Nothing went right for Rice football in a frustrating loss to Houston in the Bayou Bucket. Where do the Owls go from here?
“We can’t go out there and do what we just did,” Rice football defensive tackle Elijah Garcia said, point-blank following a particularly discouraging loss to crosstown rival, Houston. “It hurt. It was embarrassing. We just got to do better.”
From a defensive perspective, it seems plausible that better days are indeed ahead. Rice allowed 18.8 points per game last year in a schedule limited to five conference opponents. Through two games in 2021, Rice has allowed 41 points per game with largely the same personnel, with a few parts and pieces swapped out via injury or transfer. Surely, the defense will revert closer to that standard once the schedule eases up.
But the offense, that’s a tougher sell. To borrow a word from Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren in the aftermath of Saturday’s loss, this team looked a lot like its head coach felt: “shellshocked”.
That’s how Bloomgren opened his brief comments with the media following the loss. And that’s how this team looked in the first quarter of a game that — on paper — was more favorable to the Owls’ chances of winning than their previous contest. Except Rice managed to hang with their Week 1 SEC opponent, Arkansas, well into the fourth quarter. The Houston game felt like it might be out of reach in the first 15 minutes of regulation.
Rice football has now played 86 minutes and 16 seconds of game time since Wiley Green hit August Pitre on a wide-open 44-yard bomb to open the third quarter against Arkansas. They have seven total points to show for it. Rice averaged 23.4 points per game last season. They’re down to 14 points per game in 2021, a small sample, but still a noticeable reduction.
“I thought we would be able to fight them tooth and nail,” Bloomgren said in disbelief. “That’s not the way it went.”
The Owls have seven days to pick up the pieces and ready themselves for a road trip to Austin where they’ll face Texas, a team they’ve beaten once since 1965. They last topped the Longhorns in 1994, before every member of the current Rice roster was alive.
A rough start was always possible, given how strenuous the schedule seemed to be. Two games in, those worries have turned into reality. Rice won’t play Arkansas, Houston and Texas every week, but they’ll have to deal with the repercussions of a brutal opening stretch. There’s no better time than the present.
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