Rice Football put together a complete team performance as the Owls took down Southern Miss on the road for their first win of the 2020 season.
There was plenty of frustration following Rice football’s season-opening loss to Middle Tennessee. The Owls did so many things well, but mental lapses and killer turnovers ended in a heartbreaking defeat.
The Owls took out all of that angst against Southern Miss. From the opening kickoff, Rice dominated Southern Miss. The atmosphere of The Rock turned quiet quickly as Rice found success on offense and defense, scoring points and forcing turnovers in what looked to be one of the most complete team performances of the Mike Bloomgren era.
The win moves Rice to 1-1 on the season, staying a perfect 1-0 against teams from the C-USA West. Here are a few immediate thoughts with an exciting nugget for our subscribers on the end.
Defense starts start strong
You couldn’t have asked for a much better start on defense than Rice got on Saturday, especially considering the circumstances. Neither Kirk Lockhart or Treshawn Chamberlain made the trip to Hattiesburg, further depleting a secondary already running low on bodies.
Southern Miss didn’t waste any time, going straight at the Rice secondary early in the game. It was true freshman Gabe Taylor with a fourth down breakup to stop the Golden Eagles’ first drive. On the second drive, Miles McCord picked off Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham, his first career interception.
The defense gave up yards, 85 total on the first two Southern Miss drives, but no points. That’s a recipe for success, especially with so many important pieces absent.
The third Southern Miss drive went three and out as the clock ran out to end the first quarter. Rice has now held their last 11 opponents scoreless on their first possession of the game and has not allowed a point in the first quarter this season.
Seem good? Here’s the first half drive chart for the Southern Miss offense: Downs, Interception, 3-and-Out, Fumble, Field Goal, Fumble, 3-and-Out, Field Goal.
It was fairly evident things were off to a good start when Rice ripped off first downs on four consecutive plays on the way to a 14-play scoring drive in the first quarter. The Collin Riccitelli field goal marked the fifth consecutive game in which Rice had scored first, but settling for three points after first and goal from the five was disappointing.
From that point onward, Rice didn’t squander many possessions. Mike Collins hit Austin Trammell for a 72-yard touchdown on the following possession.
Long live Austin Trammellpic.twitter.com/kcxeW5s4Fi
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) October 31, 2020
The very next play, Collins found Jake Bailey for a 25-yard touchdown reception.
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) October 31, 2020
Rice averaged 17.9 points per game last season. Despite the loss of so many receivers, the addition of Collins and strong play from the offensive line have elevated this offense to heights previously unknown in the Bloomgren era. Rice has scored 64 points in their first two games. For reference, it took the Owls five games to reach that point threshold in 2019.
Both the defense and the offense had fantastic outings against Southern Miss, but those strong days were amplified by takeaways. After losing the turnover battle 3-1 against Middle Tennessee, Rice had three takeaways on Saturday to one for Southern Miss. Better still, Rice scored 17 points on possessions immediately following a Southern Miss turnover.
The Owls’ lone misstep came at the end of the second quarter. The Rice punt coverage unit bumped into return man Jordan Myers, causing a fumble. The mistake cost Rice three points before half, not nearly as damaging as it could have been.
Turnovers amplify production. If the Rice offense wasn’t clicking, they wouldn’t have proven as impactful as they ended up becoming. Combing those turnovers with a dangerous offensive attack proved too much for Southern Miss to handle.
All gas no breaks
The lack of aggressiveness in overtime last week against Middle Tennessee proved costly when Riccitelli’s kick sailed just a few inches too close to the post. There wasn’t an ounce of passivity in the gameplan the Owls’ employed on Saturday. Rice had their foot on the gas from the first possession and never waived.
The team was playing so well that Bloomgren elected to call timeouts to give the team another chance at points in the final minute before halftime. The move would backfire when the Owls’ fumbled on what looked to be a mistake from the coverage unit, but the message was clear: we’re not slowing down.
You saw that aggressiveness repeatedly. Following a special teams fumble from Southern Miss, Collins immediately went to the endzone and found Jake Bailey for a touchdown. Rice rolled the dice on fourth down early in the second half, failing to convert, but showing the intent to go for the jugular and put the game out of reach.
There were execution problems, but no one can accuse this team of playing it too conservative or too safe. And the results, well, Rice picked up its first win in Hattiesburg since 2014 and move to 1-1 on the season.
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