Tipped passes, turnovers, and tackling woes doom the Owls in their season opener against No. 14 USC.

At the very least, they could be the answer to a trivia question someday. Rice football fell to No. 14 University of Southern California 66-14 in its season opener on Saturday. But, if new Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley can return the team to its former glory, perhaps some lucky fan ten years from now will win a round of shots for the table by remembering that his first opponent was the Owls.

Despite the final score, Rice, a 33-point underdog, kept the game close for the majority of the first half.

“That did not go the way we expected or wanted it to,” Bloomgren explained. “I thought we started the game well, fighting back and forth and making some good plays.” Obviously, they have a potent offense… I suppose they’ll do that to a lot of people.”

The Trojans took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 43-yard third-down completion, to score the game’s first touchdown, led by a potential Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Caleb Williams, a prized transfer Riley brought with him from the University of Oklahoma.

Rice responded by drawing the attention of the 60,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a 16-play drive that nearly took up the entire rest of the first quarter. Green found redshirt junior wide receiver Luke McCaffrey, who was playing his first game since switching positions from quarterback, twice on third and long to keep the drive alive. McCaffrey’s third catch of the drive gave the Owls a first-and-goal opportunity at the USC seven-yard line, but the Trojans held firm, tackling McCaffrey inches shy of the goal line three plays later to force a fourth down. Bloomgren took a chance with his offense, and redshirt junior running back Ari Broussard scored from one yard out.

The Owl defense forced a third and long on the next drive, but Williams hit receiver Kyron Hudson on a crossing route for 29 yards to extend the drive, and running back Austin Jones scored three plays later. Rice quickly faced a third-and-three on their next possession, but a pass interference penalty on Green’s incompletion to redshirt senior wide receiver Bradley Rozner was overturned on review, forcing Rice to punt for the first time in the game. The Trojans took advantage and doubled their lead in four plays.

Cameron Montgomery, a redshirt senior running back, nearly cut the lead back to seven yards on the first play of the next drive, when he gashed the Trojan defense for 55 yards up the middle. Montgomery’s seven-yard run moved the Owls to the USC 13-yard line, but an incompletion and one-yard run forced a fourth-and-two. Bloomgren gambled again, but this time the outcome was very different. Green rolled left off a play-fake and found McCaffrey wide open in the flat for the first down, but the ball bounced off his hands and into the hands of USC defensive back Caleb Bullock, who returned it 93 yards for the score.

To make matters worse for the Owls, Green injured his arm while attempting to tackle Bullock on his way to the endzone and would not return for the rest of the game. According to Bloomgren, losing Green, as well as Montgomery, who would leave the game at halftime, slowed their offensive production.

“We were doing some fantastic things,” Bloomgren said. “At halftime, we were averaging seven [yards] per carry.” When you lose your starting quarterback and a runner who rushed for 99 yards in the first half, the game changes for us offensively.”

The Owls appeared to have been held to a fourth down early in the next drive with junior TJ McMahon at quarterback for Green, but a review revealed a targeting penalty that extended the drive. The next play, Mongomery repeated the trick with a 31-yard run to put Rice in the red zone, and Broussard capped the drive with his second touchdown of the day to pull Rice within 14 seconds of halftime. Rice’s defense forced one of the game’s only two fourth downs in the final seconds, limiting USC to a field goal and sending the game into halftime down 17.

Redshirt senior guard Shea Baker was pleased with his team’s response to the turnover heading into the half.

Baker stated, “We were playing well.” “The first pick-six was adversity, but we were prepared to overcome it.”

That confidence vanished within the first few minutes of the second half. McMahon’s pass bounced off the hands of an open Rozner, right to USC linebacker Shane Lee, who outran McMahon to the endzone three plays into the third quarter. Only three plays later, McMahon was hit while throwing, and his pass was intercepted by USC linebacker Ralen Goforth, who, not to be outdone by his teammates, returned it for a touchdown.

Rice’s offense came to a halt after falling behind 52-14, punting or turning the ball over on downs on each of their remaining possessions. USC added another touchdown before resting their starters. Rice did force one punt against the Trojans’ second team, but they also gave up another touchdown, bringing the final score to 66-14. Rice’s defense, according to graduate safety George Nyakwol, was prepared for what USC threw at them; they just didn’t perform.

“Lincoln Riley stayed true to his [blue] print,” Nyakwol explained. “These guys were unquestionably beatable. They did nothing noteworthy. We were really hard on ourselves.”

To paraphrase a popular infomercial, but wait, there’s more. Four plays later, a McMahon pass bounced off Rozner’s hands and was intercepted by defensive back Xamarion Gordon for USC’s third interception in under four minutes. This one wasn’t returned for a touchdown, but USC scored for the seventh time two minutes later to put the game out of reach.

“To say things snowballed is probably an understatement,” Bloomgren explained.

The Owls will now travel to Houston for their home opener against McNeese State University on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Bloomgren believes the team showed enough flashes this week to give him confidence that they can rebound against the Cowboys. Bloomgren stated, “I don’t see anything as terminal.” “I’m not going to give up on this [game], in fact, as soon as I get back, I’m going to work on McNeese and move forward.” I still believe we are a very, very good football team, and I believe we demonstrated that in spurts today but not for the entire game.”