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Wednesday, December 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Owls drowned by the Green Wave in latest AAC loss

Junior tight end Boden Groen catches his first career touchdown against the No.22 Tulane Green Wave this past weekend. The Owls lost 30-28 to the Green Wave to fall to 4-4 on the season. Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Andersen Pickard     11/1/23 1:09am

“We came up short” has become an all-too-familiar refrain for Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren, who uttered this four-word statement again following a 30-28 loss to the No. 22 Tulane Green Wave on Saturday evening at Rice Stadium. The defeat dropped the Owls to 4-4 on the season.

It didn’t take long for Rice to fall behind against the Green Wave, who entered Saturday with an AAC-best 6-1 record, undefeated in conference play. Tulane’s running back broke free for a 43-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, setting up a field goal. They got the ball back moments later on a punt and quickly delivered again, this time completing a 38-yard pass as a result of Rice defense’s blown coverage. Shortly thereafter, the Owls’ secondary surrendered a 26-yard touchdown pass, digging an early 10-0 deficit. The Green Wave had scored 10 points on just nine plays over the course of four minutes. 

The Owls did find success on their second offensive drive, moving 82 yards down the field over the course of seven plays and roughly four minutes. The possession concluded with a five-yard touchdown rush from senior running back Juma Otoviano to put Rice on the board.

Tulane answered with a one-yard touchdown rush, aided by a pass interference call against Rice  junior safety Gabriel Taylor to extend the drive. The Green Wave found the end zone again on their next possession, then picked off Rice graduate quarterback JT Daniels to set up a field goal, giving Tulane a 27-7 lead going into halftime.

The Owls’ first-half struggles on offense had created several opportunities for Tulane to score points, much to the frustration of Bloomgren.

“Offensively, we went three-and-out three times in the first half,” Bloomgren said. “That’s not helping anybody. We had one guy screwing it up every time, every down. That’s no way to play offense.”

Rice relied heavily on the ground game to open the second half. Junior running back Dean Connors converted a pair of third downs to keep the offense on the field while Otoviano broke off a 21-yard gain and three-yard touchdown.

The Owls’ defense came up with a key play on the ensuing Tulane drive when Taylor picked off the Green Wave quarterback and returned the ball 72 yards, giving Rice great field position. Daniels then connected with a diving Boden Groen for the junior tight end’s first career receiving touchdown.

In the early minutes of the fourth quarter, Tulane converted a 43-yard field goal. This kick was crucial for the Green Wave as it gave them a two-possession lead over the Owls, who haven’t achieved a fourth-quarter comeback since Oct. 22, 2022. 

In an attempt to change that fact, Daniels and the Owls led a scoring drive that culminated in a 35-yard strike to junior wide receiver Luke McCaffrey. With the catch, McCaffrey moved into seventh place among the Owls’ all-time touchdown reception leaders. Daniels praised the receiver for his ability to make big plays at key moments.

“When there’s the right time for it, you know he’s going to be there,” Daniels said.

As Rice’s defense took the field with less than nine minutes remaining, the goal was simple: Stop Tulane and get the ball back in Daniels’ hands.

“Everybody is fighting and competing,” Bloomgren said. “We’re just trying to find a way to get one more stop. That’s what championship programs do.”

However, the Rice defense failed to meet its head coach’s expectations. Tulane generated one of their most thorough and productive drives of the contest, draining more than eight minutes. The 16-play series included 11 rushing attempts and a late fourth-down conversion.

Although the lengthy possession didn’t result in points for the Green Wave, it left just four seconds on the clock for Rice to manufacture a miracle. The Owls’ effort failed as time expired, closing the book on a 30-28 loss.

The defeat dropped Rice football to 2-2 in conference play and was the program’s first loss to Tulane since 2010.

“I really felt like we had turned the tide and we were going to find a way to win this thing, but we came up short,” Bloomgren said. “They got it done, we didn’t. I thought it was a great game and we’ve got a lot to learn and grow from.

“With these guys, if they fight and play the way they’re capable of, there’s no team on this schedule I think we cannot beat,” Bloomgren said. “I believe we can win every game left.”

The Owls’ next game is against another AAC foe, the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, fresh off a 69-10 victory against the University of Tulsa. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Rice Stadium. The contest will air live on ESPNU, putting Rice on national television for the third consecutive week. 

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