A week removed from a near-upset of Army on the road, Rice Football fell to Wake Forest in a hard-fought home opener, showing growth through adversity.
Through one quarter, Rice football was tied with Wake Forest 14-14. The Owls had withstood the Demon Deacon’s initial charge and rallied, showing more resilience than they had during coach Mike Bloomgren’s first season at South Main. The end result was not according to plan, but to their credit: Rice fought.
The moment generated from a strong Week 1 showing was tested, seeing mixed results. Here are a few immediate takeaways.
1. Green goes down
The speed of the game seemed to get to Wiley Green early. The redshirt freshman quarterback fumbled the ball on the Owls’ first offensive possession. His next turn on the field was much better. Green commanded the offense well, completing passes of 14- and 40-yards.
Green looked as good, if not better than we’ve ever seen him play. He drove the Owls down to the two-yard line before disaster struck. Green took a bootleg run toward the right pylon where he was hit helmet to helmet and went down hard and stayed down. Here’s the hit, for those who want to see. It’s rough.
The stadium went quiet. Green was down for about 15 minutes as his shoulder pads and helmet were removed. He was transported by a cart to an ambulance which took him to a nearby hospital. Green finished the game 3-for-5 passing for 69 yards, markedly better than his line against Army, 7-for-14 for 62 yards.
2. The offense responds, but can’t sustain
The concerns with Stewart were never talent based. The Harvard transfer has a big arm but wasn’t able to master the offense to the same level as Green, who had more than a year in the system under his belt. When Stewart took over the offense didn’t miss a beat.
Whatever coach Bloomgren told the team in the huddle worked. Trailing 14-0, Rice punched back. Aston Walter took in a 2-yard run on the first play after the resumption of play. The defense forced a three and out. Austin Trammell returned the punt 34 yard and newly inserted quarterback Tom Stewart tied it up with a 10-yard touchdown run.
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The second half was a different story. Rice had three consecutive three and outs before Stewart engineered a 71-yard drive down to the 1-yard line. Wake Forest held on fourth and goal, turning Rice away with no points. Stewart would connect with Austin Trammell late in the fourth for his first touchdown pass with the Owls.
3. The good and bad from the Rice secondary
The truth is, the Rice defense matched up significantly better with the Army offense than they did with Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons’ ability to use tempo with speed on the edges put the Owls at a disadvantage. As quickly as Rice practiced the tempo, it took live action for the team to adjust. Losing starting corner Tyrae Thornton six minutes into the contest did not help.
Wake Forest was able to move the ball through the air, but the secondary held up much better than it had at any point last season. I counted three explosive plays through the air in which the Wake Forest pass catchers got behind the Rice defense
- 34-yard reception down the seam to tight end Jake Freudenthal in the second quarter
- 39-yard laser down the sideline to Scotty Washington in the third
- 59-yard touchdown to Washington in the third quarter
One touchdown and three deep shots against an offense that threw for 400 yards last weekend against Utah State is progress.
Wake Forest’s third score in the endzone summed up the difference between the two teams. Corner Andrew Bird matched wideout Scotty Washington stride for stride before quarterback Jamie Newman tossed the ball toward the endzone. Then the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Washington muscled out 6-foot-1, 171-pound Bird for the football.
4. Bend but don’t break
The tenacity and aggressiveness displayed by the Rice defense against Army was equally present against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons found success through the air, but had trouble in the redzone. After two first-quarter scores the Rice defense settled in. Wake was held to short field goals, allowing Rice to hang around well into the second half.
Newman held the ball deep into plays before actioning the run-pass option type plays, but the Owls defense stayed home. Anthony Ekpe and Blaze Alldredge were effective, leading the team with nine and eight tackles, respectively. The safeties kept the plays in front of them.
Newman was able to complete passes and move the ball, but this game never got out of hand. When Rice lost on defense, they lost to superior athletes who made superior plays. That’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.
Before Rice moves to contend on the national stage, they’re going to have take control of Conference USA. Losing a talent battle is going to happen when Rice plays some Power 5 opponents, but the Owls will be neck and neck with their CUSA peers.
5. Final thoughts
When the halftime whistle blew on Friday Rice trailed Wake Forest 24-14. Last season the Owls trailed 42-3 at the break. That year-over-year change would have been enough to prove the Owls had gotten better on both sides of the ball. And Rice was missing their starting left corner and their starting quarterback for the majority of that half.
Rice is tired of moral victories. The coaching staff has made that abundantly clear following their close loss to Army in Week 1. The box score didn’t paint the home team in a favorable light, but the evidences of change in the right direction are abundant.
The Owls’ non-conference slate was projected to be a grueling before the season began. No one would have batted an eye if Rice began the season 0-4. They’re not 0-4, they’re 0-2. And we’ve learned a lot about the potential this team has, hopefully avoiding any more injuries.
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