The 2020 Rice Football season has come to an end. Putting the up-and-down campaign into perspective will be an ongoing task.
With 49 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, Rice football trailed UAB 21-16. Third-string quarterback Wiley Green lined up alongside third-string running back Ari Broussard, dropped back and threw to Jake Bailey. First down. Three plays later Green found Bailey again. First down. Then, on fourth-and-18, Green uncorked a Hail Mary pass which was intercepted on the 2-yard line. Game over.
“I guess I need to be more prayerful,” head coach Mike Bloomgren said after the game. He was speaking more broadly about the unfortunate injury luck his team had suffered at key positions this season, but his whistful “what if” hung in the air. Just like that last-second pass from the arm of Green.
Green, the backup to the backup quarterback, targeting a tight end in the endzone from 50 yards out was, in many ways, a fitting final play of the Owls’ bizarre 2020 season. Rice almost had to throw it to a tight end because they had run out of wide receivers.
Bradley Rozner had been injured and opted out before the season. Transfer Christian McStravick never played a down for the Owls. Neither did Zane Knipe. August Pitre caught one pass in the season opener before suffering an injury. Austin Trammell, who set multiple school records when he exploded for five touchdowns and 219 yards in the Owls’ first two games, didn’t suit up in this game either.
Rice was down to Jake Bailey, who had missed practice time during the week with an injury, and freshman Andrew Mason. Converted running back Kobie Campbell, who hadn’t touched the ball this season, was targeted twice.
“We had multiple weeks where we had a practice with one scholarship wide receiver healthy,” Bloomgren admitted, “We just love this game, and we said ‘we’re going to play’.”
Takeaways: Rice Football falls to UAB
At quarterback, Mike Collins was missing his second straight game. Backup JoVoni Johnson had been injured a few drives earlier. And that doesn’t take into account the secondary which had made do all season with players coming in and out of the lineup or the continued absence of lead running back Juma Otaviano.
Bloomgren isn’t one to make excuses, and he acknowledged Rice wasn’t the only team who had to deal with adversity this year. Their opponent on Saturday had more than a dozen key players missing (but they did have their quarterback, something that proved fateful for the Owls). Still, the Owls’ headman did say this: “We’re all better with our ones.”
Instead, that last-second heave fell into the hands of a defensive back and a year of highs and lows came to an unpleasant end. Rice was in the running for a bowl bid with a win. The loss ended the Owls’ season sooner than anyone hoped it would finish.
“We know nothing’s perfect in 2020,” Bloomgren affirmed.
Before he stepped off the stand and began the first steps of the Owls’ sudden offseason, he posed one more “what if”.
“We lost today by one score… we had a double-overtime game. We got to find a way to win those things, and that’s the difference. Think about how different we feel about our season right now, and how jubilant everybody would be if we’d won one or two of those games.”
Rice didn’t win those games. Their final 2020 record will forever be inked at 2-3. But Bloomgren’s hypothetical isn’t too farfetched. It might even have more merit than initially meets the eye. Rice beat the C-USA East champ and was one third-string-quarterback Hail Mary from beating the top team in the West.
A few more favorable bounces wouldn’t have helped the teams Rice defeated. Those victories both came by three scores. But one more bounce, or a prayer, in those losses might very well have been enough. It wasn’t perfect, but in 2020, nothing was.
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