Rice Football dropped its 2020 season opener to Middle Tennessee, proving once again that both bad luck and bad process can end in heartbreak.
Just once last season did Rice football allow a Conference USA opponent to score 34 points. UAB scored 35 in a soggy, rain-delayed contest at Legion Field. Rice reached that threshold themselves for the first time under Mike Bloomgren on Saturday night against Middle Tennessee. Entering the MTSU game, Rice was 3-0 under head coach Mike Bloomgren when scoring 30 points.
“I think the statement the ball didn’t bounce our way is probably true,” Bloomgren said in his postgame comments. He’s right about that.
He’s also right about there being plenty of things Rice could have done differently to win the game.
As Bloomgren often says, football is a zero-sum game. You either win or you lose. On Saturday, Rice lost.
“Does it hurt more? Losing sucks. It hurts. It hurts bad.”
After they recover from oggling over the quadruple doinked field goal, the masses will debate the list of failures that went into the Owls’ 10th loss in their last 14 games. Context, something oft spared in the moment, does paint a more uncertain picture.
Rice went into the Middle Tennesse game without Naeem Smith, George Nyakwol, Tyrae Thornton, Andrew Bird or Jason White. With the exceptions of Tre’shon Devones and Treshawn Chamberlain, Rice fielded a secondary that did not see meaningful action at all last season. Three members — Sean Fresch, Miles McCord and Kirk Lockhart, were making their first career starts.
Middle Tennesse and Asher O’Hara thew all over that secondary.
Bloomgren is well aware of that problem, and vowed to work with defensive coordinator Brian Smith to make the necessary changes so that Rice can, in his words, “find a way to not have press conferences like this.”
The Rice defense has struggled through the air before. The 2018 unit fell victim to the home run ball again and again. Then last year, Nyakwol stepped up his game. Smith burst onto the scene. Devones emerged as a true cover corner. They found players to fix that problem. Passes seldom went over their heads last fall. Most of those solutions did not play on Saturday.
Tack on a poorly overthrown interception by Collins, a strip-sack returned for a touchdown and a muffed punt and you get a back-breaking loss from a program that entered the game with the second-longest active winning streak by an FBS team in Texas.
The three turnovers are roughly 2.5 times as many as the Owls averaged last year (1.3).
Team captain Blaze Alldredge took the burden on himself. ” I was raised on tough love so I just got to call it what it is,” he said, “the defense didn’t play well enough.”
Fellow captain Austin Trammell echoed it. “We gotta fix our mistakes.”
The conservative play calling in overtime is always going to draw criticism in losses. Deservedly so. But in many ways that bad bounce summed up a lot of things that went wrong on Saturday night, and ironically enough, fell on the foot of a player who had performed well on all of his attempts to that point.
Rice football did a lot right. They did a lot wrong. Sometimes things can just be weird. Just like 2020. How likely would it be for a team to lose their entire starting secondary, trail at halftime, make adjustments, throw for four touchdowns (the most by a Rice quarterback since 2016), convert a fourth-and-24 to force overtime and find yet another way to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
About as likely as a doink. doink. doink. doink.