It’s been four years since the Rice football team played against the University of Houston. This weekend, the wait will finally be over. The Owls will take on the Cougars Saturday at UH’s TDECU Stadium in the battle for the Bayou Bucket. Head coach David Bailiff said it’s about time the rivalry returned.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that the game is back,” Bailiff said. “It’s great for both universities and it’s great for the city of Houston.”
UH leads the all-time series with 29 wins to Rice’s 11. The first game was played in 1971 when both schools were members of the Southwest Conference, and the two teams played every year from 1971 to 2013 except for a three year hiatus from 1996 to 1998. The schools are scheduled to face off again in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
In Bailiff’s tenure, Rice is 2-5 in the Bayou Bucket, last winning in 2010. He said winning this game would mean a lot to him and the team.
“It would be great to get the trophy back in the locker room,” Bailiff said. “We’ve had it in here a couple times since I’ve been here and it’s a game you take great pride in.”
Rice is coming off its first win of the year, a road conference victory over the University of Texas, El Paso. The Miners’ offensive line was touted by pundits such as Phil Steele as the best in Conference USA, but the Owls outgained UTEP 306 yards to 26 on the ground. Senior center Trey Martin said the Rice offensive line’s performance gives the unit momentum moving forward.
“It’s a testament to the great backs we have and also the offensive line,” Martin said. “As the season goes on I guess we’ll find out about the best offensive line in Conference USA.”
In Saturday’s game, the line will face a test in the form of UH sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver. In the season-opening 19-16 win over the University of Arizona, the former five-star recruit recorded 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Last year, as a freshman, he finished with 22 tackles for loss, which tied for fourth in the nation among all defensive players. Bailiff said Oliver is one of the best college players he has seen.
“[When I saw Ed Oliver’s film] I said ‘Hey guys, come in here and look at this!’” Bailiff said. “He’s truly the most disruptive defensive lineman I’ve ever seen in college football. He dominates football games.”
The Rice defense responded to giving up 62 points against Stanford by allowing just 14, all in the second half, against UTEP. The Owls will hope to mimic that performance against the Cougars. UH’s starting quarterback is junior Kyle Allen, a transfer from Texas A&M University. Allen was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country coming out of high school but was in a constant battle for playing time at Texas A&M. He transferred to the University of Houston following his sophomore season and sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. Senior defensive end Graysen Schantz said containing Allen and the rest of the Cougars’ offense will come down to pressuring the quarterback.
“We’ve got to stop them up front and pressure the quarterback, make sure he gets the ball off fast and doesn’t have time [in the pocket] and make sure they’re never too relaxed out there,” Schantz said.
When Rice and UH take the field Saturday night, it will be the first time either team has played in Houston since Hurricane Harvey. In all, 26 Rice football players had their cars flooded during the storm and 12 lost their homes. Martin had to move because his home flooded, and he is now living with teammates. Schantz said the team is looking forward to getting back on its home field in the wake of the tragedy.
“We’re excited,” Schantz said. “It’s been hectic for Houston, so I think this game means a little more now.”
The winner will receive the Bayou Bucket Trophy, a nearly three-foot tall trophy with a worn brass bucket on top. Because UH has won the contest three straight times, the trophy has been with the Cougars since 2011. According to Martin, though, this game is about much more than an award.
“It’s for city bragging rights,” Martin said. “We’re playing against guys we played in high school and everyone’s from the same area. It’s close proximity and we want to come out on top.”
The Owls and the Cougars will play for the Bayou Bucket on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at TDECU Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN3.