Rice football found a way to win ugly, downing Southern Miss for their first 1-0 conference start under Mike Bloomgren.
After losing three of their last four games, Rice football was well aware of what could possibly go wrong in a college football game. The Owls had experienced their fair share of negative plays over the past month, including in their prior win against Texas Southern.
If there were looking for a perfect game on Saturday against Southern Miss, they didn’t get it. But they did win. “It was a grimy game,” super senior defensive tackle Elijah Garcia said with a smile, “And we got it done. That’s something I’m really proud of this defense for.”
It wasn’t that long ago Garcia took the postgame podium and used words like “hurt” and embarrassing”. In fact, only two short weeks later, he praised a defensive unit that gave up 378 total yards to a team relying on what was essentially their third-string quarterback, a team that committed error after error on special teams.
The positive sentiment wasn’t rooted in the individual lines on the final box score. No, Garcia was referencing the scoreboard.
“I feel good man,” he said. “We fought to the end.”
Ultimately, that’s what made the biggest difference. Garcia called it “grimy”. At sometimes it was downright bad. But this time, Rice was able to win ugly. That’s not something this team has done in recent memory. Bad games have typically doomed them to bad results. This time was different. “Guys didn’t cry,” safety Kirk Lockhart said of the team’s mistakes. “They didn’t drop their heads.”
No, rather than drop their heads they raised their level of play. The defense forced two interceptions in the fourth quarter. They sacked quarterback Jake Lange twice. Running back Frank Gore Jr. was held in check, telling six total yards in the final frame. “We actually came out and finished,” Lockhart reiterated.
That in itself implies Rice has reached a certain level of maturity as a team they might not have fully embraced in prior seasons. Everything doesn’t have to go right for this team to win. They’d prefer it did, but they can cobble together enough good to get things done in a pinch. That in itself is a positive the Owls will certainly be hanging onto moving forward.
Equally jovial in his postgame remarks was Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren. A winner of six of his last nine conference games, Bloomgren couldn’t suppress his smiles when he looked back at what was the first 1-0 start in Conference USA play in his Rice tenure.
“I don’t really give a dang how we win. Every win is beautiful to me,” he said with a grin. “We’re going to work on [the mistakes] whether we win or lose, and I promise you it’s a lot more fun to work on it when you win. The fun is in the winning.”
Rice hits the bye week on a two-game winning streak. There’s optimism the Owls could get several key players back following the bye, reloading for what they hope is a run toward their first bowl berth since 2014. Bloomgren himself called his special team’s unit “a work in progress”. There’s work to be done. But like Bloomgren said, the work will be just a bit more fun.
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