Rice football faces a tough task against the Houston Cougars, but the Bayou Bucket can be won if the Owls stick to their key principals.
If you’ve had the chance to listen to Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren talk about his philosophy at all you’ve heard this phrase roll off his lips: “pound the rock, control the clock and play great defense.” That’s how Stanford built their dominant teams and that’s how he envisions success with Rice.
Aspects of each of those tenants were present in the win over Prairie View. There were times when the Owls did each of those things extremely well, they just weren’t consistent enough to pull away. Consistency, plus a new wrinkle or two, will give this team a fighting chance on Saturday.
1. Pound the rock
Emmanuel Esupka ran for 173 yards against Prairie View and Bloogrem called it “a good day for him, but not a great day for him”. Esupka is going to have a tough time running up the middle against defensive tackle Ed Oliver, so the Owls are going to have to get creative when it comes to checking this box against Houston.
Expected an increased role for Austin Walters and Aston Walters against the Cougars. Getting to the edge will enable the Owls to neutralize the interior of the defensive line. Playmakers in space create opportunities and opportunities lead to points.
2. Control the clock
Rice knocked this objective out of the park last weekend. The Owls registered 39:39 minutes of possession, limiting the opportunities for the Prairie View offense. Dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King is going to be even more difficult to contain than Prairie View’s Jalen Morton.
The same can be said for his downfield abilities as well. Houston doesn’t have a receiver the caliber of Tristen Wallace, who torched the Rice secondary for 147 yards receiving and one touchdown. Still, the concerns exposed against Prairie View make extended opportunities for the Houston passing attack a daunting proposition.
3. Play great defense
The safety on a botched punt was a stroke of luck, but the fumble forced late in the second half was the most important defensive play of the game for the Owls. The win probability flipped from Prairie View to Rice on that play and the Owls’ comeback bid would have been extremely more difficult without that big defensive play.
Houston is favored by more than three touchdowns. If Rice wants to win the Bayou Bucket they’re going to have to win the turnover battle, and win it in convincing fashion. The recipe really might be this simple: pound the rock, control the clock and play great defense.