Rice Football has embraced a mantra of going 1-0 every Saturday. In Week 12 against Middle Tennessee, those marching orders turned into reality.
When the clock hit zero in Murfreesboro, TN on Saturday night Rice football fans breathed a sigh of relief, double-checked the scoreboard, then exploded into euphoria that mirrored the celebration currently underway in the Rice locker room.
It wasn’t easy. It came down to the final play — a backyard-style, multi-lateral, heart-stopping play — but Rice football had finally cleansed themselves of their losing streak. They had won.
“I think it’s really a culmination of the way these guys have been working,” head coach Mike Bloomgren said in the moments following his first road win at Rice. He knew, in a way that only those clad in all-white on that sideline knew, how important this win was for this program.
Bloomgren and his staff have been building for almost two years. They’d promised progress and come so close to turning that goodwill into wins so many times this season. On Saturday the dam broke. In a combination of a newly-emphasized spread offense and downhill running, smashmouth football, Rice found a way.
Intellectual Brutality in the flesh
The Owls led by 17 courtesy of three touchdown grabs by Bradley Rozner before halftime. Middle Tennesse fought back. With precious seconds remaining in the game, the Owls turned to sixth-year senior Austin Walter on third and 11.
“We’re going to run this ball and we’re going to find a way to move these sticks,” Bloomgren told offensive coordinator Jerry Mack as the play was relayed into the huddle. Then Walter — who had already left the game with an ankle injury that half — took the handoff, blasted through the line and picked up the most important 24 yards of his entire Rice career.
“Adversity is a part of who we are… I have three more college games left and I’ve always thought I want to be able to leave Rice University and get the program back on track,” Walter said. “If I had to give an ankle, a leg, whatever it took to get this win, I was going to do it.”
The first down was enough for the Owls to bleed the clock, turning the ball over to Middle Tennessee with nothing short of a Hail Mary standing in the way of the Owls’ first victory of the season. Those prayers went unanswered. Rice won.
Then, in a response that typifies how Rice navigated themselves to this point, hero Bradley Rozner turned the page. “We’re going to start bright and early, 7 a.m. meeting. We’re going to figure out our mistakes and carry that energy straight through the week and get ready for North Texas.”
A laser focus befitting of a process-driven organization, Rozner’s mindset was shared by his head coach. “I don’t know if there’s anything we have to do very different,” Bloomgren said with a grin. “I just know Monday morning will be a lot more fun.”
True to their spirit, Rice football went 1-0 this week. Now they’d like to do it again.