Wildly inconsistent from week to week, Rice football enters the bye week in search of a steadiness that has eluded this program thus far in 2023.
It would prove challenging to find many college football teams more inconsistent than the 2023 Rice Owls, who suffered the ying to a previous yang on Saturday with a disappointing loss to the previously winless UConn Huskies. Rice football was a 10-point favorite. They lost by seven in a game in which they committed four turnovers, missed a field goal and turned it over on downs once.
Head coach Mike Bloomgren didn’t shy away from the painful reality. “This is who we are. We are a 3-3 football team who’s 1-1 in our conference with six games ahead of us, all conference games,” he said. “We can when them all. If we do things to beat ourselves like we did today, we won’t. That’s factual.”
Whether or not one buys into Bloomgren’s assertion of the road ahead, it’s undeniably true the path to get there has been uneven, to say the least. Rice is the only team in the AAC with a Power 5 victory this season. They’re also the only team to lose to UConn. Owning both mantles simultaneously creates a dissonance that is still reverberating around South Main.
In the early years of the Bloomgren era, getting the team to play up to their potential was the primary challenge. Eventually, though, they began to reach those apex moments, posting big wins over UAB (twice) and an undefeated, Top 15 Marshall squad. Now that those peaks have been reached, the challenge has remained staying on the mountain.
As Bloomgren acknowledged, this is too often a team that beats itself. Since Bloomgren arrived, Rice is 7-5 as a home favorite, seventh worst in FBS football. Limiting that scope to the 2022 and 2023 season, when this team started to come into its own, Rice is 4-2. Oddly enough, Rice’s 3-1 record since 2022 as a home underdog is the second-best mark in the nation among teams that have played four such games.
Is it the pressure? A lack of focus? No obvious throughlines underscore these erratic moments. Sometimes it’s the defense. Sometimes it’s the offense. On Saturday against UConn, the biggest culprit was probably the special teams.
“I knew for this to transpire there would have to be events done by the Rice Owls to allow it to,” Bloomgren said.”
Until further notice, it’s time to take Bloomgren at his word. This is who the Rice Owls are. They’re a team capable of posting the most impressive win in the conference on any given week and a team capable of floundering as a double-digit favorite. They’re both at once, and it’s maddening.
The real question now is how will this team respond.
“Everything that we want out of this year is still attainable and in our control ahead of us,” team captain Myron Morrison said on Saturday. “I don’t think what happened today is necessarily the story of our team this year, but it definitely is a time and a wake-up call to show what we need to fix to accomplish what we want to accomplish because it’s all still there.”
Rice needs three more wins to secure a bowl trip for the second consecutive season, a feat that has only happened twice in program history, dating back now 110 seasons. There’s that mountain top, again.
Getting there would do a lot to quell frustrations stemming from this zig-zag season, but it’s going to take the good version of the Rice Owls showing up more often than not. As fellow captain Luke McCaffrey said on Saturday night, “It all starts with our next game.”
Following a bye week, Rice visits Tulsa on Thursday, October 19.
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