From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, Rice football soared past McNeese State, vanquishing whate
Rice football turned the ball over four times against USC, with three interceptions coming on balls that were tipped off the hands of their own wide receivers. On Saturday against McNeese State, it was Rice doing the taking away, forcing five turnovers (one of which came via deflected pass) on their way to a rout of McNeese State.
The Rice offense did its part too with quarterback TJ McMahon accounting for five touchdowns (four by air, one on the ground) while completing 20-of-29 passes for 274 yards. That could not have looked any more different from last week’s multi-interception game in which McMahon through for just 65 yards and no scores.
“USC was kind of like a reality check for us,” McMahon said at the postgame podium, recapping the most decisive victory in the four-plus-year tenure of Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren. While it’s true the Owls might have come down to earth, they soon took off, again.
In light of the result, McMahon was able to laugh off a false start penalty in the second quarter in the second quarter against wide receiver Luke McCaffrey. “I think he’s just faster than everyone else,” he said with a grin. The handful of deep passes that fell out of reach were met with a stern “good not great, definitely a lot of things to learn and work on.” But even that came with a smile.
No man was smiling bigger than Bloomgren, who had remarked in the aftermath last week that this still was a “very, very good football team.”
“Thank God I was right,” Bloomgren said with a chuckle when reminded of that comment.
“I knew we were a good football team. I knew we didn’t perform the way we wanted to or put our best foot forward [against USC]… And if we didn’t put our best foot forward and we didn’t protect the ball it was gonna be a long day, and it was,” Bloomgren said. “Today, kind of the opposite happened.”
Part of that opposite was thanks to perfectly executed plays by Rice defenders. Safety Gabe Taylor, who returned his takeaway 91-yards — the third-longest interception return touchdown in program history — mentioned he knew where the ball was coming and that they’d repped similar situations in practice.
When asked how he went from finding the football to finding the endzone, he just laughed. “I just don’t want to get tackled,” he said. “I’d rather hit people than get hit so I just want to catch the ball and run as fast as I can to the endzone.”
Taylor’s score was the third Rice touchdown in an eight-minute span during the second quarter, more points than Rice scored in a full 60 minutes against USC. It almost felt like a different team was on the field.
To a large degree, much of it probably comes down to execution. Bloomgren said he was most happy to see. “I saw people win their one on ones. I saw people whip the guy across from him and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing that’s what football is all about,” he remarked.
On Saturday, Rice football dominated every star, won most in-game matchups and capped it off with a lopsided result on the scoreboard. Bloomgren and Co. know this is just one step on the road to where they want to be, but it was evident they were aware of how important the win was to the program, especially considering how far the Owls had come in just one week.
“I think it was pretty good. Pretty dominant, if you will, with a lot to improve on,” Bloomgren said. “As a coach, what more can you ask for?”
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