Rice Football came up short against defending AAC champs Tulane, spotting their visitors a 20-point halftime lead from which they couldn’t recover.
Despite being double-digit underdogs at kickoff, nobody was happy when Rice football fell by just two points to Tulane at home on Saturday. The Owls rallied from a massive deficit, only to give Tulane the ball with 8:10 remaining and essentially not see it again. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
The Green Wave won in the trenches
On both sides of the ball, Tulane was better up front. If you want to boil the game down to a single-sentence synopsis, that might be it. The Green Wave offense got an incredible push off the ball, opening up running lanes and giving quarterback Michael Pratt time with the football. The Owls hit him, but often the blows came too late and Pratt found his man downfield anyway.
Look no further than Tulane’s final possession in this game. They took over with 8:10 on the clock in the fourth quarter and did not give Rice the ball back until four seconds remained and the result was all but decided.
Spotty tackling only compounded those efforts. Safeties Plae Wyatt (12) and Jojo Jean (11) led the team in tackles. That typically only happens when the seven men in front of them fail to get the runner down before he reaches the second level.
The Rice offensive line was similarly maligned. Quarterback JT Daniels was able to turn lemons into lemonade as he often does, but there’s no denying his job was made much more difficult this week and it contributed to some of the Owls’ early offensive scuffles.
Still searching for consistency
What separates teams like Tulane from the rest of the conference is their consistency. On good days and bad days, on good plays and bad plays, this team has demonstrated a remarkable ability to be ready for action. That was demonstrated on the very first snap of the game when running back Makhi Hughes rumbled for 43 yards up the gut. Then on the first snap of their second drive, a 38-yard completion.
On the other side of the ball, Rice had its moments but did not demonstrate that same level of consistency. Three-and-outs sandwiched a seven-play, 82-yard touchdown earlier in the game. Pass interference penalties — one apiece from the offense and the defense — hampered each side of the ball.
When Tulane did show some signs of mortality via a missed chip-shot field goal, Rice responded with a dropped pass on third down and another three-and-out. Rice had their final drive of the first half stall out near midfield, giving the ball back to Tulane with 16 seconds to go on their side of the field. Somehow, the Green Wave ended that drive with points, putting Rice further into the hole.
The high points were there — let’s be honest, this touchdown catch from Daniels to Luke McCaffrey was mesmerizing:
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) October 28, 2023
Gabe Taylor’s 72-yard interception return was fantastic, too. Yes, there were fireworks. But they weren’t nearly consistent enough to be described as a cohesive performance. And when you don’t play a full 60 minutes of football, it’s hard to beat the teams that do.
“They got it done. We didn’t,” head coach Mike Bloomgren said postgame. “I thought it was a great game and we’ve got a lot to learn and grow from.”
Get rid of the second quarter lull
The Rice offense has been fantastic this season. They’ve scored in every conceivable fashion and kept this team in almost every game, but it’s been choppy at times. The first scripted drive? No problem. Rice entered Saturday outscoring their opponents 90-13 in the first quarter. The second quarter, though, has been their kryptonite.
Rice has scored 28 points against FBS teams in the second quarter of games so far this season, an average of 4.7 points per game in that quarter. In every other quarter, Rice has tallied 173 total points, equating to 9.6 points per quarter, more than twice as productive. Why the disparity?
Truthfully, the Owls have been their own worst enemies. Dropped passes and penalties have ended drives and the defense has struggled to get them more frequent opportunities. A three-and-out might mean Daniels and company are standing on the sideline for twenty minutes as they wait for another opportunity.
Rice had two drives in the first quarter. It’s hard to score when you don’t have the ball. And it probably doesn’t help when the mountain you have to climb keeps getting higher and your opponent adds to their point total every time you leave the field.
Another missed opportunity
Now in year six, Rice Football head coach Mike Bloomgren has won some big games with the Owls. The first shocker came in 2020 when Rice upset N0. 15 Marshall on the road in shutout fashion. Then there was the Bayou Bucket victory over Houston at Historic Rice Stadium just a few weeks ago.
Knocking off Tulane on Saturday might have topped them all, but those dreams seemed all but dead by the halftime whistle.
Tulane won the AAC last year, went to the Cotton Bowl and dispatched a USC team that dismissed Rice fairly quickly in their opening game. Tulane entered this game as No. 22 team in the country. Rice hadn’t beaten a ranked team at home since 1997. That streak persists after Saturday’s deflating result.
“We just had to get off the field one more time. My hats off to them. I thought they did a great job,” Bloomgren acknowledged. “We’ve got to find a way to make one or two more plays if we want to beat a championship team.”
In some ways, the result is more agonizing when you consider how close the final margin was. A two-point game against the best this conference has to offer. And they won’t have time to lick their wounds. SMU comes to town next weekend fresh off a 69-10 shellacking of Tulsa.
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Field position failures
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