The Rice Owls opened the 2023 football season in familiar territory, hoping to make amends for a brutal defeat from two Septembers ago. In a 2021 meeting with the Texas Longhorns in Austin, the Owls were blanked 58-0, and this time vast improvements were sought.
Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was not only a venue familiar to tenured Rice players, but also to new quarterback JT Daniels. Now on his fourth program, the journeyman quarterback started prior games in Austin as a member of USC in 2018 and with West Virginia in 2022.
But the third time was not the charm for the Daniels-led Owls. Guided by a relentless defense, the Longhorns asserted their dominance at home and left with a 37-10 victory. With the defeat, Rice still remains in search of its first season-opening win over an FBS team since 2008.
Although 0-1 is never the preferred result, Rice showed signs of promise in the four-touchdown defeat in the sweltering Texas heat. The Owls were the first team to make a mark on the scoreboard, thanks to the prowess of a veteran defense. Texas attempted a fourth and short in its own territory shortly after kickoff, and Rice forced an incompletion to take over at the 33-yard line. While the Owls failed to move the sticks, kicker Tim Horn sunk a 43-yard field goal to hand the visitors a 3-0 advantage.
That advantage was short-lived as the Longhorns flew down the field in under three minutes. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers found running back Jonathon Brooks in the flats on a designed screen, and the sophomore raced 37 yards to the house to provide Texas a 7-3 lead that would never be relinquished.
Despite never regaining the lead, Rice’s defense played commendably at times, notably in the first half where it manufactured two fourth down stops. The Longhorns entered halftime with a 16-3 lead, with Brooks’ touchdown reception signifying their only end zone appearance. With defensive tackle De’Braylon Carroll and outside linebacker Josh Pearcy causing chaos amidst the Texas offensive line, Rice managed to accumulate eight tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
While the Owls only surrendered one sack and five tackles for loss, those superior numbers don’t necessarily tell the entire story of what transpired in the trenches. Rice quarterback JT Daniels was under duress for much of the contest, and the Texas defense was credited with seven QB hurries in the decisive victory. Daniels’ first start produced a stat-line featuring 14 completions on 26 attempts, complete with 149 passing yards, one touchdown, and a pair of interceptions on consecutive second quarter drives.
That pressure, combined with the inability to establish a run game, caused Rice to only piece together one sustained scoring drive — one which concluded in Daniels connecting with wide receiver Luke McCaffrey for a 15-yard touchdown with three minutes left. Rice only amounted to 27 rushing yards on 25 attempts and no player who fielded multiple carries averaged at least 3.0 yards per attempt.
Texas’ offense out-gained Rice 458-176 in aggregate, with an especially lopsided margin in the ground game. But the aerial offense was the Longhorns’ most polished featured Saturday, as Ewers attained 260 passing yards and three touchdowns without committing a turnover. Takeaways heavily favored the Texas defense, which commandingly won the turnover battle 3-0.
While the Longhorns prepare to head east for a headliner matchup against Alabama next Saturday, the Owls return home to Houston. They’ll face their crosstown rival Cougars in the Bayou Bucket, hoping to snap a 7-game losing streak in the series.