The nation’s longest winning streak is no more. Rice football improves to 2-1 on the season as they knock off the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns at home.
When Rice football took the lead early in the first quarter against Louisiana, the crowd applauded. Jumping out in front of the Ragin’ Cajuns, who owned the nation’s longest winning streak — 15 games dating back to last season — was a big deal. The two sides would trade blows, but it became clear by the midpoint of the second half that this Rice team was more than capable of going toe-to-toe with UL. The question became, could they pull it out.
A true heavy weight fight took place between the hedges for four quarters. Then Ari Broussard burst through a goal line scrum with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, delivering a knock out blow. Rice football had done it. The Owls had taken down the Ragin’ Cajuns and scored their biggest home victory of the Mike Bloomgren era. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
Defense and special teams set the tone
For the majority of head coach Mike Bloomgren’s tenure at South Main, the defense has been the leading edge of the program. While the offense has come on stronger of late, the Owls leaned up their bread and butter to get things started against Louisiana.
The Rice defense orchestrated a three and out on their first defensive possession before Sean Fresch reversed field and scampered 40-yards on a punt return, setting the Owls up inside the Louisiana 35. A penalty would kill that drive, putting the onus back on the defense.
The Roost Podcast: Stay tuned for the game recap this week – Rice football vs Louisiana
On third down, George Nyakwol stepped in front of a Chandler Fields pass and returned it to the Rice 38. That was the first turnover of any kind the Louisiana offense had committed in the last seven games. It would set the Owls up in positive field position yet again, leading to a field goal and an early lead. The third series was a similar story. A few yards, no first downs and a punt.
Following the offense’s second turnover of the day, the defense held on fourth-and-one in the redzone, turning the Louisiana offense again without points yet again. The defensive line was absolutely dominant in this game, creating pressure and filling running lanes all night long. Even without De’Braylon Carroll, this front was as good as it’s ever been.
Rice limited Louisiana to 74 total yards in the first half. Exactly zero Louisiana drives went longer than 30 yards until the Ragin’ Cajun’s first possession of the fourth quarter. It was a masterpiece by a Rice defense that was frequently dealt rough hands and always was able to rise to the occasion.
McMahon falls back to earth, then bounces back
Everything came up roses for Rice quarterback TJ McMahon last week against McNeese State. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns last week. He did not turn the ball over at all and added a rushing touchdown, too. That wasn’t the case against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
McMahon threw a pick-six in the first quarter, his third pick-six thrown this year. This pass wasn’t deflected like the prior two miscues, rather McMahon was attempting a screen pass to a wide receiver in the flat and had the route jumped with nobody behind them. It was an easy, walk-in score for Louisiana.
On the next drive, Louisiana got a free rusher on third down on what looked to be some sort of stunt. Rather than eat the ball, McMahon panicked and threw it straight ahead into the waiting arms of a linebacker over the middle. With a chance to extend their lead before halftime, McMahon tossed his third INT of the game, resulting in another Louisiana touchdown.
It wasn’t all his fault — the offensive line was more inconsistent than they’d been last week against McNeese — but McMahon certainly looked much more like a quarterback in his second career FBS start than the savvy passer who led the team up and down the field the week prior.
To his credit, the highs were as impressive as the lows were painful. McMahon engineered two lengthy scoring drives in the first half, putting the turnovers out of his mind as he accounted for more than 300 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. Simply put, he settled down and played incredible football.
McMahon used his legs to elude defenders and scramble for positive plays. He went through his progressions and found open men down the field. After an extremely suspect start, his ability to flush the past play and move forward was critical in the Owls’ success on Saturday. His two-point pass to Bradley Rozner exemplified his ability to extend plays and create big moments.
Luke McCaffrey breakout game
Through Rice football’s first two games, Luke McCaffrey led the team with nine receptions but it didn’t really feel like he’d made his mark as a go-to guy in this offense. This week during practice, I asked both McCaffrey and Bloomgren when that game was coming.
“I think it could happen this game. It could happen the game after. It could also happen every game,” Bloomgren told The Roost this week. Then No. 10 stepped onto the field and dominated.
McCaffrey was the focal point of the Rice offense and absolutely delivered upon expectations. His first receiving touchdown as a Rice Owl was a beautiful throw and catch to put the Owls ahead in the second quarter.
From the first half, Luke McCaffrey picks up his first receiving touchdown as a @RiceFootball wideout. pic.twitter.com/eodaaggb0L
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) September 18, 2022
The quarterback-turned-receiver was targeted a team-high 14-times and hauled in 10 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He had another score pulled off the board at the end of the first half when officials ruled he stepped out of bounds on the play. Otherwise, the stat line could have been even more impressive.
If McCaffrey can do this against this defense, he’s going to be a problem in Conference USA.
Rice football is 2-1. Outside of a walk-off win over Prairie View A&M in Bloomgren’s first game with the Owls, this is the only other occasion in which the program has been above .500. And their second win of the season snapped the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun’s 15-game winning streak, the longest in the nation at the time.
Bloomgren has had a few “signature wins” to this point. The 20-0 shutout at Marshall was incredible. The upset of UAB on the road last season was remarkable as well. But both of those games happened on the road. And neither season resulted in the bowl berth this program has been searching for since Bloomgren and his staff arrived.
That’s what makes this victory different. In front of the Rice faithful, the team secured a marquee non-conference win and ensured at least a .500 record entering conference play in a few weeks. Rice needs to go 4-4 in Conference USA to reach the postseason. That feels doable, especially considering the quality of the team the Owls felled on Saturday night.
Next week it’s on to Houston — which lost to Kansas at home on Saturday. For now, celebrate and be happy. This will go down as one of the most significant wins the program has experienced in quite some time.
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All three phases
Rice football talks about winning all three phases every week: offense, defense and special teams. On Saturday against Louisiana, the interceptions — three very costly turnovers — were the only true negatives for the Owls across the board.
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