Morning football, evening football, there was plenty of college football for Houston-area fans on Saturday as Rice hosted Old Dominion in the morning and UH hosted UNLV that night. There were also plenty of seats available so that fans could come to the stadiums and watch the games, but those seats mostly remained empty for the games.
The surprise result of the day was undoubtedly Rice (0-3) falling 45-42 to Old Dominion (3-1) on Saturday. The Owls offense played an outstanding game, rolling off multiple clock-crunching drives behind the power running of Jowan Davis (150 yards on 24 rushes) and Darik Dillard (70 yards and three touchdowns on 14 rushes) as the Owls racked up the points. Unfortunately, the Rice defense mostly took the day off, letting ODU do about whatever it wanted to do, whenever it wanted, including driving the length of the field with 1:05 left in the game so as to kick the game-winning field goal. Things were a bit different at TDECU Stadium as the Cougars (2-2) struggled for the first half before quickly hitting overdrive in the second half to destroy UNLV (1-3) 47-14.
COUGARS HAVE TO FIX THE SLOW STARTS
Once again the Cougars were hit with a slow start. UNLV started the game with a nine play, 70-yard drive doing whatever it wanted to the vaunted UH defense. The Cougars responded in a way that has become all too familiar to UH fans that involved QB John O'Korn throwing an interception. After a missed UNLV field goal, the Cougar defense proceeded to shut UNLV down while the offense struggled to find any kind of rhythm, and limped to the half with a 13-7 lead.
"It's a number of things," head coach Tony Levine said. "I've said it in the past, we'd like to have a quick start, a fast start and a fast finish and play a complete game. Sometimes you anticipate certain schemes and different concepts from your opponents. We have coaches, and they have coaches. Sometimes as we throw curveballs at opponents, they throw them at us, and we have to adjust a little bit. We try to do it on the sidelines and not wait until half time to try to get that communicated and changed."
The adjustments did come at halftime for the Cougars, and the offense kicked it up a couple of notches behind the running game (UH finished with 399 rushing yards on the night, 263 which came in the second half). But UH does desperately need to kick it up that extra notch from the very start. Slow starts against UTSA and BYU were very damaging to the team, and letting decent teams dictate the flow and style of the game before making adjustments is not the way to guarantee winning seasons
NOT YOUR PARENTS COUGARS
The Cougars of lore, under Jack Pardee, John Jenkins, Art Briles, and Kevin Sumlin were pass happy run-and-shoot/spread offenses that threw the ball everywhere at anytime and to be able to score quickly from anywhere on the field. The offenses, especially under Sumlin, bailed out the defenses. But this Cougar squad is useless without a defense that has shown an ability to shut down every type of offense faced while forcing huge numbers of turnovers that bail out an often inept offense.
"Our defense played well," Levine said. "We gave up seven points in the first half. [After] the opening drive we settled down defensively and made plays. In the second half we gave up seven points. The difference being three turnovers in the second half."
THE RICE DEFENSE NEEDS COACHING UP
It's one thing for Rice to lose to Notre Dame. It's one thing to lose to Texas A&M. It's an entirely other thing to lose to Old Dominion. Old Dominion might now be 3-1 on the season, but those wins were against Hampton and Eastern Michigan, and in neither of those wins did ODU come off as an offensive powerhouse. But Saturday ODU looked to be the second coming of the Kevin Sumlin-era Cougars, racing up and down the field on Rice.
ODU's receivers constantly got past the Rice secondary, and it was 5-for-11 converting third down, and two-for-two on fourth down conversions. The Owls suffered numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball both before, and during the game. But as much as the Owls can blame a rash of injuries, it was often the team's most experienced players who got beat time and time again.
"We've just got to figure out how to play better defense," head coach David Bailiff said. 'It's way too many, way too many open receivers today. We will. We have a good staff. We have good coaches. We've got some fresh faces in there. We just have to keep coaching them and getting them better."
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RICE GOES FROM HUNGRY TO THE HUNTED
The Owls have been to two straight bowl games, are the defending C-USA champ, and are generally no longer seen as a joke of a program. As Bailiff said after the game, Rice is no longer the game teams want for homecoming, they're now the program that hungry teams want to take down. But the Owls came out flat to start the game, and didn't look like a team that won a conference title last season. For most part, the team that played Saturday looked like the homecoming team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
"We just have to improve as a football team," Bailiff said. "The one thing we've got to realize, too, last year we were hungry. We were doing the hunting. This year we're the hunted. We're going to get people's best effort."
The Cougars do not play this weekend while Rice heads to Southern Miss and will play its third road game (out of four games) this season.