Rice Football came out hot, fell behind, took the lead and held on, earning a massive rivalry win over crosstown rival Houston for the first time since 2010.
The final moments got hairy, but the scoreboard does not lie. Rice football notched a monumental rivalry win over Houston on Saturday night, claiming their first victory in the series since 2010. After leading 28, Rice allowed 35 unanswered points before slamming the door on a pass breakup in double overtime. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
The offense comes to life
The working theory regarding the Rice football offense this week was more or less this: once the Owls’ offensive line faced a less-than-super-human pass rush and JT Daniels had time, the Owls’ would start putting up points. It didn’t take long for that theory to be tested on Saturday and the early returns were overwhelmingly positive.
On the first series of the game, Daniels stepped up into the pocket, avoided pressure and found an outlet across the middle, getting the ball to Juma Otoviano who scampered 35 yards into the redzone. Two plays later Daniels again climbed the pocket, scanning the field and found Luke McCaffrey darting across the field toward the sideline. He slung it his way and McCaffrey did the rest for the Owls’ first score.
It wasn’t a first-drive fluke, though. The Rice offense had three possessions in the first quarter and put the ball in the box on each attempt. Daelen Alexander picked up his first career score on a fourth-and-one plunge and McCaffrey added another touchdown on this spectacular grab:
Luke McCaffrey came to play. Wow.pic.twitter.com/yMTFqemBDM
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) September 9, 2023
Touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown. The Rice offense didn’t just kick off some dust, it went into overdrive right up until turnovers and penalties killed the positive vibes. Short of the self-inflicted wounds, the unit was productive. It’s hard to ignore a scoreless second half and an overtime that never should have happened, but the offense delivered in overtime and Rice walked away victorious.
When asked the difference between Daniels’ play from last week to this week, head coach Mike Bloomgren quipped, “he was playing the game standing up, to be quite frank. He got to play quarterback.”
Defense joins the fray
The offensive explosion came, in part, because that unit was able to get into a rhythm. There weren’t any long waits confined to the bench while they waited for their next turn. Instead, the defense quickly did their job and handed the ball right back to the offense as both sides operated with a synergy that hadn’t been seen to such a degree in quite some time.
The defense pitched a shutout in the first quarter and didn’t allow points until Houston’s final drive of the second quarter, one that required a pair of fourth-down conversions including one via penalty.
Before the Cougars were able to get on the board, the Rice defense recorded its first takeaway of the season — an interception by Tre’shon Devones — and added a three-and-out on the very next possession. Houston managed just 32 yards of total offense in the first quarter. Rice had 186.
As the game progressed, the defense was strained. Houston drove the length of the field on their first drive of the second half and opted to go for it on fourth and goal, trailing by three scores.
After bringing the heat, the Owls dropped into coverage and gave Houston quarterback Donovan Smith nowhere to throw it. The Cougars turned the ball over on downs, ending a seven-minute drive without points. The defense turned Houston over on downs again on the very next drive.
It wasn’t until the offense endured a prolonged scoring drought that we saw the defense start to sag. That was the same story in the opening game against Texas, but fortunately for the Owls, it wasn’t enough to sink them on Saturday. When the defense needed a play, they got it, with Jojo Jean breaking up a pass in double overtime to win the game.
Houston, we have a quarterback
When Rice football kicked off the season, the Owls were the owners of one painful, notorious quarterback stat: Rice had started more quarterbacks than any other FBS institution since 2017. For one reason or another, the search for stable play under center had evaded Bloomgren since his arrival at Rice.
Rice had tried journeymen. They’d tried freshmen. The Owls had started pocket passers and runners, two of which made their way into the Owls’ receiving corps on Saturday night. Injuries and ineffective play had rendered the fruits negligible. For an offensive-minded head coach, the lack of production on that side of the ball was maddening.
So when JT Daniels arrived on South Main, there was ample reason to be cautious. Even though he brought his blue-chip recruiting profile, his multiple stops to reach Rice caused many to raise their eyebrows. Against Texas, the entire offense went flat. But Bloomgren kept the faith. On Saturday, he was rewarded.
Daniels lit Houston up to the tune of 401 yards (sixth most in school history) and three touchdowns. He led Rice to 28 first half points in the rivalry for the first time since 2008. He was surgical, slicing and dicing a Houston defense that secured a victory over Rice with its own finishing blow just last season. That wasn’t the case on Saturday.
With the game on the line, Daniels delivered in overtime, securing one of the Owls’ biggest victories of the Bloomgren era. For all the good and bad from Saturday night, the simple truth was this: Rice football asked a quarterback to go win them the game in overtime and he delivered.
The Owls have landed
Streaks are meant to be broken. For the first time since a 2013 victory over Kansas, Rice football has notched a win over a Power 5 opponent. The string of defeats since had spanned 18 games, including the Owls’ prior outing last weekend against Texas. Saturday’s result was quite the opposite.
For the first time since 2010, Rice football has beaten crosstown rival Houston, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Cougars. Getting the Bayou Bucket back on this side of South Main is exciting, serving to validate years of building under head coach Mike Bloomgren while (hopefully) providing a launching point for their inaugural season of American Conference play.
Rice football sits at 1-1 with two nonconference games remaining before it’s time to take on the AAC. The Owls want to make some noise in their new conference. Wins like this suggest this is a program that should be up for the challenge, although consistency, not ability, has been this program’s nemesis in prior seasons.
Today, though, Rice football can and should feel pretty good about where they stand. They beat Houston and proved they can play with one of the most talented teams remaining on their schedule. Celebrate tonight. Then it’s time to prove they can become the program they’ve been building toward.
“We probably made it a little more interesting than we needed to, but to win the Bucket for the first time in 12 years and get it back to Main Street, which was one of our goals for this season, that’s a big deal for a program. To beat a Big 12 team is a big deal for our program.”
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