize control, and the Owls were never seriously challenged after that.
Even though Rice dominated early, it was tied at 3 when Jackson was perfect on a fly route to Dennis Parks down the left sideline for a 53-yard gain that led to his 14-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Taylor.
Brian Burrell's deep throw was intercepted on Fresno State's next play from scrimmage, and Jackson then slightly underthrew a deep ball to Mario Hull, who came back for the catch and eluded two defenders to complete at 69-yard touchdown.
"We couldn't ask for a better momentum shift," Jackson said. "When you have two scores in 19 seconds, and then on the kickoff return we have a great hit, emotions are running high and we responded OK. I wish we could have scored more on the offensive side of the ball to counter what the defense was doing. But we got the win, and that's all that matters."
Fresno State never recovered.
Burrell was 10 of 22 for 44 yards and two interceptions, both on deep balls, and he was pulled for Zack Greenlee after the second pick late in the third quarter. Burrell didn't complete a pass longer than 8 yards.
Greenlee didn't fare much better, going 7 of 18 for 49 yards.
"We were struggling offensively," DeRuyter said. "We went to a package that we've practiced going into this final game. We just thought offensively we needed a spark to change things up."
Marteze Waller had 76 yards on 15 carries, but two of those runs went for 41 and 16 yards. Quezada finished with 52 yards on some tough runs against a strong defense.
"Once we came into the second half, we wanted the big plays because we were down by so much," Quezada said. "So we turned more to the passing game."
Rice outgained the Bulldogs 463-255.
The Bulldogs made enough defensive adjustments to hold Rice to one first down and 4 yards in the second quarter and at least stay in range. Their offense, however, offered little in return.
Fresno State was helped by a defensive holding call on fourth-and-7 to reach the 26, but it could only manage another field goal by Koedy Kroenig from 40 yards. Late in the first half and trailing 16-6, Fresno State again went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 18. Burrell threw a quick sideline pass to Greg Watson, only for Bryce Callahan to break through a block and drop him for a 3-yard loss that kept Rice up by 10 at intermission.
One drive effectively sealed the game for the Owls. Jackson worked the sidelines beautifully to complete four straight passes and move them down the field on their second drive of the third quarter. On third-and-2, he found Dennis Parks down the sideline. Parks stiff-armed linebacker Donavon Lewis and raced into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 23-6 lead.