The Fifth Quarter is a column written by Sports Editor Evan Neustater. The opinions expressed in the column are solely his own.
The Fifth Quarter is a column written by Sports Editor Evan Neustater. The opinions expressed in the column are solely his own.
While the remnants of Hurricane Patricia swept its way through the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, the Rice University and University of North Texas soccer teams were engaged in a Conference USA battle. In a game that saw warnings and yellow cards handed out on both sides, the Mean Green narrowly beat out Rice by a final score of 2-1.
With just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Driphus Jackson and the Rice offense drove down the field and scored a last-minute touchdown to break a 31-31 tie and defeat the United States Military Academy, 38-31.With the win, the Owls have improved their overall record to 4-3 and have now won four consecutive matchups against Army. Rice has also now won 14 of their last 16 games played at Rice Stadium.Playing in the pouring rain, Rice struck first on a 34 yard touchdown run from redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard just one minute and 22 seconds into the game. Rice also scored the second touchdown less than one minute later on a one yard run from redshirt freshman running back Samuel Stewart. The Owls hold onto the 14-0 lead through the first quarter.Army began to claw back in the second quarter, however, scoring 14 points to Rice’s 10 in the quarter. Army then scored the lone touchdown of the third quarter to bring the score to 24-21 Rice entering the final period.Although Jackson scored his first touchdown pass of the game early in the fourth quarter to redshirt sophomore former quarterback Nate German, Army went on to 10 unanswered points, including the game-tying field goal with 2:13 remaining in the game.Jackson, who finished the day 20-30 for 267 yards and two touchdowns, led the Owls on a seven-play, 75-yard game-winning drive in 1:49. With 24 seconds in the game left, Jackson found redshirt junior wide receiver Zach Wright in the back of the endzone for a 12 yard touchdown pass, which would seal Rice’s victory.Rice next plays Louisiana Tech University on Friday, Oct. 30 at Rice Stadium. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Coming off two straight losses to Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Texas, San Antonio, the Rice University women’s volleyball team rallied to defeat the University of Texas, El Paso in three sets (25-21, 25-18, 25-19). The win takes the Owls’ record to 14-7 overall and places them at sixth in the Conference USA standings.
As a Florida boy, the afternoon thunderstorm was nothing new. One second I was trying to survive the 95-degree heat and the next I was heading for cover from the lightning. Normally, once the storm passes, life returns to the way it was before. However, life was very different after the thunderstorm in Boca Raton, Florida on Oct. 10, 2015. Before the storm, Rice football was losing to Florida Atlantic University. Rice had a horrible third quarter in which it ran 10 plays for seven total yards. FAU scored a rushing touchdown after multiple missed tackles, which gave them a 12-point lead with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game. My Owls looked flat, defeated and ready to return to Texas. Then the storm came, teams returned to the locker room and fans to the concourse. Then I waited. What team would I witness when the delay ended? A team that still believed it could reach its goal of winning a conference championship? A team that still wanted to go to a fourth consecutive bowl game? Or a team that was ready to pack their bags and start preparing for Army? I do not know if lightning struck our locker room or what redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons supposedly said, but there was a new energy when the team returned to the sideline. The team stopped the two-point conversion to remain down by only 12, but a lot of work was still left to be done in a short amount of time. Our offense drove down the field, but was unable to convert on fourth down to give the ball back to FAU. The offense was animated on the sideline. Senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was pacing up and down, wanting at least two more chances to lead his team to victory. And luckily, his defense helped get him the ball back after forcing a three-and-out. Rice took over at their own nine-yard line with just eight minutes left still trailing by two scores. After a 60 yard completion to senior tight end Connor Cella put Rice at the FAU 21 yard line, I saw a play I had not seen yet in this game. Rice spread out the wide receivers and ran a designed quarterback draw. With great blocking downfield from the offensive line, and a few swift moves from Jackson, Rice was within one score. The defense then came up with another huge stop. The big play came on third down when sophomore safety Destri White had a huge