Rice football wrapped up their 2018 road schedule against LSU in Week 12, falling to the Tigers by a final score of 42-10 in Death Valley.
Few teams walk into Tiger Stadium and leave with a victory. Rice knew staying with LSU was going to be a challenge, but they hung in the ring with the Tigers and made them go the distance. LSU jumped out to a 28-3 halftime lead before coasting to victory.
Nobody likes losing, especially by a large margin, but the test makes the team better. Now, a few quick reactions from the loss:
1. Marquee games against brand-name opponents are good for this team
The loss marks the 11th defeat for Rice this season and their seventh consecutive loss to LSU. As an aside and irrespective of the final score, Rice football needs to keep playing these games. The atmosphere of playing in Death Valley is one of the premier experiences in all of college football and getting the chance to step into Tiger Stadium and be a part of that moment was a special experience for these players.
Rice was a heavy underdog, but they Owls fought, and the test provided by one of the premier teams in this sport will pay off for down the road. This game is more than a nice paycheck for the university, it’s a chance to see how you measure up against the best of the best. Rice has a long way to go, that’s clear, but now they know exactly what they’re up against.
2. Joe Burrow has strong outing against up and down Rice secondary
Joe Burrow made waves this summer when he transferred from Ohio State to LSU. The former blue-chip quarterback recruit was viewed as the last piece the Tigers needed to get over the hump and return to National Championship contention.
Through his first 10 games the returns were mixed. Entering the Rice game, Burrow ranked 13th in the SEC with a 54.8 completion percentage. His 14 pass plays of 30+ yards were just one more than the Owls’ 13 such plays.
Burrow was sharp against Rice. The Owls were forced to respect the speed on the outside and generally erred on the side of caution when it came to pressure at the line of scrimmage. The results were relatively clean throwing lanes for Burrow who didn’t miss. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 307 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Owls nearly had an interception, but it was taken off the board on an offsides call. Coverage down the field kept the ball in front of them with the exception of a few deep throws delivered perfectly by Burrow (one of which was ruled incomplete). Those have plagued the Owls all season and made an otherwise decent night in the secondary rather dour.
3. Prudy Calderon is already a difference maker
LSU brought in Jontre Kirklin to run a Wildcat package on their second possession of the game. Dylan Silcox brought him down after a short gain and ripped the ball out, Calderon was there to pounce on it and give the Owls possession and their 10th fumble recovery of the season.
Calderon has four interceptions in his last five games. He came close to adding another against LSU, but a diving attempt in the second quarter came up just short. Midway through the third quarter he picked up a pass break up, turning LSU away on third down.
The fumble recovery, pass break up, and three tackles were the only items on the stat sheet for Calderon on Saturday, but the impact he has on this team from the safety position has been huge. Teams don’t beat him over the top. When they try to go short, he’s there to make the tackle and deliver a big hit.
Calderon is a true freshman. He’s going to be a fixture on this defense for years to come and instrumental in turning this unit around in the coming seasons.
4. The Rice rushing attack remains a work in progress
By Mike Bloomgren’s own admission, the Rice offense is meant to be a run-first attack. The Owls have struggled on the ground over the last month and knew they’d be up for a challenge against LSU, the 30th-best run defense in the nation. That expectation became a reality as crowded boxes dared Rice to throw the ball or face short pickups at the line of scrimmage.
Rice was held to -4 yards on the ground in the first quarter. Excluding sacks, that number marginally improves to 11 yards on six Aston Walter carries. Running for less than two yards a clip isn’t going to cut it for a run-first offense, but that’s part of the battle that comes with playing a defense with as much talent and speed as LSU.
Through four quarters, the rushing numbers did not improve. It didn’t matter who had the rock, it was tough sledding. Rice tallied 97 yards on 43 carries, good for 2.3 yards per carry.
It’s worth noting that Rice brought in the jumbo package needing one yard or less to convert on three separate occasions. They converted on all three occasions against one of the most physical defensive fronts in the country.
That’s been the theme of the season thus far, too much in the way of mixed results. The Rice coaching staff has done a decent enough job using things like the Wildcat package with Juma Otoviano and gadget plays with D’Angelo Ellis to jump-start the rushing attack, but the results haven’t been where they need to be.
5. On to Old Dominion
It’s been a long season filled with highs and more lows than Rice fans would have wished for — and just like that, it’s almost over. Rice hosts Old Dominion next weekend in the Owls’ 13th and final game of 2018. Head coach Mike Bloomgren is still looking for his first conference win, giving this team plenty to play for in their last contest.
A win against Old Dominion wouldn’t make up for several near-misses that could have given the Owls another win or two, but it would be evidence that the Owls are headed in the right direction.
As Bloomgren himself would say, it’s time for the team to put this one behind them and move on. The results weren’t what this team was looking for but the process continues on. Overmatched on several fronts against LSU, this team demonstrated the fight and the willingness to compete that fans have been waiting for all year.
Rice has one more chance to scratch across a win.