The Bayou Bucket Showdown wasn’t really a showdown at all.
Rice surrendered 38 points in the first half to a potent Houston offense, led by 300 yards passing from Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen. 12 Houston receivers caught a pass as the Owls’ defense struggled against an up-tempo Cougars attack that often featured four- and five-wide receiver sets.
Rice senior linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee was among the players who were frustrated with the defensive effort.
“The defense gave away way too many opportunities,” Ellerbee said. “They tried to spread us out by getting our defensive linemen to run and forcing our defensive backs to man up, which we didn’t do. Even the linebackers didn’t get out and contain. As coach said, we weren’t the more physical team and they punched us in the mouth.”
Rice received the opening kickoff and started their first drive with a 20 yard pitch-and-catch to running back Samuel Stewart from redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Glaesmann. Houston responded by forcing a three-and-out with two consecutive incompletions by Glaesmann.
The Owls’ defense held the Cougars without a score on their first possession, prompting what appeared to be a tight defensive battle in the first quarter. Houston’s offense, however, was too explosive and scored on their next six drives, rocketing the score up to 38-0 at the end of the first half. Rice replied with a mere field goal late in the fourth quarter, squandering two long drives earlier in the second half and failing to threaten the Cougars at any point during the contest.
Rice head coach David Bailiff was audibly fuming during the postgame press conference, clearly disappointed with his team’s effort and physicality. He snapped at a reporter who asked how he felt after the loss. Bailiff said he grew impatient with an offense that stalled at key points during the game.
“[Houston] outfought us tonight. I thought the team in the second half played much better,” Bailiff said. “But we had a nine-play drive and a ten-play drive and came away with no points. You can’t be a ball control offense and not come away with points. The entire team has to make a commitment to being a tougher football team.”
Despite Bailiff’s frustration at the loss, Houston head coach Major Applewhite said his team respects the Owls’ roster and scheme. According to Applewhite, Rice is a much better football team than what they showcased Saturday night.
“Rice’s offense got [our defense’s] attention because of the complicated things that they do,” Applewhite said. “There’s a lot [of varied schemes] on [Rice’s] defense because of the experience that [Rice defensive coordinator] Brian Stewart has. I thought [the Owls] caught our guys’ attention very early in the week and [I] just told them that this is this week and we respect all of our opponents, doesn’t matter what their name is if it’s Rice or Alabama or the Cowboys.”
Before the game, the two teams met at midfield to shake hands in a show of unity for the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Applewhite said that the adversaries wanted to prove Houston stands together as a community after Hurricane Harvey.
“[The handshake was] just a sign of solidarity towards our community,” Applewhite said. “At the end of the day this is a great thing for our city; this game is. I think we should do it to begin every season. I think it’s just great for our community. It’s a football town, no doubt.”
In the heart of the Owls’ locker room, Ellerbee said he promised the Owls will play their next game with a chip on their shoulders.
“UTEP was a game where we thought we took a step forward as a defense and as a team,” Ellerbee said. “This week, I honestly believe we took a step back. We are going to have to step up, go back to the drawing board and focus on enforcing our will against FIU next week so this doesn’t happen again.”