open field tackle to force a punt. Rice got the ball at our own 17 needing to score a touchdown in under five minutes to take the lead. The defense was standing on the sideline cheering on the offense. Everyone in South Florida wearing blue and gray had hope that we were going to march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown. The final drive was a work of art. It started with an incredible 25-yard completion to senior running back Darik Dillard along the sideline coming out of the backfield on a wheel route. Rice then rushed six straight plays for 54 yards down to the FAU four-yard line. After a holding call, Rice dug deep into its bag of tricks by trying a jet sweep pass with backup quarterback Nate German, but it was unsuccessful. On the next play, Jackson found Dillard out of the backfield who walked into the end zone to give the Owls the one point lead. The game was not over, as two minutes still remained on the clock. FAU got into Rice territory after a 29-yard pass on their first play of the drive, but our confidence in the stands and confidence on the field never wavered. Rice forced a fourth and five and Lyons, the man who gave the speech in the locker room during the storm, ended the game with sack to give Rice a much needed conference victory. There are moments in a year that define or change a season. I strongly believe our season changed with one normal Florida thunderstorm. We went from a team trying to find an identity to a team that now has confidence and momentum leading into the second half of the season with all of its goals still in reach. And importantly, a team that has a new theme song: ACDC’s “Thunderstruck.”Jeremy Reiskind is a Duncan College junior.
With a 2-0 record last weekend, the Rice University soccer team positioned themselves for another late-season run towards the Conference USA championship. The Owls competed in two more games this weekend and came away with one win and one tie, stretching their unbeaten streak to four matches. On Friday night, Rice defeated the University of Alabama, Birmingham by a score of 2-0. The team followed this performance up with a Sunday matchup against Middle Tennessee State University that ended in a 0-0 double overtime tie. The Owls have accumulated 16 points so far in conference and are currently in second place in C-USA with a 9-5-2 (5-2-1) record. Rice matched up against a UAB team that had just two wins on the season as of Friday night. The Owls scored in the 26th minute when sophomore midfielder Samantha Chaiken elevated to head a corner kick into the back of the net.The second Owls goal came just six minutes later from senior forward Holly Hargreaves. The Owls had opportunities to tack on more goals as the game went on hitting the crossbar on multiple occasions but settled for the 2-0 victory over the Blazers. On Sunday afternoon, the Owls hosted the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. In the second half, Rice owned possession time and outshot their opposition 13-2. Despite leading the shot margin 26-13, the match ended in a scoreless draw rewarding each team with one point. All four defenders for Rice along with junior goalkeeper Zoe Pochobradsky played 110 minutes in route to recording their third shutout in the last four games. Head Coach Nicky Adams said she was disappointed the Owls could not connect on offensive opportunities.“Overall, I thought we battled extremely hard … [I’m] just disappointed that one of the 26 opportunities that we had did not go in but you have to give so much credit to their goalkeeper,” Adams said. “13 saves on the day is huge and she had some legit saves so a lot of credit goes to that kid between the pipes.”Adams reiterated the importance of finishing opportunities. She said the team has great potential when they can put everything together, including the goals. “It’s great to see the defense hold up [and the] shots on goal but at the end of the day you need every unit together and finishing to get some W’s,” Adams said. “We’re brilliant out there when everybody is on the same page, but we have to do it a little more consistently.” Sophomore forward Nia Stallings said she is excited to now face the University of North Texas, currently ranked first in C-USA with a 6-0-1 Conference record. “They are always a tough opponent and they come out really hard and physical but we’ll be ready for that and give it right back to them,” Stallings said. “The plan is to go over there and come out with the win.”The highly anticipated matchup dates back to last season when the two teams played each other on two separate occasions, each in dramatic fashion. On Oct. 12, 2014, Rice and North Texas fought to a 1-1 double overtime draw at Holloway Field. The two squads then faced each other once more in the championship game of the Conference USA tournament where Rice defeated North Texas by a 2-0 final and secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Rice will take the field against North Texas on Sunday at 7 p.m.
Redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons’ sealed a comeback win over Florida Atlantic University by sacking redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson on the fourth down, giving his team an inspirational win in what has been an uneven season.It was the type of exciting, uplifting victory that can change Rice’s season, according to Head Coach David Bailiff.“I just don’t know if I’ve ever had a sweeter win at Rice,” Bailiff said. “It was just an incredible experience to see the guys’ faces in that locker room and to know how hard we worked at the end to make that happen.”In many ways, the win over Florida Atlantic was a microcosm of Rice’s 2015 season. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the fourth quarter of the FAU game that Bailiff described as the “best quarter of football we played this year” and the touchdowns Rice scored on their first two drives of the game. There were long stretches of impressive ball control but an inability to put points on the board, as the Owls had a stretch of five drives in which they did not score, despite two of those drives lasting 16 and 11 plays. The defense showed a propensity to give up big plays, as they did in the second quarter with a 94-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to sophomore Kamrin Solomon. Yet amid considerable adversity, Bailiff said there was a team that showed belief in itself and their ability to win games.“We kept our focus,” Bailiff said. “We kept our attitude, and I’m proud of this team and proud of this coaching staff. Nobody gave up. It’s incredible.”Heading into the season, the question for Rice was how the team would replace considerable losses on both sides of the ball. The team had lost three starters on the offensive line, their top two receivers in Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull, as well as defensive tackle Christian Covington, defensive end Brian Nordstrom and cornerback Bryce Callahan. Yet despite these losses, the Owls retained their entire coaching staff, and perhaps more importantly, had stability at the quarterback position, with Jackson returning for his final season. Rice was viewed as one of the favorites to win Conference USA, along with Western Kentucky University and Louisiana Tech University. Given these expectations, results to this point have been mixed.Offensively, the Owls have seen several weapons emerge. Junior running back Jowan Davis and redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard were the established running backs heading into the season, with Davis having run for 956 yards in 2014 and Dillard having averaged 4.9 yards per carry a season ago. In addition to these two players, redshirt freshman running back Samuel Stewart has become a dynamic weapon out of the backfield, with a breakout performance against the University of Texas, Austin where he eclipsed 100 yards rushing. The losses of Taylor and Hull to the NFL figured to be big losses for the team, but redshirt senior Dennis Parks and redshirt junior Zach Wright have been effective in replacing them, with Parks accumulating 381 receiving yards to date and Wright having eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in the comeback win over Florida Atlantic. Despite these weapons, the Achilles heel of the Owls has been turnovers: They have lost nine fumbles and have thrown six interceptions to this point. As a result, Rice ranks No. 116 in the NCAA with an average turnover margin per game of -1.33. Though the offense has established an offensive identity of controlling the ball and methodically moving upfield, their self-inflicted wounds have cost them in some games.Defensively, results have also been mixed. The team was able to make the key stops against Florida Atlantic, and played strong games against Wagner College and the University of North Texas according to Bailiff, Jackson and defensive end Brian Womac. That said, the Owls lost considerable depth in their secondary from a year ago, and that has shown at times this season. In games against Baylor, Texas, and Western Kentucky, Rice has been burned repeatedly by long passing plays, giving Rice the No. 102 pass defense in the country. They have also been unable to generate a consistent pass rush and force turnovers this season, ranking last in Conference USA in sacks and second to last in turnovers forced. Despite the mixed results on offense and defense, Bailiff said he is confident that his team will get on track and put together the complete football game that they searching for the entire season.“When we can stay on track as a football team and keep ourselves out of third and longs, we are pretty effective,” Bailiff said. “We were staying on track [against Florida Atlantic], and we will continue to do so.“By defeating Florida Atlantic, the Owls put themselves in strong position in the Conference USA West division. With a 2-1 Conference USA record, they are tied with Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi for the best record in the division. They control their own fate for the remainder of the season, and with a 3-3 overall record, require three more wins to qualify for a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season.In celebration of a comeback victory over Florida Atlantic, Lyons and his team let out the frustration that came with two consecutive blowout losses, and as the postgame press conference showed, were inspired by a renewed sense of optimism for the rest of the season. Whether the Owls can embark on a winning streak that will turn an up-and-down season into a successful one remains to be seen, but the team is confident in their ability to do so.The Owls return from a bye week and will look for their fourth win of the season in a home matchup against the United States Military Academy on Oct. 24 at 11 a.m. at Rice Stadium.
