Rice unable to recapture Bayou Bucket from UH
Perhaps playing the worst football team in college football is just what the Owls need after a disappointing outcome at Reliant Stadium last Saturday against the University of Houston. Despite a strong effort that showed grit toward the end, Rice failed to match the Cougars' offensive attack, letting the Bayou Bucket leave the hedges once again.
The University of Memphis, which currently holds the top ranking in ESPN's "Bottom Ten," hopes the Owls will be its first win of the season. Rice hopes Memphis can serve as a springboard to Conference USA success in the coming weeks. Neither team has had the start it wanted.
Memphis football has struggled mightily over the last few seasons, turning over head coaches and quarterbacks at a pace unmatched by any other team. Four quarterbacks have transferred out of the program in a little over a year. This year's new head coach, Justin Fuentes (a former coordinator at Texas Christian University), is the third coach in four seasons. None of this instability has set this year's team up for success, as players must attempt to learn another new system from yet another new head coach.
The starting quarterback for the Tigers has Houston roots, with Texas Tech University transfer Jacob Karam under center. The former Friendswood High School standout started his college career with Tech. But seeing relatively little playing time in Lubbock, Karam transferred to Memphis and was eligible to play immediately after graduating from Tech according to NCAA rules. He has a solid arm but has only made 18 pass attempts before this year.
The Memphis offense has not moved the ball well, averaging around 300 yards per game. It ranks among the 20 worst teams in both points for and points against in the Football Bowl Subdivision right now, and it has not played a ranked team yet this year.
It started the season off with a loss against the University of Tennessee at Martin, giving the program its first ever win over an FBS team. It followed up that loss with losses against Arkansas State University and Middle Tennessee University, setting the Tigers back to 0-3. It played a fourth consecutive game against Duke University, getting blown out in Durham, N.C. The Tigers will at least be well rested from sitting a week before taking on the Owls.
Last weekend, Rice struggled offensively in the first half, failing to put any points on the board. Quarterback redshirt junior Taylor McHargue was forced to sit out due to injury, despite hopes that he would play earlier in the week, leaving redshirt freshman Driphus Jackson to lead the team.
"[Jackson] got us going in the right direction," offensive lineman redshirt junior Nate Richards said. "He motivated the offensive line. He needed us to protect him. We fought our tails off for him. We just came up short in the end."
Heading into the second half, Jackson looked much more composed, finding wide receiver redshirt senior Sam McGuffie on two big passing plays for touchdowns. One of the passes, an 88-yarder, set the school record for longest passing touchdown. The 14 points were too little too late, though, as Houston went on to win 35-14.
"Offensively, we didn't have our best performance of the year," Head Coach David Bailiff said. "We did not execute, and one of the things that we have been able to do this season is execute. We had way too many dropped passes; we left a lot of opportunities and points out on the field. You can't do that in college football. It's hard to win games."
Rice did play well defensively in the first half, holding the dangerous Cougar offense to only 14 points. Safeties sophomore Julius White and redshirt junior Paul Porras in the backfield had impressive games, combining for 17 total tackles.
The Owls hope McHargue will be back this week under center for the Owls, but Jackson proved he can be a formidable piece of the Owls' offense when called upon. Earlier this week, Bailiff was optimistic about McHargue's return.
This week will be a major test for the Owls, as common sense says this should be an easy victory against a bad football team. After such a strong performance against Marshall University, perhaps the top team in C-USA, the University of Houston game was certainly a letdown.
But this Rice team simply has more athleticism than the struggling Memphis program. The Owls should really be able to dominate the field, picking up some of their momentum heading into the easier back-end of their schedule.
"We're just going to take it a game at a time," Richards said. "We're just trying to focus on Memphis. We've just got to get after them."
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