Bayou Bucket up for grabs at Reliant
The Bayou Bucket, the annual contest for college football bragging rights in Houston, will be played tomorrow at Reliant Stadium. Both the University of Houston Cougars and the Owls have been struggling as of late, but their records fail to capture both teams' potential on the field. This week's matchup will provide the two teams a chance to right their respective ships. However, this game holds deeper meaning than most weeks. The Rice football team views this game as a battle for respect.
"Here in Houston, [Rice football] doesn't really get that much exposure," Rice wide receiver Donte Moore said. "People really don't look at Rice as a great football school, just more of an academic school."
The Owls will look to change that perception with a victory tomorrow.
"I feel like all the years I have been here, even more this year, we can really let people know that Houston isn't just run by [UH]; it's also run by Rice," Moore said. "I feel like we have the athletes, the coaches and the staff to show that this is a program where great football happens."
The Bayou Bucket, introduced in 1973, has been awarded 36 times. Houston has dominated the matchup, winning the trophy 26 times, including 18 of the first 22 games.
Cougar quarterback David Piland said he understands the importance of the trophy in the city.
"It means a lot to have it, and it means a lot to lose it," Piland said. "I've seen them take it from our sideline, and that will stick with me forever. It's definitely a special thing to have, but that means that it hurts that much more to see it go. We want to keep it here."
The Cougars are coming off their best season ever in 2011 - having just barely missed a Bowl Championship Series game - and are struggling to rebound after losing star quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum, now on the Houston Texans' practice squad, practically rewrote the NCAA record book, leading the Cougars to a 73-34 beatdown of the Owls last season. With the loss of Keenum, the expectation
was that the Cougars' offense would struggle - but it was really the defense that led the team to a 0-3 record so far this season. Allowing an average of 41 points a game, the Cougars rank 120th in the country in points against.
Rice is one of the only teams in the country ranked lower - at 45.8 points a game and 124th in the country.
Offensively, Houston is still dangerous, clocking in at an average of 347 yards per game. While Piland has thrown five touchdowns with 1,040 yards, he does have the tendency to be wild: He has thrown six interceptions.
The Cougars started their season against Texas State University, falling 30-13. They only scored three points in the final three quarters.
The next week, against Louisiana Tech University, the Cougars lost in a shootout by a score of 56-49. Piland had 580 passing yards, but could not overcome the offensive onslaught that also stopped the Owls.
Last week, the University of California at Los Angeles stopped the Cougars 37-6, with few glimpses of hope for the defense. It looked like a unit that was badly overmatched.
Despite the string of losses from the Cou- gars, Assistant Coach John Reagan said he hopes Rice's confidence comes from its own performance, not UH's underperformance.
"If you look at UH against Louisiana Tech, I don't think they struggled at all," Reagan said. "I hope our confidence comes from suc- cess that we're having and we're building. We didn't have any turnovers. I've never been a part of 600-something yards and no turn- overs. I think that's where we're taking our confidence from: from what we're doing."
This past week, the Owls lost a heart- breaker against Marshall University in a double-overtime thriller. It dropped the Owls' record to 1-3 and set Rice to 0-1 inside the conference.
With 2:29 left in the game, the Owls forced Marshall to put on a big three and out, down 41-38. Redshirt junior quarterback Taylor McH- argue led the team down the field, including a 47-yard rush that put the Owls on the two. When he tried to drive into the end zone at the end of the rush, McHargue smashed his shoulder against the ground, sending himself out of the game. Quarterback Driphus Jackson, a redshirt freshman, came into the game but couldn't punch the point in, resulting in a tying redshirt junior Chris Boswell field goal. Despite scoring in the first overtime, Rice could not convert in the second, losing the game 54-51. The big question now in front of the Owls is McHargue's health. Without McHargue, the Owls' offense has the potential to struggle. Assistant Coach Darrell Patterson said McH- argue should be ready to go for Saturday.
"We're prepared to have him," Patterson said. "He's responded very favorably, and we're very optimistic."
Expect the game to be an absolute shoot- out this week, with both teams having the potential to end up with scores in the 40s. The neutral site will leave both teams without a clear advantage.
Despite all of the distractions, junior linebacker Cameron Nwosu is expecting his team to be ready to play for pride.
"Bayou Bucket - it's all we're focused on," he said.
Keys to the Game
• Shut down the passing attack - If the Owls' secondary struggles, it will be • a long night. UH has the ability to shred the backfield if the Rice second- ary is not ready to play. •
• Keep using all of the weapons - Seven different receivers touched the ball against Marshall for the Owls. It is hard to cover a well-done spread offense where the ball could legitimately go to everyone on the field. •
• Rice fans show up - A Reliant Stadium full of red will not be a great place for the Owls to play. Rice fans have to show up to the game, otherwise it could really be an unwelcoming atmosphere.
Players to watch
Taylor McHargue - Rice needs him to be healthy. He has been everything to this offense and this is not the game for Rice to lose his spark. Sam McGuffie - Made waves last week with two long touchdown catches - by far most productive game he has had this year. If he can keep playing well, he gives the Owls' offense a new dimension.
Paul Porras - The team's leading tackler has certainly had some success with stops in open space, but he will need to have another big week against such a productive Cougars passing game.
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