The fans were there, but the Rice football team no-showed on its own Homecoming Day as the Owls were blasted by interim coach-led Charlotte.
On an overcast day in Houston, Rice football was only wishing the rain would come. Perhaps then, had the field been deluged by water from the sky, the Owls could have avoided the torrential downpour of 49er touchdowns. Instead, Rice was run out of their own stadium on Homecoming in embarrassing fashion. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
Can’t get off the field
The Rice football defense was supposed to be the backbone of this team. On Saturday, the unit more closely resembled the one that was assaulted through the air by backup quarterbacks the weekend prior against Louisiana Tech. The pass rush had its moments, but on the instances in which the Rice front couldn’t get to quarterback Chris Reynolds, Rice paid dearly.
Reynolds, who entered the season as one of the most proven commodities at the quarterback position in Conference USA, was able to move the ball at will against a Rice defense that ranked No. 3 in C-USA against the pass entering the game. Not only was Charlotte able to move the ball, but they were allowed to do so continually.
A team that fired its head coach six days ago scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives.
Charlotte ran the ball. They threw the ball. When they reached third down, they converted it. When they didn’t, they found a way on fourth down.
Enabling so many extra opportunities was fuel to the fire. Charlotte got going and gashed the Owls, who chose not to spy quarterback Chris Reynolds and continued to bring heavy pressure as Reynolds picked them apart downfield.
Reynolds threw for 254 yards and five touchdowns. The 49ers ran for 239 yards.
Not having linebacker Myron Morrison and safety George Nyakwol available hampered this unit, but it’s hardly the first time they’ve been without key players. The depth is good enough to get the job done, or at the very least, to do much better than this.
What’s it going to be?
With a loss like this comes questions. Just about every game this season has been laborious for this team. To the Owls’ credit, they’ve won as many as they’ve lost, but the path to get to that end result has usually been messy. What’s most maddening is the lack of consistency from this team from game to game. On any given Saturday, which Rice football team is going to show up?
In years past, it’s been easy to point the finger at the offense. If the team would just score more often, if they’d run better plays, if they’d be more creative… then they could start winning. Well, they are scoring more… but the games are still exhausting.
Is today going to be a day the defense comes close to pitching a shutout? Maybe. Or they could give up 40+ points.
Is today going to be the day the offense gets in gear and puts in the endzone six or seven times? Perhaps. Or they could go backward, turn the ball over a few times, and barely sniff double digits.
The trouble is, Rice really hasn’t seen both of the positive ends of those spectrums coincide. More often than not it’s been a good offensive day (or half) mirrored against a bad defensive outing. That’s led to lots of close games and high heart rates. Winning ugly counts for something. But it’s hard to trust this team from week to week. We just don’t know who is going to show up.
Two steps forward, one step back
For the first time under head coach Mike Bloomgren, Rice football was a multi-touchdown favorite in a home conference game. Cover the spread or not, on paper this was meant to be a game that put Rice one win away from a trip to a bowl game for the first time since 2014. But games aren’t played on paper.
Make no mistake, this was the most embarrassing loss of Bloomgren’s tenure.
Charlotte came out and played like they had nothing to lose. From an onside kick to a fake punt, the 49ers were the aggressor all day long against a team that preaches intellectual brutality. That can’t happen.
It’s impossible to scrap the remainder of the season just yet, especially given the highs we’ve seen both sides of the ball reach on their better days. But the task just got immeasurably harder. Rice should have won this game. Losing would have been disappointing. Losing like this was humiliating. Especially considering this is the same team that beat Louisiana, beat UAB and went toe-to-toe with Houston. Unfortunately, that feels like so long ago.
Rice football has another game to play in five days at home against UTEP. They need to win it, if for no other reason than to purge this awful result from their minds.
Less turnovers but not enough points
Punter Conor Hunt spent most of the first half Saturday standing on the sideline. The Rice offense didn’t have much need of his services until the game was well out of hand. Hunt didn’t punt until the beginning of the third quarter when the game had already started to get out of hand.
For at least the sixth time this season — they don’t exactly keep stats on this — a Rice quarterback was intercepted on a pass that deflected off his receiver’s hands. A deep shot from McMahon on the Owls’ second drive was picked off, setting up a short field for Charlotte and their first score.
The Roost Podcast: Stay tuned for the game recap this week – Rice Football vs Charlotte
The interception and a failed fourth down conversion were early blemishes on what started as a rather uneventful offensive day. Trailing by 11 going into halftime, the offense hasn’t been perfect, but it hadn’t been the reason the Owls were already trailing big.
The offense deserves credit for mostly eliminating the controllable turnovers. They did not fumble the ball to the other team and the lone interception was fluky. On a day in which a lot of things went wrong, that was a tally in the positive direction.
A 100 percent scoring rate would be nice, albeit unsustainable. Rice scored on three of four offensive drives in the first half on Saturday, excluding the kneel-down at the end of the half. That should get it done when you have the defense the Owls do… unless the defense disappears. On Saturday, it did just that. And the offense didn’t have the juice to pick up the pace.
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