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Rice 33, Louisiana 21

CONTROL FREAKS -- Rice defense collective effort virtually shut down explosive LA offense (David Speed Elder photo)

HOUSTON (Sept. 18) – It’s well worthwhile to take a look at the stat sheet when considering the implications of Rice’s 33-21 win over the University of Louisiana – Lafayette here Saturday evening. 

Even a recounting of Owl miscues underscores an inevitable conclusion:  this South Main bunch just laid the wood to University of Louisiana's 15-game win streak, heretofore the longest extant in NCAA Division 1. The Ragin Cajuns just got the hell beat out of them... 

Where should we start? 

Well, let’s see….first, there's the ending of that tops-in-the-nation 15-game winning streak.  On defense, the Owls held a Ragin' Cajuns offense that came in averaging 416 yards per game to just 175 yards and nine first downs, their best defensive showing since they held Tulane to 123 yards and six first downs nine years ago. And the LA output was their lowest in 11 years. QB T J McMahon, though he threw three interceptions, one for a pick-six, after the first quarter completed 20 of 26 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. 

The Flock held ULaLa on 3-of-11 third down opportunities and zero-for-two on fourth downs, limiting quarterbacks Chandler Fields and Ben Wooldridge to a total of 13 of 28 passes.  Dunbar and Enechukwu had a lot to do with that.

The Owls led in first downs 27-9,  13-3 in the first half.  They punted once.  They controlled the clock for over 41 minutes in the game.  Frankly, had it not been for the pick-six and the two intercepts, the score likely would have wound up more like 40-7. 

It was that much of a beat-down, that much of an exercise in, dare we say it – intellectual brutality. 

Rice head man Mike Bloomgren was pumped after the game.  “That’s a quality football team on the other sideline,” Coach Bloom said. “They had the nation’s longest winning streak. They lost to Texas in the opener last year and hadn’t lost since. There’s a lot of things that happened in my life since that day. That’s a big time win for our program.” 

Take that, you nay-saying Parliamentarians! the thought occurs. 

The 21 points allowed by the Owls was misleading.  Seven of them came on a 54-yard pick-six when a screen pass routine failed to materialize – don’t blame T J.  And another pick set up the Cajo’ns at the Rice 17.  In other words, there was one puny drive on the night for a team that last year was consistently ranked as high as number 16 in the nation. 

“I felt like our guys were in the backfield all night long,” Coach Bloom said. “I felt like I was always seeing them all night long in their backfield — making plays, pulling the runner back. I thought our linebackers closed on some stuff great. It was just fun to be a part of..” 

The McMahon-to-McCaffrey gambit looks as it may be one of the best square-peg, round-hole decision of the Bloomgren era, and Luke really seems to have found a good place on the playing field, with 10 grabs for 105 yards and two touchdowns — an acrobatic sidelinec catch in the second quarter and a snag in the middle of the end zone in the fourth to hand Rice a 27-14 lead. 

“The kid’s just a hard worker and he wants everything to be dialed in — so attention-to-detail,” T J said of his “youngster.” collague. “As soon as he turned to receiver, he was talking to all the quarterbacks and said, ‘Hey what can we throw? I want to be dialed in. I want to make a difference here.’ He and I were on the same schedule going into the offseason and even in the summertime. We are roommates so we’re just talking about when we’re gonna throw, watch film together — building that connection and chemistry.” 

Bradley Rozner also had a workmanlike effort, hauling in a two-point conversion that gave the Owls’ a 27-14 lead..  Earlier, Brad’s 12-yard scoring reception early in the third quarter gave the Owls a lead they would not relinquish. 

Then there was a gme-clinching fourth-quarter drive covering 70 yards in six minutes,  Ari Broussard scoring from two yards out as the clock wound down, putting  the game away for the Feathered Flock. 

Twenty of  T J’s last 26 passes, which worked to control possession for the Owls, never mind the handful of benighted interceptions, marked a clear change in Coach Bloom’s “pound the rock” philosophy.  

“I think we knew this was our deepest team we had, also our most explosive team,” Coach Bloom said afterwards. “When you got a line that can protect, the backs that will protect T J, so he can deliver the ball, that’s just a recipe for success. We’ve worked a long time to get this number of healthy guys who could run and catch the ball at the receiver position, and gosh, we’re there.”

So now it's the U of H on the card for the Institute boys, a 5 pm match Saturday on the wrong side of tracks at UH's Erector Set of a stadium.  The Coogs open as a 17.5-point favorite.

How about a by-word for this week's game:  No Interceptions.