The Rice football defense delivered when at the moment the Owls needed them the most, an occurrence becoming more common with every passing game.
For a split-second, there was nothing but the sound of shoulder pads colliding at breakneck speed in the Rice football endzone. The entire stadium held their collective breath, waiting with trepidation for the result of the collision which would decide the game.
The collision was between North Texas wide receiver Michael Lawrence and Rice defensive back Treshawn Chamberlain. Lawerence had just been fed a beautiful ball from quarterback Mason Fine. The preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year had been kept at bay all evening by the Rice defense, but he’d gotten the ball to his man in the endzone when it mattered most — on fourth down with the game on the line.
If the pass was caught, North Texas could take the lead for the first time on the ensuing extra point. If it wasn’t Rice would have a good chance to kill the clock and win the program’s second game in its last two tries.
“[Chamberlain’s hit] reverberated through everybody’s body,” Bloomgren said. When the mass of bodies cleared, the coach exhaled, blinked, and saw the football lying harmlessly near the “I” in the Rice insignia scrawled across the endzone. Chamberlain’s vicious thump had separated Lawrence from the ball. Incomplete. Rice football.
While what happened next was not a formality, it almost felt predetermined. The Rice defense had won their stand. The offense ran off the remainder of the clock. Rice won.
At risk of stating the obvious, Chamberlain was all smiles after the game. “That hit was one of my biggest hits I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’m going to keep that one for show.” That confidence, a swagger almost, has been building for this defense all season. Had it not been Chamberlain who made the play, it could have been someone else.
Blaze Alldredge, who broke Larry Izzo’s school record with his 18th tackle for a loss from the linebacker position this season, was all over the field on Saturday night. Antonio Montero had the first sack of his career. True freshman Tre’shon Devones, Kirk Lockhart and Josh Landrum all had tackles out of the secondary.
Someone was going to step up. That’s how this defense has been built.
“I’m ready when my number’s called,” Alldredge said after the game. “I think everybody on the defense kind of embraces that same mentality that we’re not going to shy away from the limelight. We’re not going to make excuses that we’re too tired. We want to be on the field because we want to show how dominant we are.”
Dominant. That word hasn’t been used in conjunction with the Rice defense for some time. Rice hasn’t finished in the top half of Conference USA in total defense since 2014. After Saturday’s performance, the Owls will be in the top six in total defense in conference games.
On the rise
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Rice will return 10 defensive starters next season. Myles Adams was the lone senior starter for the Rice defense against North Texas. His backup, De’Braylon Carroll, has played extremely well this season, matching Adams’ sack total while making some splash plays of his own.
The 2019 season has been an appetizer for what this collection of talent playmakers is capable of becoming. The growing pains exhibited over the course of the year are being refined before our eyes. This defense is young, really young. And they’re getting better.
Bloomgren cited their passion and energy following the win. Alldredge took it a step further. “Fatigue isn’t something that we even process in this program,” he said. He’s right. When things got tough, the defense didn’t get tired. They got mad. Then they made the hit that changed the game.