The 2021 Rice football season was a roller coaster, and the ride wasn’t always enjoyable. What can we take away from the Owls’ four-win campaign?
The upset of UAB in Birmingham will be the pinnacle of a Rice football season that spanned the full range of emotions. Two shutout losses, two overtime losses and two-wins shy of the postseason proved the sobering reality that this program isn’t quite where they want to be. Not yet.
Nevertheless, our coverage of Rice football is far from over. We’ll be presenting The Roosties soon, our take on an annual Rice football awards show from The Roost Podcast. There will also be Team Superlatives released throughout December featuring more traditional awards like Team MVP, Offense and Defensive Player of the Year and more.
But before we get there, here are a few final thoughts on the 20201 Rice football season with some forward-thinking questions scattered throughout and promises of more to come.
1. The offense is better
It was a rocky start, but Rice football topped 21 points each in seven of its final nine games and each of its final six. That included a 48-point outing against Texas Southern and 35 points in the finale against Louisiana Tech. Rice hadn’t strung together more than three consecutive 21-point outings under Bloomgren entering the year, so capping the season of with consistent touchdowns is a step in the right direction. OC Marques Tuiasosopo deserves a lot of credit.
2. The wide receivers might be the best unit on offense
That offensive evaluation came without Bradley Rozner on the field and without Jake Bailey in the Owls’ final game. Cedric Patterson stepped up and proved to be a difference-maker. August Pitre had some big catches in key moments. Kobie Campbell made several key plays when he was called upon. Rice has weapons in the passing game and they’re starting to make noise.
3. Return of key defensive pieces
This defensive might not have been anywhere close to the level of dominance they displayed during parts of the 2020 season, but it would have been better had De’Braylon Carroll and Treshawn Chamberlain played a part in it. Rice hopes to have both men back in the fold next season, starting the defense off on a better foot than they ended this past fall.
4. Up-and-coming talent
The lass several Rice football recruiting classes have been loaded with talent. We saw several key Bloomgren-era recruits play big roles this season. Jake Bailey became the go-to pass catcher. Braeden Nutter slotted in seamlessly on the offensive line. Jordan Dunbar, Sean Fresch, and Gabe Taylor secured starting roles on defense. True freshman Aidian Siano tallied multiple starts and never looked out of place. The talent is there and it’s starting to make an impact.
5. Four wins is better than two (or three)
Rice saw a modest tick upward in the win column this season. While that was short of the six-win expectation, the decision was made to retain head coach Mike Bloomgren heading into 2022. More will be said on that move in the coming days and weeks, but it’s worth noting that we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees. Rice won more games this year than they had since 2015. That’s important, even if it comes alongside some real disappointments.
1. The secondary needs an overhaul
Rice lost several starting defensive backs to injury prior to the start of the 2020 season, but still managed to piece together a formidable back end. A similar rash of injuries struck this year, but the results were very different. Whether it was the installation of a new safeties coach, the reliance on younger, less proven players or a combination of both, something didn’t click. If Rice is going to have success moving forward they have to be at least decent against the pass. They weren’t this year.
2. Injuries aside, who is playing QB?
The ever-rotating quarterback carousel almost makes the list of improvement opportunities. Jake Constantine, Wiley Green, TJ McMahon and Luke McCaffrey all saw meaningful snaps this season. The latter three will be back. We’ll have more to say on how the quarterback position played out this year, but 2022 needs to be the year of health and competence reach an all-time high in this room. Furthermore, whoever wins the job needs to be developed into a player than can be successful over the course of a season.
3. Rice needs a true RB
The Rice running back room was a work-in-progress this season. Khalan Griffin did not take the step forward many hoped he might. Beyond him, converted tight end Jordan Myers was a key cog while Ari Broussard might have been the best option after all, working his way up from scout team. A camp injury left Juma Otoviano working scout team duties. This is a prime opportunity for a transfer addition or a consolidation of roles.
4. Finding a kicker is near the top of the priority list
Rice made one field goal longer than 30 yards in 12 games. That make was a 41-yard kick from Christan VanSickle in his first game taking over placekicking duties from Collin Riccitelli. The offense got much better on fourth down, but having a hand tied behind their backs when it came to the kicking game was a tremendous detriment to the offense as a whole.
5. If 2021 wasn’t a prove-it year, 2022 is
Ending the 2021 season without a bowl trip was a major disappointment in year four of Bloomgren’s tenure. There will be no more mulligans in 2022. There’s a lot of work to be done to get this team and this coaching staff over the hump and Bloomgren will have another offseason to get them there. 2022 is the year this team goes to a bowl, Bloomgren’s future depends on it.
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