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Houston 44, Rice 7x

HOUSTON (Sept. 12) – There’s not much worth writing home about, given the Rice Owls’ 44-7 pounding at the hands of the University of Houston in Saturday’s Bayou Bucket clash.

Oh, there are certainly a lot of Rice football topics that this benighted episode engenders -- you likely have a pretty good idea of what they are. For details, feel free to turn to Parliament where commentary may be made ad infinitum. Despite our wish to bust loose a diatribe here, nothing would be gained in so doing. Maybe it’s a better idea if we just stick to the game.

When the highly-regarded transfer, former Nebraska Cornhusker Luke McCaffrey, took the field to lead the Owls on their first offensive possession, hopes ran high. Actually, they ran about as high as one might expect given the fact that the Cougars had just gotten through scoring with ease after taking the opening kickoff and cutting through the Rice defense like butter, 84 yards in 11 plays.

Young Luke stuck to the familiar script – handoff plunges into the line on first and second downs, a misfired pass play on third and long, and then punting time.

But the Owls did at least achieve a degree of consistency in so doing. They went three and out, same way, three out of the first four times they got their hands on the ball. The other possession ended in an interception on the second play of the drive, after Ari Broussard had risen at least some eyebrows with a 16 yard gash up the middle that was one diving tackle away from going the distance.

But “a game of inches”? Not this contest.

No, because in response to those three-n-outs, those bad boys from the wrong side of South Main Street romped for two more scores on long, easy drives to put them up 17-0 before the first quarter was over.

First one was a 56 yard, seven play drive that ended up with a 38-yard Dalton Witherspoon field goal.

Next Rice possession, after Ari Broussard’s first-down run, Luke made an ill-advised pass into triple coverage, and the resulting interception set up the Coogs for a 48-yard, seven play touchdown drive, QB Clayton Tune taking it to the pay station in a 14-yard scamper.

That’s how the first quarter ended, and one might have figured that it was pretty much lights out for the Owls at that point. And turned out it was – but not before the Rice offense turned in its one good-looking drive of the game that momentarily brought the Owls to within 17-7 with hopes that the worm might turn.

Houston suffered its first three and out, next possession, as Kirk Lockhardt made a key play nailing UH QB Tune for an 11-yard sack. The ensuing punt set up the Owls at their own 19 yard line, and from there, finally, the offense began to click.

First five plays of the Rice drive stayed on the ground and up the middle, garnering a single first down. But then on third and seven from the Rice 36, Luke kept the drive alive when he hit Jordan Myers for 13 yards and a first down at midfield.

From there, the drive was maintained with a couple of first-down-producing tosses, once again from Luke McCaffery to Jordan Myers with a Cougar pass-interference penalty sandwiched in between.

It took two more plays for the Owls to score, Luke scrambling for nine yards on first down, and then hitting Jordan in the flat where he was able to waltz to the end zone untouched.

All in all, it was a downright stylish drive. Indeed, the second quarter belonged to the Owls, who gained nine first downs in the frame to UH’s one. UH rushed for five yards total on six attempts. The Cougars completed but a single pass, and that one went for a loss of two yards.

During that second stanza, the Owl offensive line produced a modicum of pass protection for their quarterback. But as for the rest of the game, not so much. Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren lamented over the situation, adding that it was hard for him to judge the drop-back passing of Luke McCaffery when he wound up running for his life on virtually every such attempt.

“Today I saw the ability to be explosive with his legs and do some cool things that we know he’s capable of doing, but it’s hard for me to sit here and evaluate his ability as a passer. I don’t think he was protected particularly well throughout the day,” Coach Bloom said.

No Owl uprising occurred in the second half.  Instead, Houston fashioned a couple more touchdowns in the third quarter on two long drives of 75 and 85 yards, controlling the clock as they rolled on.

Two more cheapie-deapie UH scores unfolded in the final minutes of the game, the first, a 20-yard, two play drive after another a Charlie Mendes punt out of the end zone was partially blocked due to poor protection, and then the last, a joke of an 86-yard interception return when Luke was picked off by Alex Hogen with the Owls on the UH 15 yard line.

“I wasnt prepared for it to go that way; I thought we’d fight them tooth and nail,” Coach Bloom concluded afterwards. “But that’s not the way it went. I don’t have a lot of answers for you; I didn’t have a whole lot of answers for the team. What I told them is that I am going to go to work for them; and I’m going to get them some answers.”

“It starts with me. I have to lay the foundation. I have to make sure the coaches are doing everything they can to put the guys in position. But at the end of the day, we’ve just got to make plays.”

"We’ll figure this out. We’ve got a heck of an opponent coming up in Texas next week. But we’ve got a lot to solve with the Rice Owls before we worry about any other opponent right now."