There were no clouds in the sky on Saturday night, but Texas rained down points on Rice Football all night long as the Owls struggled through another crushing defeat.
When Rice football lined up against Texas on Saturday night in Austin, nothing seemed amiss. Texas marched down the field and scored. Rice got a defensive stop and kicked off an efficient drive of their own. Then it all went sideways.
Not only would Rice not score a single point, but the Owls lost both their starting quarterback and backup quarterback to injury before halftime. After taking a 17-7 lead against Arkansas two weeks ago, Rice has been outscored 133-7. To say it’s been a rough month would be an understatement.
Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
No risk it, no biscuit
The Rice offense was handed an early mulligan following their first three-and-out of the game. Thanks to a terrific interception generated by the pass rush of Ikenna Enechuwku, Gabe Taylor’s pick got the ball back for the Owls who had fallen behind early 7-0. Then Rice fell into third and long, again.
That was when Luke McCaffrey attempted his first pass of the game, a first down to Jake Bailey. He completed his second pass of the day on the next play, also for a first down, this time to Jack Bradley. Khalan Griffin ripped off a big gain.
The Roost Podcast: Stay tuned for the game recap this week
Quip with the playcalling if you’d like, the crux of the issue was how the drive ended. Rice faced third-and-eight from the 10-yard line and dumped the ball off to Jordan Myers. On fourth-and-five, Rice settled for a field goal, which was missed.
Playing it safe and trusting the defense, especially one as reliable as Rice has, is usually a pretty sound strategy. When you’re playing Texas, though, sometimes the risks are worth taking. Rice opted not to take the risk. Texas responded with a 72-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to take a 14-0 lead.
Quarterback quandaries continue
Luke McCaffrey led what probably should have been a scoring drive that ended in a missed field goal. Then he left the game, presumably with some injury, which remains undisclosed. Wiley Green came in as his relief and lasted a few drives before he also left with an injury. By the time Rice was closing out the first half, it was Jake Constantine making his Rice debut with the Owls trailing by six touchdowns.
Just three games into the 2021 Rice football season, Rice has turned to at least three different signal callers for the fourth consecutive season. McCaffrey looked fairly promising in his limited work, officially ending his night 2-for-3 for 20 yards with one 5-yard scramble on third down.
Without him or Green and the game out of reach midway through the second quarter, there wasn’t much else to take away from another incomplete offensive performance.
Not so special teams
Special teams have been one of the most promising aspects of the Rice football program under head coach Mike Bloomgren. Punter Jack Fox made the Pro Bowl last year. The tandem punting combo of Adam Nunez and Chris Barnes was one of the best units in Conference USA. Field goal kicking has taken some odd (to say the least) bounces but has largely been effective.
The 2021 iteration has been a complete misadventure. Perhaps we should have sensed something coming when Rice had not one, but four kicks blocked during their second scrimmage of fall camp. An issue with the holding was identified at that point and the problem was ostensibly fixed. That wouldn’t be the end.
Placekicker Collin Riccitelli missed a field goal on Saturday, his third miss in four tries on the season. The Owls’ punt team had a punt blocked, the second occurrence of the year following a block by Houston the week prior. Sean Fresch has been a plus in the return game, but he hasn’t had many opportunities.
Special teams have been exceptional. Former special teams coordinator Pete Lembo has moved up to South Carolina. His successor, Drew Svoboda, now coaches tight ends at Alabama. They’re going to have to figure something out without them.
0-3 is 0-3
Rice football left moral victories and “good” losses in the rearview mirror some time ago. The reality is, this program (and its fans) expects to be at a place where wins are counted on fingers and toes rather than feel-good emotion.
The schedule was daunting from the start. Reminders were built in along the way not to overreact to three games against, arguably, the toughest competition the Owls will face this year. But try as one might to look past the losses and find the good, it’s thankless work.
Four years into Bloomgren’s tenure at Rice, these were expected to be, at the very least, competitive and hard-fought battles. Instead, Rice was outscored in a landslide and struggled to put up many points of their own.
The sun will come up tomorrow. The Owls will begin their prep for Texas Southern. The schedule eases up considerably moving forward, but the margin of error has been significantly trimmed. If Rice really does have bowl aspirations, it’s time to put together a complete performance. Pronto.
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