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HOUSTON (Nov. 3) – For sure, Rice’s 30-6 win over Southern Miss Saturday was a game, and an outcome, that Owl head man Mike Bloomgren has been waiting for ever since the day he first came inside the Hedges.

In a frustrating two-year sojourn, thus far his offensive philosophy of “pound the rock, run the clock and play great defense” was not much more than a pipe dream, if not a complete no-show, on the turf of Rice Stadium.

It wasn’t that his defense hadn’t shown signs of life.  Under the tutelage of Defensive Coordinator Brian Smith, Owl defenders showed spunk and acumen throughout.  But that offense, man, that offense…sure enough it was plenty offensive, in theory and design.  Of course, it might’ve been less so had it featured among its X’s and O’s a number of those four- and five-star signees Coach Bloom was favored to work with on The Farm in Palo Alto.

For the record, this Rice Owl team scored 30 points or more in a game only two times in Mike Bloomgren’s first 25 games at Rice.  But now, barely into this bizarrely truncated season, his offensive charges have gone out and scored 30 points-plus two games in a row. 

The big difference, Coach Bloom said, lay in the performance of his quarterback, TCU graduate transfer Michael Collins.

‘Mike is the biggest change,” he averred.  “It’s the best play we’ve had out of our quarterback in our time here.

“I think he was only 12 of 17 (against USM) but he was so dadgum efficient,” Coach Bloom went on.  “On one play, he threw as he was falling down, and I don’t think the ball got above eye length as it was traveling 35 yards down the field.

“Then the one that Trammell caught in the fourth quarter for our last touchdown was as well placed of a ball as you can do.  Mike is changing the game for our football team; he’s giving everybody a chance to showcase their talent.  And it sure doesn’t hurt that the offensive line, the blocking unit, is giving him time as well.”

The former Frog’s performance has been rock-steady throughout his first eight quarters of play, save for a period of about 12 minutes in the Middle Tennesse game when he completed only two out of ten passes while tossing an interception.  Other than that, though – go to the head of the class.

“Offensively, Mike Collins came out and did what he needed to do for us,” Coach Bloom said. “I thought he took a big jump from game one to game two.We had a lot of big plays that he created, and it was really fun to watch when he connected with our Captain (Austin Trammell).  We trust him to do that when we get the ball in his hands. And he sure did.”

That comment led into a riff on the performances, generally, shown by Owl offense and defense against Southern Miss.

“Then there was Jake Bailey with his first touchdown reception of his career,” f’r instance, Coach said. “We hope it’ll be the first of many.”

From an aesthetic point of view, Coach Bloom implied, that fourth quarter of the Owls Saturday was a thing of beauty. “I thought the drive in the fourth quarter was exceptional.  Possessing the ball for 13 minutes 11 seconds in the fourth; I’ve been part of a lot of controlling-the-clock games, where you can really do a lot of things we talk about.”  Oh, yeah – that rock, clock thing.

Juma Otaviano had a quiet 111 yard game which included several crucial third-down runs, he said.  “And he was better without the ball than with it.  Great blocking with pass protection and screening, blocking whoever game, played with his eyes.  There was a big play in the fourth quarter where Juma cut down the linebacker on the perimeter just like he was sliced bread.”

Defensively, with injury woes having afflicted the secondary, it’s good to see some youngsters step up, Coach Bloomgren said.

“When you guys who can step in like Chike (Anigbou) and Gabe Taylor and still get that job done on the secondary, it gives our rush a chance to work up front,” he observed.  “I thought we did a heck of a job making things uncomfortable for whatever quarterback was in the game.  I think Coach Smith had an incredible scheme, and our guys executed it very well.”

And don’t expect missing first-stringers to be back on the field Saturday against UTSA. “With the illnesses, we’re still expecting to be without those guys; the good news is that everybody who played in the game on Saturday are all trending toward playing this coming Saturday; none of them have been ruled out.”

By implication, the Rice coach indicated he understood why Rice sports administrators are keeping the stands empty in Saturday’s upcoming 2:30 p.m. match against UTSA.

“It’s really difficult,” he said “but it’s something we’re trying to be the best in the nation at; we probably have been the best in the nation, but when you end up with a case it can get really scary really fast.”

--P.T.H.