Despite never trailing in regulation, Rice Football dropped their conference opener in overtime to Louisiana Tech in agonizing fashion.
Two quick touchdowns, a full 60 minutes of defensive intensity and just enough oomph at the end couldn’t push Rice over Louisiana Tech on Saturday night. Here are a few immediate thoughts from the loss:
Picture perfect start
Entering Saturday’s game with Louisiana Tech, Rice hadn’t done well with their opening possessions: punt, fumble, punt, punt. Not only did the Owls reverse that trend quickly against the Bulldogs they looked almost as good as they have on offense all season.
Rice picked up three first downs, averaging 7.7 yards per play. Wiley Green was 3-for-3 for 31 yards, overcoming second and 24 following an uncharacteristic bad snap in the middle of the drive. Aston Walter finished things with a 16-yard run for the Owls first lead of the 2019 season.
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) September 28, 2019
The second drive went the same way. Green moved the offense methodically down the field and Walter punched it in yet again. The theory entering this game was fairly straightforward; against an evenly matched opponent, the Rice offense should succeed. On Saturday, Rice proved they could. They just couldn’t sustain the success.
Running with a vengeance
The return of tackles Clay Servin and Justin Gooseberry to the lineup paid tremendous dividends against Louisiana Tech. After struggling to average three yards per carry in their previous three games, Rice moved the ball on the ground with great success all night. Once they get fullback Reagan Williams back on the field that efficiency could get even better.
With that healthy line paving the way, Aston Walter had a career game. The sixth-year senior rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns, shattering a previous career-best 72 yards, a mark he’d matched on three separate occasions.
Charlie Booker racked up 70 yards on 21 carries, becoming the battering ram the Owls needed in the second half. Altogether, the Rice running backs averaged 4.4 yards per carry. That’s closer the kind of stat line the Owls need to see going forward, but the Owls can do better.
Rice defense stands tall again, and again, and again
As the offensive line and running game took control of the line of scrimmage on their side of the ball, the defensive front seven clamped down in parallel. J’Mar Smith and the Louisiana Tech offense looked hampered for the duration of this game.
There weren’t many clean pockets and Smith, forcing him to be perfect when he had time to throw. That’s a high bar to set for any quarterback, even a four-year starter like Smith. The Louisiana Tech offense had to resort to shorter throws and crossing routes, failing to connect on the majority of their long plays downfield.
Entering Saturday night, Smith’s longest passes of the season were 26 yards (vs Texas), 40 yards (vs Grambling State), 49 yards (vs Bowling Green) and 54 yards (vs FIU). Smith’s longest completion against Rice went for 22 yards to star wideout Adrian Hardy.
That lack of downfield success can be traced back to that dominant front seven. Rice registered three sacks on the night (including freshman De’Brayon Carroll’s first) and five quarterback hits.
Too many self-inflicted wounds
Rice has shown improvement over the course of the season, but they’re still too inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball to continually shoot themselves in the foot. Here are a few of the errors that cost Rice a game they controlled for the majority of its duration:
- A bad snap cost Rice 14 yards of possession
- Tom Stewart threw an interception in the endzone.
- Rice fumbled four times
- Will Harrison missed a 36-yard field goal.
- Rice committed five penalties for 40 yards.
- The defense allowed Justin Henderson to run 26-yard untouched for a touchdown
- Austin Trammell dropped a third-down pass early in the fourth quarter
- Rice was held to a field goal on the first possession of overtime
To have that many mistakes and still be in a position to win is a great start. More so, it’s proof that this team has a lot of work to do to get to where they want to be. After their first two drives, this felt like a game Rice could win, maybe even that they should win. Then the offense went inexplicably ice cold.
Just like the loss to Army and the loss to Baylor, Rice walks away from this game with a bad taste in their mouth. They were close, again, but couldn’t play sound enough for 60 minutes to turn walk away with the victory.
It’s Wiley Green’s job to lose
Wiley Green was near flawless in his first two drives, completing 6-of-7 passes for 62 yards and leading the offense on back-to-back touchdown drives.
As planned, Stewart entered the game on the Owls’ third offensive possession. His first drive went three and out including a pass that just missed an open receiver. Rice drove down inside the redzone on Stewart’s second drive, overcoming a fumble from Stewart in the process. That final drive ended with a poor decision by Stewart, who was intercepted in the endzone on a throw into heavy traffic.
Credit Bloomgren to sticking with his guns and playing both guys, but it’s hard to argue with what Green was able to with this offense. After looking stagnant for the better part of four games, Green got things going and led the Owls on all three of their scoring drives.
Barring injury, Green seems to give the Owls their best chance to win going forward.