On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Rice football team finally found something to be thankful for. During the final game of head coach Mike Bloomgren’s inaugural season, the Owls defeated Old Dominion University 27-13, raising Rice’s record to 2-11 and giving Rice its first win against an FBS program this year.
The Owls’ only other win this season came in their first game, a 31-28 victory over Prairie View A&M University, an FCS football program. After that initial victory, the Owls proceeded to lose their next 11 games by an average of 21.7 points, with their largest defeat coming in a 42-0 shutout against the University of Alabama,Birmingham. But on Saturday, the Owls broke their losing streak, riding 275 rushing yards and three defensive takeaways to a win against a conference opponent in the Monarchs. The Owls’ running game was sparked by young blood, as freshman running back Juma Otoviano rushed for 224 yards along with two long touchdown runs of 80 and 62 yards in his starting debut. According to Ot
aoviano, much of his success was due to the strong performance of Owls’ blockers.
“Credit to my [offensive] linemen and everybody that was blocking for me, from them to the skill positions,” Otoviano said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them, and they made some creases and I was able to get through them.”
The team sported several true freshmen on Saturday, with Wiley Green getting his third start at quarterback to go with Otoviano’s start at running back. Green suffered an injury while rushing for a first down in the third quarter, and graduate transfer quarterback Shawn Stankavage came in to finish out the Owls’ win. All in all, Rice started seven true freshmen in the regular season finale: three on offense and four on defense.
On the opposite side of the ball, Old Dominion came into the matchup averaging 32 points per game, but Rice’s defense held the Monarchs to just 13 points on the day, recording two interceptions and one fumble recovery in its defensive effort.
Bloomgren said that although this season has been a struggle, he believes the team is on the right track."It's been a battle to change the culture and the mindset, but we are totally committed to our process - doing things the right way that we know will win football games,” Bloomgren said. “To get everyone over the hump to winning games, it's just a matter of doing it and keep working hard until we do it."
According to Bloomgren, finishing the season on a positive note meant a lot to both the players and the program.
“It’s a very good day for this program for so many reasons,” Bloomgren said. “Sending the seniors out in a victorious locker room, the way we wanted to…For recruiting, it’s going to be a great boost, because the reality is that today we had a bunch of seniors play their last game and played really well, and they kind of passed the torch. Cause you had seniors, and then you had a bunch of young guys making a ton of plays on that field today. And that’s a lot of fun.”
With the season over, and Rice not eligible for postseason football, the coaching staff will hit the recruiting trail in an effort to bolster the Owls roster. Football will return next fall, when the Owls open their 2019 campaign at Army University, on Friday Aug. 30.