Seeking their 21st consecutive conference championship, the Rice University baseball team has begun their fall training and have announced their season schedule. According to the Owls’ newly released 2016 schedule, they will open their season with a home game against the University of Arizona on Feb. 16. That will be the first of 54 regular season games, 31 of which will be at Reckling Park. Rice will begin its slate of Conference USA games on March 18 in San Antonio against the University of Texas, San Antonio. They will then play a three-game series against conference foes Old Dominion University, Middle Tennessee State University, the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Western Kentucky University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. The Owls will face off against defending Conference USA champion Florida International University May 6-8 in Miami before playing Florida Atlantic University, which ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll at the end of last season. Rice will finish conference play with a three-game series against Louisiana Tech University May 19-21.According to senior pitcher Blake Fox, the Owls cannot overlook their conference schedule despite the limited number of nationally ranked teams.“You’ve got to give credit to our conference,” Fox said. “We definitely have some teams that are tough opponents and we’ve seen that in the past.”Strong opponents will come from both inside and outside Conference USA. The Owls will take on seven different teams that ranked in the top 25 of the USA Today Coaches’ Poll at the end of the 2015 season. The first of those games will come on Feb. 23 against Dallas Baptist University, which finished the 2015 season ranked No. 17 in the country and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the past five years. Then, beginning on Feb. 26, the Owls will take part in the Minute Maid Classic held at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. During this event, they will play three opponents that were ranked last season: the University of Arkansas, Texas Christian University and University of Louisiana, Lafayette.Senior infielder Grayson Lewis said many of the players are especially excited to play Louisiana-Lafayette because the Ragin’ Cajuns eliminated the Owls from the NCAA tournament regionals last season. “We definitely owe Louisiana-Lafayette a little something after regionals,” Lewis said. Rice will begin its annual series against the University of Houston with a game at Cougar Field on March 22. The Owls will play Houston two more times, on May 10 and 17. The Cougars ranked No. 23 in the coaches’ poll at the end of the 2015 season with a record of 43-20, but the Owls eliminated them from the NCAA tournament with a 3-2 win in 20 innings. Houston, however, won last season’s regular season series over Rice two games to one. According to Fox, the games against Houston will be some of the most fun for him as a player. “Just because of the way the [Houston] games went last year, I’m definitely looking forward to those games,” Fox said. “I’d say those games are the ones I’m looking forward to most.”Rice will finish its slate of games against last year’s top 25 with matchups against Texas A&M University on April 5 and conference foe FAU in mid-May. Other non-conference opponents include Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, the University of Central Florida, Lamar University and East Carolina University. While the schedule is long and full of highly ranked opponents, the players feel optimistic. When asked about his hopes for the season, senior infielder Connor Teykl said only two words. “Obviously, Omaha,” Teykl said, referencing the city that hosts the College World Series. The Owls will hope to make a trip to the College World Series for the first time since 2008. While the regular season does not start until February, Rice’s journey to Omaha has already begun. The Owls will play an exhibition game against Lamar, one of their 2016 opponents, on Saturday, Oct. 17 at Reckling Park.
