Rice football hasn’t reached the goals it set for itself this season. What’s next for the Owls and what’s at stake moving forward?
“Not the way we wanted this game to go.” An understatement that felt like it carried more weight than the words alone could possibly have expressed when they were uttered by Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren following the team’s third consecutive conference loss on Saturday at the hands of Western Kentucky. The loss dropped the Owls’ record to 3-7, realistically eliminating them from postseason contention.
It was after that loss that Bloomgren was officially forced to come to terms with his team was in relation to the expectations they set for themselves entering the season.
Senior leaders Shea Baker and Elijah Garcia delivered their brutally honest feelings, too. Baker called the loss “disappointing”. Garcia struck a heartstring with his assessment. “It hurts, man. It hurts. [Making a bowl game] is why I chose to come back.”
The atmosphere was, understandably, grim.
Although downtrodden, there were no signs of throwing in the towel just yet. Bloomgren said the message to his team remainder focusing on what’s next, on “how we’re going to go forward right now and stick together.”
Rice still has two games remaining on their schedule. The Owls travel to El Paso next week to play a UTEP team currently on a three-game losing streak. They then end the season against a Louisiana Tech team that has dropped five of their last six. On paper, neither opponent seems as daunting as the juggernaut that is Western Kentucky and quarterback Bailey Zappe.
Rapid Reaction: Rice football falls to Western Kentucky
One more win would give Rice the most victories in a season under Bloomgren to date (four). Two wins would give Rice an increased winning percentage in every season since he took over the program prior to the 2018 season. Both outcomes are still on the table and Rice has proven — with their wins over UAB this year and Marshall last year — that they can beat just about any conference foe on any given Saturday.
That’s not the question though. The question isn’t can they win. The question is have they and will they continue to show the growth that’s been expected of them. Can they become a program that consistently wins? And further still, have they shown enough progress to reaching those ends, and will they finish down the stretch?
“My confidence is really high. I look back at the program we took over that was 1-11. And then the first year in 2018 we went 1-7 in the conference and our average margin of defeat was 21 points,” Bloomgren said, looking back before addressing the here and now.
“The last three weeks prior to today we beat the defending conference champs and then in addition to that, we went to overtime twice. So I’d say that’s growth. Now we’ve got to take another step. We got to win those games. And that’s what we’re working towards.”
The team has talent. They’ve won some big games. If they can pull things together and close things out on a positive note, they’ll have achieved tangible growth in each successive season. It’s just been much harder and taken much longer than anyone on South Main would have liked.
Bloomgren called those big picture progress checks “conversations for after the year”, reverting his attention back to UTEP. Rice beat the Miners in El Paso the last time these two teams met. If conversations of tangible growth are still in the cards, finding a way to dig out another win against the Miners now seems like a must.
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