It was another long Saturday for the Rice football defense, leading coach Mike Bloomgren to deliver an ultimatum: “Something will change.”
Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren is as unflappable as they come. The second-year head coach came to South Main with a vision, one he’s determined to see through to reality. But there have been several C-USA sized bumps along the way.
“The Process”, as Bloomgren likes to refer to his big-picture plan, has been a mixed bag. The defense, which ranked dead last in Conference USA in scoring a year ago, just held the conference’s top quarterback to a little more than half his passing yardage totals and zero touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the offense has regressed from 18.9 points per game in 2018 to 15.9 points per game this season. Bloomgren isn’t blind to that reality, far from it. He faced the music following another close loss over the weekend, this time to Southern Miss.
“Something will change,” he said. “The status quo is not good enough, the way we’re doing things is not good enough.”
What that change looks like remains to be seen. Wiley Green has played himself out of the starting quarterback job, but former backup Tom Stewart is hurt, and could be sidelined for some time. That leaves Bloomgren with two options at quarterback: sophomore Evan Marshman and true freshman JoVoni Johnson.
As recently as last Tuesday’s weekly press conference, Bloomgren’s tune was definitive: “I don’t have a plan for either of those guys to be the quarterback of the football team.” Well, plans change.
Bloomgren didn’t spell out what adjustments he had in mind. He only offered this clarifying comment. “Nothing is simplistic for us right now, offensively. Nothing is easy for us, offensively,” he said. “We have to assess. We have to make some changes.”
It’s not as if Bloomgren and the offensive coaching staff haven’t been working to improve the offense all this time. The Owls averaged 268 yards per game against their four non-conference foes (Army, Wake Forest, Baylor and Texas). Their production rose to 337 yards per game in their first three C-USA games (Louisiana Tech, UAB and UTSA). On Saturday, they registered 139 total yards.
Eliminating turnovers is an obvious first step. The Owls’ minus-six turnover margin in conference games is the worst in C-USA. Beyond that, the “elephant in the room“, as Bloomgren called it, remains a loosely defined challenge. And that makes this weekend’s upcoming game against Marshall so intriguing.
It’s homecoming weekend and Rice football fans from far and wide will return to South Main to see their team. If Bloomgren can push the right buttons and revitalize an offensive attack that has fallen stale, he could restore confidence in a fanbase seeking reasons to keep the faith.
“I want to make sure I’m saying this too. There’s no panic in my face, in this team,” Bloomgren declared. If Saturday was “a frustrating day, in so many ways,” perhaps we do see the scale of change potent enough to turn things around on South Main. The defense sure would appreciate it.
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