Playing at home for the first time in a month, the Rice University football team was defeated by sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and Western Kentucky University, snapping a five-game home winning streak and dropping the Owls to 2-3 (1-1) on the season in a 49-10 loss.The Hilltoppers got the ball to open the game and the Owls’ defense promptly forced a three-and-out, after which Rice would march down the field and strike first with a field goal. The lead, however, was short-lived. Western Kentucky would go on to score four touchdowns on its next five possessions, while the Owls’ next five drives yielded two punts, two lost fumbles and an interception. A game with a promising beginning quickly turned awry for the home team. By the time redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was benched in the second quarter in favor of junior backup Tyler Stehling, the team trailed 28-3 and would do little the rest of the game to decrease the deficit.In the first-ever meeting between the Conference USA schools, Rice was outgained in total yardage, possessed the ball four minutes fewer than the Hilltoppers, and gained nine fewer first downs than their opponent. While the Owls were unable to force a turnover, they committed five of their own, off of which Western Kentucky scored 21 points. The Rice defense faced an NFL-caliber quarterback for the second straight week, and proved not to be up to the task again. Doughty threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns in a typically strong performance.Head Coach David Bailiff, who expressed concern following last week’s 70-17 loss to Baylor University about putting the big loss behind his team, said his team was not ready to play the Hilltoppers, and took the blame for it.“We didn’t play very [well] today, and that’s on me,” Bailiff said. “I didn’t have those guys ready to go. It’s my job to make sure the offense is ready, the defense is ready, and the special teams is ready.”According to Bailiff, the Owls’ turnovers and poor tackling on defense exemplified unusually poor play, and that the team would need to return to form soon.“We have more turnovers already this year than all of last season,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to stop that. We have to tackle defensively. We’ve had more missed tackles in the last two games than in the first three. The formula for success has always been take care of the football, get points at the end of drives offensively — we’re not doing that. You just can’t win football games this way.”In years past, the Owls have gained a reputation as a disciplined team that does not commit many penalties. Bailiff said this year’s team has not been playing like it has in recent years.“We had eight penalties, and that’s not who we are,” Bailiff said. “We’ve been one of the least penalized teams in Conference USA since I’ve been here. Some of them were late. We need to work on those. It’s not who we are, and it’s not how we’re going to do this.”According to Bailiff, spectators should not to read too much into his decision to bench Jackson after the quarterback turned the ball over on consecutive drives in the second quarter.“I was just trying to stimulate the offense,” Bailiff said. “Driphus [Jackson] is our starter. He’ll be right back here as our starting quarterback. [Benching Jackson] was just to rally the troops and throw the ball down the field.”Rice will next face Florida Atlantic University, who are 1-3 overall, but 1-0 in Conference USA play. The two teams last faced off in 2013, when Rice was able to pull out an 18-14 home victory. While FAU redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson sustained an injury in the team’s second game of the season, FAU boasts a pair of running backs in sophomore Greg Howell and junior Jay Warren that average above five yards per carry. Following the loss to Western Kentucky, Bailiff said the team needs to turn the page and focus on winning out the remainder of the schedule.“We have to get better,” Bailiff said. “We have great seniors in here and we have some great leaders on this team. We’re not going to let it go the wrong way; it’s not going to happen. There’s nobody left on our schedule that we can’t beat. We’re going to expect winning, and it’s what’s going to get done.”The Owls will look to halt their two-game losing streak in a road matchup against FAU at 1:30 p.m. in Boca Raton, Florida.
