Stop me if you've heard this before. Rice beating Rice. The little mistakes leading to big plays. The Owls thought they could win the game. Then stop me if you've heard this before. The Owls come out slow, fall behind by a huge amount, rally, then fall way short in defeat.
The college football season opened for the Rice Owls last night. And shockingly, the Owls lost 49-24 to the UCLA Bruins. The loss wasn't shocking; this is the Owls, after all. And the way in which the Owls lost wasn't shocking either.
It's the same thing from game to game. From season to season. The defense gets burned on a big play. The offense commits a turnover. The coaching staff doesn't make adjustments at the half. The team has to crawl out of a large hole largely of its own making. And in the end, the hole's just too large for the Owls to climb out. This time, the Owls were down 19-0 with 8:28 to go in the first quarter. They crawled back into the game, getting to within 19-17 early in the second quarter only to see the wheels fall off again.
The halftime score was 35-24 UCLA. The score after the third quarter was 35-24. But UCLA was able to tack on 14 more points in the fourth quarter and the Owls, who failed to adjust to changes UCLA made at halftime with their defensive approach, found themselves unable to do much of anything on offense.
"Early in [the game]," Rice coach David Bailiff said, "they were giving us lots of blitz checks they were able to take advantage of. They really calmed down defensively [in the second half] and instead of being so aggressive, wanted to make us earn some things."
And the Owls weren't able to earn those things.
Houston Cougars fans probably found the game to be of more interest than the near nonexistent crowd at Rice Stadium as the Cougars will be facing UCLA in three weeks. The Bruins came into this game with a new head coach, Jim Mora Jr., a new coaching staff and a new quarterback, redshirt freshman Brett Hundley.
And on Hundley's first play from scrimmage, he went on what should have been a short rush for a gain. But the Rice defense didn't make the plays, and Hundley ended up scampering 72 yards for the touchdown. He also threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
"I thought he did nice at times," Mora said of Hundley. "Then, there were some times when he was a little hesitant." But the star of the game for UCLA, and the player the Cougars will have to most watch out for, was running back Johnathan Franklin. Franklin rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns on only 15 rushes. Two of Franklin's TDs were on runs of 74 and 78 yards. The third TD only came off of a 22-yard run. And while it's a new coaching staff for the Cougars and a new defensive philosophy, the Cougars of the past several years have been prone to letting running backs break long runs.
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Of course, how much of Franklin's big rushing day was due to his ability and how much was due to the Rice defense is another matter. The Owls said Franklin's runs, and Hundley's opening TD, were the results of poor communication among the players. Or as it's commonly known, Rice beating Rice, and Bailiff said the Owls had prepared for the plays on which UCLA scored.
"Those were plays we worked on," he said. "We have to make sure we're communicating better defensively. It's been a point of emphasis, our communication. When offenses go fast, we have to have the ability to stay fundamentally sound. A lot of those things were in the end down to a tackle. It is the little things that are leading to these plays."
So the Owls are 0-1 on the season. Just as they were 0-1 at the start of last season, and 0-1 the season before that, and 0-1 the season before that. They face Kansas next week, and the Owls think they should be able to win. Just like they thought they should have been able to win last night. But as long as the Owls are going to give up big plays off of little mistakes, as long as they're going to keep digging huge holes out of which they must climb, then thinking they can win the game may be about all that they're capable of doing.