The 2020 Rice football season was filled with highs and lows. After time to reflect, what can we take away from the Owls’ five-game campaign?
From rocky beginnings to the National Championship Game, the 2020 season is finally in the books. Rice football participated in five games, experiencing the full range of emotions. There was the quadruple-doink and an upset for the ages.
For those that haven’t relive some of the highpoints in the season with The Roosties, an annual Rice football awards show from The Roost Podcast. You can also check out our 2020 Rice Football Team Superlatives, featuring more traditional awards like Team MVP, Offense and Defensive Player of the Year and more.
And with that, a few final thoughts on the 2020 season with some forward-thinking questions about how the Owls’ former season will impact the ones to come.
1. Rice proved they can score
Rice football played 24 games against FBS opponents in Bloomgren’s first two seasons at South Main. The Owl reached 30 points in just two of those contests. Those two occasions came in the midst of their three game winning streak that capped off the 2019 season. Rice opened 2020 with back-to-back 30-point performances. That marks five outings of 30 or more points in the Owls’ most recent eight games compared to zero in the first 21. That’s a pretty stark difference.
2. Rice has some weapons on offense
Part of the reason for further optimism with the offense is the playmakers Rice will return in 2020. Even if they do lose senior Austin Trammell, wideout Jake Bailey proved to be a chain mover and a big play threat this season. Andrew Mason showed sparks. Running backs Juma Otoviano and Khalan Griffin were both productive. And more talent is on the way, especially in the wide receiving corps.
3. This defense could be the best in C-USA
The 20-0 shutout on the road at Marshall will forever be etched among the best wins Rice has seen in this century. The list of accolades and firsts from that game was exhausting (in a good way), but the performance also served as an exclamation point on work Rice was already building. Rice finished third in scoring defense, fourth against the run, sixth against the pass and third in total defense this season. And they have lots of depth returning in 2021.
4. The Transfer Portal has been kind to the Owls
Hitting on more than half of your transfers is a fairly robust number. Rice has batted much closer to 1.000 in Bloomgren’s tenure than many might realize. Mike Collins was tremendous in his three games. Former JUCO addition Miles McCord was a crucial starter for the Rice secondary this year. Jovaun Woolford played well on the offensive line. Once more, Rice filled the holes they needed with talented additions from the portal.
5. Rice is close
Rice won by three scores in both of their wins in 2020. They lost by a touchdown or less in two contests and fell by 10 points in the other. A cruel field goal bounce separated the Owls from a 2-3 season and a possible bowl berth. The Owls’ only 10 point win in 2019 came in their season finale against UTEP. They lost by more than a touchdown five times in nine defeats. The wins are getting better and the losses are getting closer. A few better bounces and the record should come around, too.
Areas of Concern
6. The offense wasn’t nearly as good without Mike Collins
The drop off in production was stark when Mike Collins was not on the field. When JoVoni Johnson and Wiley Green were taking snaps the same offense that averaged 30 points per game with Collins dropped to 14.5 offensive points per game without him. If Collins does not return in 2020, Rice is going to have to find a way to get better production out of the quarterback spot. The addition of another grad transfer quarterback certainly suggests that room may look different in 2021.
7. The running game hasn’t really broken out
Rice averaged 2.8 yards per carry this season, a fair deal below the 3.5 and 3.9 yards per carry they averaged in 2019 and 2018, respectively. For an offense as committed to moving the chains on the ground, coming in below three yards per carry should sound some alarms. That number is skewed to some degree, by a disastrous game against North Texas, but Rice didn’t run the ball particularly well against UAB either.
8. Rice saved all their turnovers for one game
The Rice defense picked off six passes in 12 games in 2019. They had five in one afternoon against Marshall in 2020. Beyond that, Rice only had one other interception in four additional games. They added three fumble recoveries. Turnovers are somewhat of a fluky stat, but Rice has consistently finished in the bottom half of the league in takeaways in recent years.
9. Too many special teams mistakes
Rice has been among the league leaders in special teams over the last three years. NFL Pro Bowler Jack Fox helped the Owls get there, but the rest of the coverage and return units have done their part even with him in the pros. The return units did not deliver this season. Rice fumbled three punts and had a return touchdown called back via penalty.
10. Uncertain 2021 roster makeup
2020 was circled as the year Rice would have all of their proverbial ducks in a row. Then the pandemic hit. Then the injuries came. Rice did the most with what they had, snatching a marquee win, but it wasn’t quite the season anyone expected. The senior class has another free year of eligibility, should they chose to exercise it. The unknown of who will (and won’t) be back, makes it hard to look to far into what rosters will look like in 2021.
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