The Rice University soccer team played two consecutive matches at home for the first time since Sept. 6. The Owls either tied or broke a school record in each game resulting in an exciting weekend of games. On Friday night’s 4-2 victory over Florida International University, senior forward Lauren Hughes registered three assists, tying a school record. In Sunday’s matchup against Florida Atlantic University, Rice was trailing 2-1 leading up to the final moments of the match. In a frenzied finish, Rice tied the game at the 89:58 mark of the match, just two seconds from the final whistle for what became the latest goal in Rice history. However, Rice eventually lost in double overtime 3-2. The Owls are currently 6-5-1 (2-2 in C-USA) on the season. At the 1:21 mark of the first half, Hughes drove in a ball to sophomore Nia Stallings who secured a touch and put it past the keeper into the back of the net to open up the scoring. After FIU tied the match up in the 19th minute of play, the Owls quickly responded with a goal in the 21st minute. Junior transfer midfielder Madeleine Lundberg fired in a shot from just inside the 18-yard box to reclaim the lead for Rice. Following halftime, Rice scored again to make it 3-1 on Hughes’s third consecutive assist. The scoring for the afternoon was complete in the 58th minute when Hughes scored a goal of her own to give her six on the season to put the game away for Rice. The four goals scored were not only by four different players but were more goals than Rice had scored in their previous four road games combined. The Owls held on for a 4-2 final. The Sunday matchup featured a battle of the two Owls squads in Conference USA. Rice delivered the first blow in the 30th minute of the match. Freshman forward Marissa Topolski navigated her way around a defender on the outside of the box and fired in a low cross to senior midfielder Danielle Spriggs who had the easy tap-in right in front of goal for her second goal on the weekend. FAU then responded by scoring two goals in the 34th and 39th minute of the match to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. Rice played the entire second half looking for the equalizing goal and outshot FAU 14-5 but continued to come up empty. As the stadium announcer counted down from 10 seconds to the final buzzer, Rice was busy trying to redirect a bouncing ball into the net. After multiple deflections from players on both teams and a shot by Hughes, senior defender Jasmine Isokpunwu fired it home with two seconds remaining in the game to stun FAU. In the 99th minute of the match, Rice looked like they had the game-winning goal on a put-back shot by Hughes, but an offside call negated the goal and sent the game into a second overtime where FAU would score and hand Rice the 3-2 loss.Head Coach Nicky Adams said she credits the execution of the game plan and the play of her forwards up top to the victory on Friday night. “I thought we had a great game plan going into it,” Adams said. “Lauren [Hughes], Nia [Stallings] and [senior forward Holly Hargreaves] up top were amazing for us. [Hughes] with three assists just shows what a dynamic player she is where she can score goals and can also put people in front of goals.”Adams said the last-second goal represents the essence of her team. “We outshot them 14-5 [in the second half] which is really tremendous,” Adams said. “We knew a goal was going to come but it was just a matter of time. It just shows the character of those girls … how amazing they are and their commitment to this team and to the game itself.” Lundberg, a transfer from the Air Force Academy, said all the goals scored originate from team effort. “For me, it’s all a clean state [being at Rice],” Lundberg said. “I’m out there with my teammates and we’re working together so well to the point it shows in our scoring. The goals were 100 percent team effort which is the way it should be.” Spriggs, a team captain for the 2015 season, has started in 45 of the last 47 games for the Owls. She said the perseverance shown by her team to fight down to the final second in Sunday’s match will benefit the team as they look ahead to two road games this upcoming week. “I think our resilience showed that our team is a team that’s not going to shy away when down a goal or when things get tough,” Spriggs said. “That’s something that is going to help us as we move forward in the season.” The Owls will head back on the road for the next two games to face Old Dominion University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte in more C-USA competition. On Friday night, Rice will face an ODU team coming off a weekend of two rain-suspended matches. Rice will then face Charlotte, who were on the losing end of back-to-back 1-0 games this weekend.
