Football ends winless streak
Rice football won its first game of the season, defeating Middle Tennessee State University 31-28 on Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Owls are 1-9 on the season and have lost 19 out of 22 games for the last two years with Mike Bloomgren at the helm. Rice now stands at No. 6 in Conference USA’s West Division.
According to Bloomgren, redshirt freshman Wiley Green was unavailable to play at quarterback against the Blue Raiders (3-7, 2-4 in C-USA) due to an unspecified injury suffered in the game against Marshall University. Graduate transfer quarterback Tom Stewart received all reps under center and delivered, completing 18 of 23 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Much of Stewart’s passing yardage came in the first half. Early in the second quarter, Rice took a 17-0 lead after Stewart’s second of three touchdown passes to junior transfer Brad Rozner. Rozner, a wide receiver, snagged eight receptions for 130 yards. Stewart said Rozner was a huge key to the victory.
“It was an incredible game by Rozner,” Stewart said. “I’m really fortunate to play with all these really talented teammates. But [Rozner] has a unique skill set and he’s someone I’m fortunate to play with.”
Although the Owls achieved zero offensive scoring production in the second half, Rice’s defense made the 31-14 halftime hold up. According to junior defensive back George Nyakwol, the defense’s worst concession came while allowing a 90-yard passing touchdown in the first half.
Nyakwol said Rice’s defense must use its improved on-field communication .
“With the guys out there on the field, you kinda know each other’s tendencies,” Nyakwol said. “Watching film of the other team, you know their tendencies as well. So you prepare for where you’re going to be if this, this and this happens. I guess it’s kinda like chess.”
Bloomgren said he feels a “monkey” coming off his back with the win. Rice last went winless in 1988, when the team finished with an 0-11 record.
“I thought we played with a ton of juice,” Bloomgren said. “Getting that first win on Saturday felt really good. I’m so proud of our players and coaches, the way they stayed in this, the way they kept fighting, preparing. To see them enjoying it in that winning locker room made it all worth it.”
According to Bloomgren, Rice won because of improved execution on offense, defense and special teams, especially in the first half.
“You really saw good production in all three phases in that first half,” Bloomgren said. “It’s the best half of football we’ve played [all season],” Bloomgren said. “I guess it makes the top three [as a Rice coach].”
Bloomgren said graduate student running back Aston Walter sealed the game with a 24-yard run on 3rd and 11 with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. According to Bloomgren, his team had room for improvement even in the win.
“Obviously, there are a few things we want to correct, and that’s great to have those when you have a winning locker room you can walk into this room on Monday and still talk about all those things we need to correct and how the process doesn’t change,” Bloomgren said. “Treat victory and defeat as the imposters that they are.”
The Owls next face the University of North Texas, which holds a 4-6 overall record and 3-3 mark against Conference USA foes and sits at fifth place in C-USA West, one place above Rice. According to Stewart, the Owls do not feel like underdogs.
“I think there’s definitely a boost to morale and everyone is thinking we can [win],” Stewart said.
UNT boasts the No. 3 ranked scoring offense in C-USA. According to Bloomgren, UNT quarterback Mason Fine poses problems for Rice’s defense.
“When you watch the film, it’s not too much different than last year in terms of the talented guys that [UNT] have on the field,” Bloomgren said. “We’re going to prepare for [quarterback Mason Fine] because we think he’s as good as it gets in this conference.”
Rice now needs one more victory to reach its total from last season.
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