Year one of the Mike Bloomgren era at Rice is in the books. The Owls finished 2-11, bookending wins over Prairie View and Old Dominion around eleven consecutive losses. Let’s put the season on the examination and see what went right and what didn’t for the 2018 Owls.
What Went Right
The biggest take away from the 2018 Rice season was how many young players played significant minutes for the Owls. Juma Otoviano, Wiley Green, Prudy Calderon, and Treshawn Chamberlain all played significant minutes in their first year on campus. If nothing else, that put Bloomgren’s stamp on the program. The Owls also played several first-year offensive linemen including Cole Garcia who is a mauler.
Sophomores Austin Trammell and Aaron Cephus showed flashes at receiver. Trammell caught almost everything thrown his direction, grabbing 62 receptions on the year. Cephus caught 40 passes and five touchdowns. Keep in mind that last season Cephus led all Rice receivers with 25 catches.
Grad transfer Shawn Stankavage played admirably at quarterback. He gave the Owls the best chance to win, but injuries cut into his season. Green saw action near the end of the season and looked up for the part; another offseason should help him as the odds-on favorite to start in 2019. Senior Austin Walter had a three-game run of 200 plus all-purpose yards.
On defense JUCO transfer Blaze Alldredge made an impact after moving into the starting rotation in the second half of the season. He finished second on the team with 65 tackles. Calderon and Chamberlain are cornerstone type defenders. Calderon is a ball hawk who stepped right and made big plays for the Owls late in the season. He picked off four passes and broke up seven others.
Zach Abercrumbia had a solid junior season as on the interior of the defensive front. Elijah Garcia exceeded expectations as well and really developed late in the year. At 6-5 and just south of 300 pounds Garcia is a handful.
Punter Jack Fox was an All-Conference selection at punter and was Rice’s best defensive weapon for most of the year, pinning opponents back and flipping the field.
What Went Wrong
Simply put, Rice wasn’t good enough. The Owls weren't good enough to sustain offensive efficiency, and they weren’t good enough to get consistent stops on defense. The Owl offense was non-existent for large portions of the season. Rice lost four consecutive conference games where they put up less than 300 yards of total offense. In those losses, opponents outscored the Owls 149 to 37.
Rice attempted 490 rushes while averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Only three teams rushed more times with less to show for their efforts (one was Texas). After averaging nearly five yards in August and September, the Owls rushing game fell off the map in those crucial October conference games, dropping to less than 2.5 yards a carry.
On standard downs, i.e., first and ten, second and seven or less, and third and four or less, Rice’s success rate ranked 126th. For a team stemming their offense off a power running attack and staying ahead of the chains, those numbers were an anchor that pulled Rice under.
By contrast, the Owls gave up nearly five yards a carry and ranked 122 in opposing quarterback rating. The secondary gave up the most yards in CUSA and almost ten yards per attempt. If teams weren’t grinding out yardage, they were picking it up in chunks. Rice gave up a conference-worst 78 plays of 20-yards or more.
While Rice’s quarterback play improved over a disastrous 2017, the Owls still don’t have an efficient signal caller to run the offense. Rice threw more interceptions than touchdowns for the second straight year, and while better, the completion percentage fell below the national average.
In a lot of ways, this was a year zero for Bloomgren and Rice as he transitions Rice from a spread based system to a pro-style scheme. Eventually, if Bloomgren can fit the right pieces together, that change will pay off. If you’re a CUSA opponent, you’ll prepare for some version of the spread ten or eleven weeks out of the year. Most will play some nickel or other coverage package and deal with a zone blocking scheme 80% of their defensive snaps. Preparing for Rice is different, and if the Owls can become more efficient, they’ll be an outlier and more challenging to prepare for.
Service Academies have used that preparation void to their advantage as opponents prepare for the flexbone.
Checking our Work
In our season preview, we predicted two to three wins for the Owls. We even predicted the wins. Nailed it. You should feel sorry about all those things you said about us.
For Bloomgren and his staff this will be their first recruiting class assembled with a near full recruiting cycle. The Owls are set to put together one of their better classes in recent memory. As big, if not bigger, is to win the offseason and put some meat on his young linemen.
The Owls assembled a solid coaching staff, keeping guys like Pete Lembo, Brian Smith, and the rest in the fold is important for continuity and development.