Rice lost to Western Kentucky by a score of 49-10 Saturday afternoon. The loss drops them to 2-3 on the season, and 1-1 in Conference USA play.After Rice opened up with a 3-0 lead, WKU senior quarterback Brandon Daughty led the Hilltoppers down the field, throwing four touchdowns over the next five drives and leading to 28 unanswered points for Western Kentucky. Daughty showed why he is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, ending the day going 28/38 for 409 yards and four TD.For Rice, Driphus Jackson struggled mightily. On Rice’s first six drives, Jackson went 5/10 for 87 yards with one interception and one fumble. These struggles led him to be benched in favor of redshirt junior Tyler Stehling early in the second quarter after Jackson’s interception. Stehling started the game strong, going 4/6 for 56 yards on his first drive, leading to a Luke Turner rushing touchdown. Stehling finished the game 11/19 with 150 yards and one interception.Samuel Stewart was a bright spot for the struggling Rice offense, averaging almost six yards per carry, rushing for 60 yards on 11 carries. Ultimately, losing the turnover battle 5-0 and failing to score in the second half proved too much for Rice to keep the game close.Rice continues playing their Conference USA schedule next week when they travel to Florida Atlantic.
The Rice Owls volleyball team faced an unanticipated foe this week when 11 Owls fell victim to a contagious stomach virus. Before this major setback, the week was already scheduled to be a difficult one with three Conference USA matches. On Tuesday, however, the team was forced to postpone their match against the University of Texas, San Antonio Roadrunners because of the team-wide illness. The match will be rescheduled for a date to be determined.
Before Rice football’s game against the Texas Longhorns last week, Head Coach David Bailiff stressed the importance of that game was to prepare for conference play. This week, Rice will open their Conference USA schedule against the University of North Texas.According to Bailiff, this week’s game will be the first step toward Rice’s ultimate goal of winning the conference for the first time since 2013.“That’s what it’s all about,” Bailiff said. “Winning Conference USA.”The Owls (1-1) will travel to Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas to take on the Mean Green (0-1). Founded in 1890 as a teachers’ college, the University of North Texas enrolls 29,723 undergraduates. The football program has won two Division I bowl games in its history. Most recently, the Mean Green won the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013 to cap a 9-4 season. Although the North Texas football program began in 1953, Rice and North Texas did not play each other until 1988.In their sixth meeting with North Texas since that 1988 game, Rice will attempt to bounce back from a 42-28 loss to the Texas Longhorns Saturday night.According to Bailiff, the loss, though disappointing, provided some positives to carry into this week’s game.“Even in the loss, we can learn a lot of lessons to improve this football team,” Bailiff said. “I think this is [a game] that will strengthen our resolve.”North Texas will be looking to make improvements of its after a season-opening 31-13 loss to Southern Methodist University. Senior quarterback Andrew McNulty threw for 128 yards and ran for 50 more and senior running back Antoinne Jimmerson ran for 40 yards and a touchdown as the Mean Green led 13-10 entering the fourth quarter. The defense, however, surrendered 21 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to send the Mean Green to their 16th season opening loss in the last 19 seasons.North Texas’ roster has changed significantly since a 4-8 season last year. They return five starters from an offense that ranked No. 79 in Division I in points per game. The returners include McNulty, senior tight end Marcus Smith, senior wide receiver Carlos Harris, junior wide receiver Darvin Kidsy, and sophomore center Kaydon Kirby. The defense, however, returns only two starters: senior cornerback Kenny Buyers and junior linebacker Fred Scott.This new-look North Texas defense will be tasked with stopping an Owls offense that has averaged 502.5 yards in its first two games, including 314.5 rushing yards per game.Freshman running back Samuel Stewart said that practice with the other Rice running backs has led to this success.“It’s a competition everyday,” Stewart said. “Everyday in practice we’re pushing each other and making sure we’re good in pass protection, ball security, making our reads in the zone game, all of that.”Stewart was not the only one to stress the value of practice. Last week, Bailiff noted that the players were excited to begin watching film and practicing for the Texas game. After a spirited performance this past weekend, Bailiff said he hopes the team can keep its motivation high.“We’ve got to go to North Texas with the same demeanor and the same effort we displayed [against Texas],” Bailiff said.Rice will try to ride that effort to a victory in its Conference USA opener this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas. The game will be televised nationally on Fox College Sports.