Inconsistency and injuries have derailed what once promised to be an exciting season, leaving Rice football instead with a trail of hard days.
If the Surgeon General were given the task of affixing an appropriate cautionary label on the 2021 Rice football season, it might go something like this:
Warning! Ups and downs may induce whiplash.
The toll exerted by this season and by this most recent game has fans, players and coaches reeling in dismay. Seemingly every high has been met with an equally aggressive low.
When Jake Constantine hit Cedric Patterson for a 33-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the first half it gave Rice their first three-touchdown quarter since 2016. The team had halftime and the early moments of the third quarter to savor that history before allowing 24 unanswered points to UTEP and watching the game, much like several this season, slip away.
“Defensively, we couldn’t stop them,” head coach Mike Bloomgren admitted following the defeat.
Somehow the Rice defense which had held UTEP to 14 points in the first half nearly allowed double that output after the break, largely on the back of big plays and defensive breakdowns. In the second half alone, UTEP completed passes of 23, 30, and 65 yards. Despite rushing for just two total yards before halftime, the Miners churned out runs of 12, 13, 14 and 74 yards.
Staked to a halftime lead, Rice couldn’t hold on. Safety Naeem Smith, clearly disappointed with the results, said it was “just the little things for us today, whether it was lining up, tackling and different things like that.”
Those little things aren’t meant to be debilitating to this degree so late in the season. Then again, playing with an ever-depleting roster isn’t helping. But that’s the hand Rice has been dealt. A hand continues to get more challenging with every passing week.
Rice lost its leading wide receiver, Jake Bailey, midway through the third quarter. They lost their quarterback, Jake Constantine, a few drives later. Constantine’s early exit marks the fifth time Rice has lost a quarterback to injury in a game this season. They’ve only played 11 games.
“We look like a MASH unit right now,” Bloomgren grimaced before adding, “But a lot of people in college football do and we still gotta be able to get our job done.”
For better or worse, Rice football has been here before. They’re familiar with the heartbreak and the physical and emotional toll this year has taken on this team. They’ve been dealt a tough hand and, at times, have made things tougher on themselves. But the season isn’t over quite yet.
“At the end of the day, it’s football,” Smith said.”We’re going to lose guys, sadly, [we] just gotta keep working.”
They’ll have one more week of practices to do so before their final game at home against Louisiana Tech. Buckle up. If recent history is any indication, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, regardless of the result.
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