They shared strikingly similar résumés.
The Rice Owls and Tulsa Golden Hurricane both entered Thursday night’s contest with equivalent 3-3 records and 1-1 marks in conference play. Both were fresh off a bye week, hoping to shake off their most recent loss from 12 days ago.
However, what transpired on the gridiron was anything but equivalence between the AAC opponents. From the first possession of the night until the final whistle, Rice thoroughly dominated Tulsa, escaping the road environment with a 42-10 annihilation in what proved to be the Owls’ most complete game of the season. The 32-point margin of victory is Rice’s largest against an FBS opponent since 2013.
“They were awesome,” Bloomgren said. “They were fun to be around all week. They were locked in and focused today. You know it’s hard to be in a hotel on a Thursday night game. You don’t wake up and watch College GameDay. You don’t sit there in your room and watch other games. You’ve got a 6 o’clock kickoff, you’ve got a lot of time to think about yourself. Sometimes I think it’s good. Sometimes I think it’s bad, but they used it for good today.”
Rice stumbled to its third loss of the season two weeks ago when hosting winless UConn. The Owls stormed out to an immediate 14-0 lead, but a commanding 4-0 deficit in the turnover battle contributed to a UConn comeback and the Huskies stunned Rice, 38-31. Reclaiming the edge in the turnover battle was Rice’s No. 1 priority after that debacle, and that’s exactly what unfolded. The Owls won the turnover battle 3-0 in a defining statistic of Thursday night’s contest.
On Tulsa’s opening possession, quarterback Braylon Braxton threw across his body and Rice strong safety Gabe Taylor swooped in, high-pointed the ball, and snatched it for his first interception of the year. On the ensuing drive, the unit forced a critical fourth down stop 10 yards away from the goal line as safety Plae Wyatt applied ample pressure to force a significant incompletion.
“We were definitely pissed off,” Taylor said. “We came to practice Monday, Tuesday — we didn’t talk until Wednesday. That’s how upset we were when we lost to UConn. This week, we proved a point... We came into the game with the mindset we were gonna get plus-two (in the turnover battle) this game and we got three.”
On the following two Golden Hurricane drives, the Owls cranked the dial on the turnover production. Jonathan Jean, in his first game back from injury, flew in unblocked on a safety blitz to send the ball flying from quarterback Cardell Williams’ hand. Defensive tackle De’Braylon Carroll scooped it up for Rice’s second takeaway of the opening quarter. Three Tulsa snaps later, it was déjà vu for both teams. Josh Pearcy rocked Williams behind the line of scrimmage and jarred the ball loose into the hands of Myron Morrison.
“There were so many cool things in the first half with our defense, but the three turnovers in the first half — really four if you count that fourth down stop — that was everything we emphasized,” Bloomgren said. “We know that as coaches, we know we get what we emphasize because we got great kids and we’ve got kids that are conscientious. So when we drill it and talk it and talk about turnovers and how we gotta get more turnovers and how we gotta protect the football, and then you get a result like we did today, that’s really rewarding.”
Rice’s defense claimed a 3-0 takeaway advantage in the first quarter alone, in addition to manufacturing a fourth down red zone stop. The Owls’ offense took advantage of that litany of opportunities, cashing in with a pair of touchdowns for an early 14-0 lead. Running back Dean Connors initiated the scoring effort with a 54-yard sprint to follow Taylor’s interception. And Carroll’s fumble recovery was answered with a perfectly placed 24-yard delivery from quarterback JT Daniels to wide receiver Luke McCaffrey. Thanks to another dominant start, Rice is now out-scoring opponents 90-13 in first quarters this season.
Tulsa, which constantly flipped between Braxton and Williams at quarterback throughout the night, briefly staged a second quarter comeback. The combination of Braxton’s mobility and Williams’ arm piled on 10 unanswered points to disrupt the Owls’ comfortable lead. But with 1:14 remaining in the half, Rice altered the trajectory of the game once again. Daniels completed 4-of-5 passes for 74 yards in a quick and efficient 36-yard drive, finishing the sequence with a 17-yard connection to true freshman Landon Ransom-Goelz to establish a 21-10 halftime lead.
“I really felt like our offense did a few things to shoot itself in the foot in the second quarter, so I thought it was awesome for us to come and have that drive, have that response,” Bloomgren said. “JT was spectacular on that drive and I think our protection was really really good on that drive too. Guys made plays on the perimeter.”
The momentum generated from Rice’s late second quarter drive sustained throughout the entirety of the third. The Owls overwhelmingly controlled the clock in that period, hogging the ball for 11:33 of the 15 minutes and notching two touchdowns to bolster their advantage to an insurmountable one. They out-gained Tulsa 166-9 in the third quarter alone and converted all five third down attempts to keep the sticks moving. Meanwhile, the Golden Hurricane only saw four second half possessions and three concluded in three-and-out fashion.
“Our defense didn’t have many plays and they helped themselves,” Bloomgren said. “They got off the field on those conversion downs that Tulsa had. That’s what we talk about. We didn’t sign up for 30 minutes of good football. We didn’t sign up for 45 minutes. We signed up for 60, so to close out the game that way was freaking awesome.”
Everything went right for the Rice to the point where Daniels recorded a rare rushing touchdown. The 8-yard scramble was just the second time Daniels scored as a runner in his 6-year college career. His only other rushing touchdown was a 1-yard QB sneak when he suited up for West Virginia last September.
“I was on the other side of the field and I heard one of the defenders say, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’” Connors said. “I had the same reaction. I was so happy that he got to score. We probably won't hear the end of JT saying he got a rushing touchdown.”
Daniels attained 332 yards as a passer to register his fourth 300-yard game since transferring to Rice. He heated up as the game progressed and completed 14 of his final 15 passes. The veteran quarterback also added two touchdown strikes, notably helping Rice remain turnover-free for the second time against FBS competition this year.
“That two-minute drive is when it really seemed to click,” Bloomgren said. “That’s us going back to what we run in two-minute is our day one, two, and three install plays. They’re not complicated. They’re kind of mindless. As long as he gets protection, he knows where to go with the football. Once we got that rhythm, I felt really good about things. Then to come out in the third quarter and have those big third down conversions and ability to move the sticks, I’m really pleased and happy with how he finished.”
Other standouts in the skill position group included McCaffrey, who recorded 99 yards on six receptions and Connors, who saw a monstrous performance from the running back spot. He became Rice’s first 100-yard rusher of 2023 with 120 yards, complemented by a career-high three touchdowns — including a short-yardage dive from the goal line where he emulated Walter Payton.
“I watched a human catapult highlight film of Walter Payton,” Connors said. “Surprisingly enough, there’s some technique that goes into it. The greatest running back of all-time I think — I learned a couple of things and I put it on the field.”
The evisceration at Chapman Stadium was Rice’s most lopsided road conference win since 2003. By dropping 42 points on the Golden Hurricane, the Owls also tied their highest scoring output in conference play in the past seven years. It was a momentum-shifting win Rice desperately craved, situating itself at 4-3 on the season and 2-1 in the league standings.
“It’s a big win for us. We’re of course excited, but we’re definitely not satisfied,” Taylor said. “We want more. We’re 4-3. It’s a good record, but we know we’re not supposed to be here. We’re just ready for Tulane next week.”