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Owls soar past Golden Hurricanes over weekend

Junior running back Dean Connors leaps in for a touchdown against the University of Tulsa on Thursday evening. The Rice Owls defeated the Golden Hurricanes 42-10 to move to 4-3 on the season. Courtesy Mark Moore - Rice Athletics

By Pavithr Goli     10/25/23 12:05am

On the backdrop of a picturesque sunset last Thursday evening in Tulsa, the Rice Owls defeated the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane 42-10 to improve to 4-3 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. The Owls’ 32-point victory, which was the biggest margin of victory for Rice against conference opposition since 2013, was mainly led by graduate transfer quarterback JT Daniels who threw for 342 passing yards and three total touchdowns and junior running back Dean Connors who rushed for a career-high 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns. 

Head coach Mike Bloomgren was happy with how his team handled their loss against the University of Connecticut and came out of their bye week ready to win on Thursday evening. 

“I’m really proud of how this team bounced back,” Bloomgren said. “I’m proud of how they attacked the bye week, in totality. The results that they got tonight from sticking together and playing incredibly hard within the system and making special plays when special plays were there to be made. I am incredibly proud of the guys.” 

Receiving the kickoff to start the game, the Owls’ offense recorded a three-and-out on their first possession. The Owls’ defense made an immediate imprint on the game after junior safety Gabriel Taylor recorded an interception on Tulsa’s second play of the game. Taking advantage of the turnover, the Owls’ offense scored on a Connors 54-yard touchdown run. 

Looking to respond, the Golden Hurricanes drove the ball deep into the Owls’ endzone. However, Rice’s defense made a big stop on a crucial Tulsa fourth down to give the ball back to the Owls’ offense. After an offensive three-and-out, the Owls’ defense forced their second turnover of the quarter after redshirt sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jean sacked the Tulsa quarterback, forcing a fumble. 

Recovering the ball near midfield, Daniels and his offense took advantage of the field position and scored after Daniels connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Luke McCaffrey on a 32-yard touchdown to put the Owls up 14-0. McCaffrey, who recorded his seventh touchdown of the season Thursday night, now ranks second in the American Athletic Conference in receiving touchdowns.  

The Owls’ defense continued to stymie the Tulsa offense throughout the first quarter after recording their third turnover of the game when redshirt junior outside linebacker Josh Pearcy sacked the Tulsa signal caller to force another fumble. Despite getting the ball back, the Owls did not capitalize on the turnover, ending the quarter with a 14-0 advantage. 

Tulsa kicked a field goal on their second possession of the quarter. Failing to respond to Tulsa’s first score of the game, the Owls’ offense punted the ball on their next possession. 

With the momentum swinging slightly toward the Golden Hurricanes, Tulsa used several chunk plays, including a 30-yard passing touchdown to make the score 14-10, cutting the Owls’ lead to four. The Rice offense responded on their next possession. Daniels completed four out of his five pass attempts, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Landon Ransom-Goelz as the Owls took a 21-10 lead into the half. 

Bloomgren applauded his defense for forcing several turnovers and stopping the Tulsa offense. 

“The three turnovers in the first half, and really four if you count that fourth-down stop, that was everything we emphasized,” Bloomgren said. “When you get a result that we did today, that is very rewarding. That’s why the game was what it was. That’s why the game was 21-10 at halftime, because of those three turnovers.” 

The Owls continued their offensive and defensive domination into the third quarter as they gained 166 offensive yards while holding the Golden Hurricane’s offense to just nine. The Owls’ defense forced two three-and-outs in the quarter, while the Owls’ offense constructed two separate touchdown drives that resulted in an eight yard Daniels rushing touchdown and a two yard Connors rushing touchdown, giving the Owls a 35-10 advantage to end the quarter.

The Tulsa offense attempted to construct a scoring drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter before the Owls’ defense forced a Tulsa punt. The Owls’ responded with a drive that culminated in a 10 yard Connors rushing touchdown to put the Owls up 42-10. A three-and-out by the Golden Hurricanes on their next drive secured the Owls’ victory. 

Bloomgren said he was satisfied with how his offense closed out the game.

“The other thing that I am super proud of is this offense getting the ball at the minus 4 and having a 14 play, nine minute 56 second drive,” Bloomgren said. “That’s what dreams are made of and that’s how you close out games.”

Next up, the Owls host No. 22 Tulane University, the defending Cotton Bowl champion, Saturday, Oct. 28 at Rice Stadium with the Owls kicking off at 3 p.m. The game will broadcast on ESPN2. 

Despite this big win against a conference opponent, Taylor said he is aware of the challenge that lies ahead and is eager for more success. 

“We are of course excited, but we are definitely not satisfied,” Taylor said. “We want more. We are just ready for Tulane next week. It’s a big game, a big challenge, but we are ready for it.” 

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