Football prepares for SMU, bowl game hopes at stake
Two games under .500, with two games left; logic says both games are must-wins for the Rice Owls, who have set their sights on bowl eligibility. For the first time since 2008, there is a real possibility of Rice playing itself into a December game.
Coming off a bye week, well-rested and ready to go, the Owls have had one of their most difficult weeks of practice heading into this next game.
"We definitely needed the bye week," Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue said. "We understand that you're never going to make it through a season completely healthy, but it feels good, and we're focused, knowing what these next two games mean to us. I think we're ready to get back to work."
Tomorrow, the Owls take on Southern Methodist University at Rice Stadium, with the latter also just on the outside of bowl eligibility. Led by former University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who is no stranger to big stages, SMU had higher goals for this season than to be playing into a bowl game this late.
"My first game here, in 2008, we opened with SMU, and it was a pretty big win," Rice defensive end Jared Williams said. "I think it's pretty cool I get to play my last [home] game against SMU."
Having won three of its last four, SMU is playing well headed into the game in Houston. It has struggled rushing this season, averaging only 125 yards per game but has still managed to average over 30 points a game.
Gilbert's favorite targets are his pair of receivers named Johnson (Darius, a senior, and Jeremy, a junior) - not related. Both have over 500 receiving yards this season. SMU has a one-dimensional offense, and if the Owls can shut down the pass, it would put a great amount of pressure on an SMU backfield that has been depleted by injuries.
SMU has played poorly on the road all year, only winning one game, a 17-0 final over the University of Texas at El Paso. Rice, on the other hand, has played incredibly well at home, having its best performances of the year inside Rice Stadium. The Owls know that this is both a winnable and crucial game, and have prepared as such.
"We are focused on what we need to do," McHargue said. "We have one chance, so to speak. If we don't take care of business on Saturday, then it's over. That's kind of where we are mentally."
In addition to a bowl game, wins in the final two games could bring the Owls to .500 within Conference USA, a building block for the team moving forward. A bowl game and a finish in the middle of the C-USA pack will surely buy Head Coach David Bailiff another year to continue building the program.
This is the final game for the Owl seniors inside Rice Stadium, and it will undoubtedly be an emotional night for the last remnants of Rice's most recent bowl appearance.
"I've been telling these guys every year, every class that comes in, you want this," Williams said. "A bowl game is an awesome experience. It doesn't matter what people say about it being a big bowl or a small bowl - it is fun to play an extra football game."
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