After jumping out to a 16-0 lead to start the game, the Rice Owls needed some late-game heroics as Jack Fox nailed a 23-yard field goal at the buzzer to give Rice a 31-28 victory over Prairie View A&M.
The “intellectual brutality” era started on a good note as Austin Walter and Emmanuel Esukpa, each rushed for a touchdown in the first quarter. Walter and Esukpa finished with a combined 256 yards and three touchdowns and looked great.
During the end of the David Bailiff era, quarterback play was a huge concern and it carried over to start the Bloomgren era. Jackson Tyner and surprise starter Shawn Stankavage failed to pass over 100 yards, as both struggled with decision making and accuracy. If Walter and Esukpa didn’t have career games tonight, the Owls might have started 2018 with a loss.
Considering Prairie View A&M was a 21-point underdog, Rice fans have to be a bit disappointed that the Owls couldn’t put away a lower-tier FCS team. A&M outscored Rice 28-3 during a stretch in the second and third quarter in large part due to the play of Tristen Wallace at receiver. Wallace had five catches for 147 yards and one touchdown and looked much bigger than Rice’s defensive backs.
Rice was projected to have a defense that would struggle this season but even tonight’s performance was a surprise. Thankfully, punter/kicker Jack Fox was amazing. The all-conference punter had four of his five punts downed inside the 20-yard line with two downed inside the 10, giving the Owls a huge field position advantage in a game where their defense struggled to get off the field.
With the win, Rice has already matched last year’s win total. While I’m sure Rice fans would have liked a blowout, patience must be high in Mike Bloomgren’s first season.