Cougars look to claw Owls
When the Cougars face the Rice Owls in the battle for the Bayou Bucket on Saturday at Robertson Stadium, it won’t just be about winning or losing; it’s about bragging rights.
These two teams left it all on the field in last season’s thriller. A heavily favored Houston team was forced to score 14 points in the fourth quarter to take the 31-30 victory in its first game of the season.
This year, Houston is coming off two close losses while Rice is following its only victory of the season against Southern Miss last week.
Senior nose tackle Tate Stewart said it is critical for Houston to get off to a faster start than it has the last two weeks to avoid being in a come-from-behind situation again.
"We have to put more energy (into the first half). Teams have to understand from the first snap on that they’re not even supposed to be on the field with us," Stewart said. "We haven’t done that the past couple times."
Houston has had more time to prepare for the game against Rice this year.
Saturday’s game is the third Conference USA game for the Cougars and the first of six consecutive games against C-USA opponents.
"A year ago we didn’t have much to go on before we played them prior to the game," head coach Art Briles said. "So really all we had to go on was our game, because we didn’t study them throughout the season."
Rice’s returning players include junior quarterback Chase Clement, who had two touchdown passes against Southern Miss last week, and wide receivers senior Joel Armstrong and junior Jarett Dillard.
Briles said that playing against some of the same Owls from last year will be beneficial in preparing for this season’s game.
"They are still a one-back zone kind of option football team," Briles said. "They throw the ball. It’s still Clement (throwing) to Armstrong. And Clement still throws to Dillard, and that isn’t going to change."
Rice has also, for the most part, stuck to the same game plan as last year, Briles said.
"Schematically, offensively (there’s) not a lot of difference," Briles said. "Defensively, of course, going from the 3-3 to the 4-2-5 is a little different schematic process for them."
A 4-2-5 defense will be harder to run against because of the extra pressure up front, but despite the changes in the Rice defensive formation, the Cougars are confident that they can handle whatever the Owls throw their way.
Houston’s offense, which is ranked 17th in the nation, puts up 467.6 yards per game.
The Cougars are ranked second in C-USA defensively, allowing 360.8 total yards per game.
The defense has played consistently throughout the season, giving the Cougars scoring opportunities by making crucial stops late in the game, as was evident against both East Carolina on Sept. 29 and Alabama on Saturday.
Senior wide receiver Jeron Harvey said that head strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson trains the Cougars to play with the same intensity for the entire game.
"Once we go in at halftime and understand more about the team and we really know what they can do, we know how to handle it," Harvey said "From working out coach Jackson style, we still have energy in the second half when other teams are wearing down, so we’ll still be (at the) same level as first half."
Harvey said that the Cougars will relish playing at home after two tough weeks and crave to give the fans a win.
"I’m excited the fans are going to come out for this game, but I’ll be twice as excited after we win," Harvey said. "Until then, we’ve got to work. We all know what we have to do by any means necessary."