Rice hoping for next C-USA win
Despite a 1-4 record, Rice has run off seven consecutive Conference USA victories dating back to last season and will try to extend its streak to eight against Houston on Saturday.
The Bayou Bucket battle between the Owls and Cougars has historically favored Houston, which leads the series 24-9.
But Rice (1-0 C-USA) has played Houston (2-3, 1-1 C-USA) close in the past few years. Since 2004, the Owls are 1-2 against the Cougars, losing 31-30 last season.
Rice stumbled to a 0-4 start this season, identical to its start from a season ago. The Owls captured their first win with a 31-29 decision over C-USA rival Southern Miss 31-29 on Oct. 3, but the games preceding that were nightmarish.
The Owls dropped a close 16-14 decision to Nicholls State, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) school, in the season opener.
However, the Owls’ performance became progressively worse as they dropped their next three games to Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas by scores of 42-17, 59-24 and 58-14, respectively.
Rice junior wide receiver Jarett Dillard had an outstanding 2006 campaign, but has struggled under first-year head coach David Bailiff.
After five games last season, Dillard had three 100-yard games, 38 receptions and seven touchdowns.
By comparison, Dillard has not had a 100-yard game so far this season. He enters Saturday’s game with 21 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Bailiff’s strategy to utilize Dillard is simple.
"We’re going to keep throwing him the ball and try and get him down the field to get him more involved in what we’re doing," Bailiff said.
Bailiff took over for current Tulsa head coach Todd Graham, who took Rice to its first bowl appearance in 45 years in 2006, and knows what kind of pressure there is to not only to beat Houston, but also to win every time the Owls step onto the field.
"Rice is just like Houston; we go into every game expecting to win. These young men are the same. They’re going to work hard and give it their all on Saturday and the pressure comes from within – our boosters and fans want to win too," Bailiff said.
The biggest task for a first-year head coach is implementing his own system, and teams tend to struggle.
The Owls have allowed 204 points while only putting up 100 this season.
"The obvious challenge has been really to get to know these young men and installing our new defense terminology," Bailiff said. "We’re very similar on what we do on offense, but the terminology is a little different.
"We started slow but we’ve played hard each week and we continue to improve. I think we get some days back this week, with a Wednesday game (a 31-29 win over Southern Miss) and I think that’s going to help us a lot."
With all that’s going on with his team, Bailiff has not forgotten about the Cougars.
He knows that Houston can hit big plays at any given moment, and he knows what kind of threats senior running back Anthony Alridge and senior wide receiver Donnie Avery can be.
"You better have your alignment and assignments precise and not make any mistakes because the way Art spreads it out, if someone is misaligned then they can go the distance. We have to run a very disciplined defense and make sure your field distribution is correct or they can score from anywhere on the field," Bailiff said.