Rice Football started fast, but couldn’t hold on, squandering a fourth-quarter lead as they fell to the FAU Owls on the road on Saturday.
Rice football scored the first 14 points and looked to be on their way to their first road win of the season but it would not come to pass. FAU answered with 17 unanswered points, clamping down late to thwart the Owls’ late.
“I wish I could tell you that they made some great adjustments,” Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren said in the aftermath. “They really kept doing what they were doing and our execution faltered and that’s the disappointing part.”
Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
Explosive, but imperfect offense can’t do enough
Rice football is still searching for a seamless offensive game, but their current less-than-perfect somewhat boom-or-bust operation is getting the job done. The road Owls started the game going backward, losing 16 yards on their first drive of the game. On the very next sequence, McMahon hit Bradley Rozner for this career-long 78-yard touchdown reception.
Rozner flashing the hands and the jets ???pic.twitter.com/3dsj1o7XPH
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) October 15, 2022
McMahon and Rozner guided the team down the field for another score immediately afterward. Up 14-0, Rice had the ball again with the chance to deliver a third potentially soul-crushing score in the final minutes of the first quarter. Instead, McMahon threw two passes which probably each should have been intercepted by the FAU defense.
The Roost Podcast: Stay tuned for the game recap this week – Rice football vs FAU
McMahon would miss open receivers on the subsequent drive too, which ended with a failed fourth-down conversion. FAU scored on their next possession, then the offense went three-and-out for the third time in six drives.
Tack on another deflected interception (how????) and McMahon’s third interception on the subsequent drive and it would end up dooming what seemed to be such a promising day in the first quarter. McMahon had rough day. So did the offensive line. The entire unit is going to have some rough conversations in the film room this week.
Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren was brutally honest in his postgame remarks. “We have to do better,” he said. “14 points in a football game doesn’t win. It doesn’t win in college football. Not scoring in the second half doesn’t win, we know those things. We’ve got to get better.
In prior years, explosive plays were few and far between, resulting in stagnant offensive performances. Rice is hitting big plays this year, but it hasn’t figured out the consistency just yet. If they can iron out the warts, this offense has the potential to really take off.
Big play defense
It’s been the Rice defense that’s allowed this offense to learn on the job. They’ve been absolutely superb this season and that strong showing continued on Saturday. For the most part, they made the routine plays, allowing a few explosive plays to FAU but largely playing fundamentally sound football. It was third and fourth down where they flexed their muscles.
FAU was 6-of-17 on third down and 0-of-4 when facing third and nine or longer. When this defense gets the green light and is allowed to pin their ears back and go, bad things tend to happen for the other team.
Then there were the big plays. Not to be outdone by the fireworks of Rozner and McMahon, several Rice defenders delivered equally impactful moments of their own. Josh Pearcy shut down an FAU drive with a third down sack. George Nyakwol forced a fumble that resulted in a third-and-33 attempt for the home team. Myron Morrison slipped in front of a receiver on fourth down and knocked the ball to the turf.
No play was bigger, though, than Kirk Lockhart’s goal line hit at the end of the third quarter. FAU was inches away from the go-ahead touchdown when Lockhart knocked the ball out, forcing a fumble that went out of the endzone for a touchback. Pressed to the brink yet again, the defense stood tall.
The offense is much improved and it has been really, really fun to watch at times. Nevertheless, the defense remains the backbone of this team and they did everything they could on Saturday.
Linebacker reload, complete
Rice football fans were spoiled by the incredible tandem of Blaze Alldredge and Antonio Montero in the middle of the defense for the last few years. When they departed, Alldredge to Missouri and Montero to Villanova, it seemed like nearly a forgone conclusion the Owls would be taking a step back at that position.
Well, midway through the 2022 season, Chris Conti and Myron Morrison are making a case for quite the opposite. Conti posted five tackles against FAU. Morrison led the team with 15 tackles of his own. Those two entered the game leading Rice in tackles and they leave the game still No. 1 and No. 2 atop the leaderboard.
“I think both Myron and Chris are both playing great football, ” Bloomgren said. “The guys up front are doing their job too, which is making it a little bit easier for them to run and hit. But when they’re able to make those plays and get people on the ground, obviously that’s what gets us into those third and longs and allows our defense to go eat a little bit.”
The entire defense is playing well, but the linebacker core has earned a nod. Every team loses good players. Replacing them without missing a beat is what great teams do. The Owls are heading in that direction right now, particularly on defense.
After just six games, Rice football sits at 3-3. The Owls are one win shy of matching their win total from the entirety of the 2021 season. Entering the season, that seemed to be about par for the opening half of the season, but it doesn’t feel like met expectations as the team flies home empty-handed from Boca Raton.
The Owls had the chance to be one of just three remaining unbeaten teams in conference play, with matchups looming against Louisiana Tech, Charlotte and UTEP, all of which own sub-.500 records overall. Rice is still likely to be favored in at least one of those games, if not two. Things still look bright, but the luster isn’t quite nearly the same as it could have been with a fourth-quarter lead.
Simply put, at the midpoint of October, it might have been time to start having legitimate Conference USA Championship discussions about Rice football. They’re not out of the mix just yet and they own a win over UAB, but they’ve taken a step back after some stellar showings in the early weeks of the season.
Now it’s time to start talking about finding their first road win of the season. Once that happens, more aspirational conversations can recommence. Their next chance comes next weekend against Louisiana Tech.
“I wish we could go practice right now, to be hoenst with you,” Bloomgren said. “We’ve got a lot of good things going on this team. We’ve got a few things we got to figure out. But I want that opportunity to play that road game next week. I can’t wait to play that road game next Saturday.”
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