Thursday night Rice football posted a significant win in program history, but rather than respond with jubilation, the Owls responded with quiet confidence.
When the clock hit triple zeroes of Chapman Stadium, Rice football formalized a host of significant program achievements. The Owls hadn’t won a conference game by more than a touchdown since 2020. They hadn’t won a conference game by as many points (32) since 2013 and hadn’t won a conference road game by that margin since 2003.
By every estimation, this win was seismic — and it was — but the tone Rice football players and staff brought with them to their postgame media availability leaned much more toward serious than euphoric.
Head coach Mike Bloomgren, who has said now on multiple occasions, “the fun is in the winning,” seemed more focused than exultant.
He chuckled about quarterback JT Daniels’ rushing touchdown, just the second of his collegiate career. He praised the offense for controlling the clock, winning the time of possession battle 22:23 to 7:37 in the second half. He gave the defense its flowers for an explosive three-turnover first quarter.
But at no point during the discussion did the tone venture into anything that could be considered truly jubilant. Bloomgren was happy, sure. He stated on multiple occasions how proud he was of his players and his staff for their efforts. But the air was permeated with a businesslike, mission-accomplish aura.
“It just shows you when we play the way we’re capable of, we can do some real fun things,” Bloomgren summarized.
If the national television audience was surprised to see the Owls absolutely obliterate a team that was favored to beat them on their home turf, Bloomgren didn’t seem faced. It’s almost as if, despite the ebbs and flows it’s taken the program to get to this point, he expected it.
That approach was echoed by his players.
“It’s a big win for us, we’re of course excited, but we’re definitely not satisfied,” safety Gabe Taylor, who had a big interception on Thursday said. “We want more. We’re 4-3. That’s a good record, but we know we’re not supposed to be here. We’re just ready for Tulane next week.”
Running back Dean Connors, who rushed for three touchdowns and 120 yards on nine carries, addressed the upcoming game with Tulane, too. “It’s about stacking days, and we stacked three great days of work [at practice this week]. And I think to beat Tulane, who’s a really solid team, we’re going to have to do that all over again and do it better.”
From Bloomgren to the pair of veteran leaders, it’s almost as if the page had already been turned. And it wasn’t as if they’d taken the game they just finished for granted, they just knew they had bigger goals still to achieve.
Perhaps the real message Rice football hoped to send on Thursday night on ESPN went well beyond the final score. Sure, 42-10 is impressive and as Taylor put it, “I hope they were looking,” but what Rice football really wants people to know is this team is in a different place, mentally.
“This week, we proved a point,” Taylor said.
It’s hard for one singular game to be a referendum on the season as a whole. The Tulsa game likely won’t define the entire season, neither will the upcoming bout with Tulane.
But if Rice football has really found a way to lock in and carry themselves with the level of seriousness and focus it takes to play like they did on Thursday night, this program really could be different moving forward. Whether or not that continues rests on the shoulders of this team. Maybe, just maybe, they’re past wake-up calls and ready to take the next step. If so, Thursday night was a great first step.
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