Welcome to week two of the college football season. The Cougars go on the road to North Texas for what should be a sure win while the Owls host Purdue in an attempt for win number one. And if there's ever a week where the Owls are going to defeat a power conference team, it's this weekend.
The Purdue Boilermakers are 1-0 on the season, but they had to come from behind at home to defeat Middle Tennessee State of the Sun Belt Conference 27-24. The Purdue QB, junior Caleb TerBush, is making just his second career start, and he's behind the center because Rob Henry, who was supposed to be the starter this season, suffered a season-ending injury during two-a-days.
But while it's easy to point to the near loss to Middle Tennessee State and say that Purdue's not a good team, it needs to be remembered that Rice hasn't done too well in out-of-conference play against major conference teams the last several years. And for Rice to win, they need to stop making the stupid mistakes that plagued them in last week's loss to Texas.
"I think we will have an opportunity to win this football game," Owls coach David Bailiff said earlier in the week. "We are a mature football team. We are a talented football team. We have to put it all together. You look at Purdue's roster. There are a lot of juniors and seniors on that football team also. They came back late in that game to beat Middle Tennessee at home. That is a proud program. We are going to have to give it our absolute best."
The most important players in this game, should Purdue play like they did against Middle Tennessee State, might end up being on the special teams. Purdue's kicker, Carson Wiggs, owns the four longest field goals in Purdue history. Rice punter Kyle Martens had another outstanding game against Texas last week, and was once again the team's best defensive player, often pinning UT deep in their own territory. And kicker Chris Osgood has the ability to nail a field goal from long yardage. Of course, at some point the Owls actually need to take advantage of their weapons on offense and score touchdowns instead of relying on Osgood's leg to get them on the scoreboard.
"One of the things going into that [UT] game, when we discussed strategies, we realize Kyle's there with us. We know going into it, knowing if we would have some more manageable first downs with [Chris] later, we would have tried to get those....We know what they're capable of. That's part of the strategies that we sit down when [we] game plan what we can -- we really think that Chris is really capable of about a 59-yard field goal if we really need it. That's what he's hitting consistently in practice."
Bailiff was pleased with his running game last week, and hopes to have a healthy Sam McGuffie this week. He believes that QB Taylor McHargue will be able to throw deeper downfield on Purdue because they don't blitz as much the Horns. But in the end, nothing the offense does will matter if the Owls defense can't stop Purdue.
The Cougars will be in Denton for the very first game to be played in North Texas's brand-new Apogee Stadium. North Texas opened up their season last week with a 41-16 loss to FIU, and they shouldn't present much of a challenge to the Cougars.
The Cougars offense operated on all cylinders last week, with running back Michael Hayes's 34-yard TD run actually getting some decent airtime on ESPN. The offensive line kept Case Keenum protected, and Keenum seemed to show no ill effects from last season's ACL injury. But as good as the offense looked against UCLA, head coach Kevin Sumlin thinks they can be better.
"As a team we have a very high ceiling," he said. "As we go through the season, we have to be honest with each other and not become satisfied with just winning. Our coaches understand that, but it's different for a player. As a player matures, he begins to see a higher competition level with himself. The standard becomes not just winning but excelling as a player. Some of these guys have some aspirations to play at the next level and in order to do that, you have to be a competitor and be hard on yourself. The bottom line is, can we play better than last Saturday? Certainly."
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The Cougar defense struggled last week, surrendering over 500 yards to a UCLA offense that lost its starting quarterback early in the game, and was able to hold onto the ball for most of the second half. They shouldn't have the struggles against North Texas that they had against UCLA, but Sumlin knows they need to improve.
'Do we need to get better?" Sumlin said. "Heck yeah, we need to get better, but as we play we're going to do that. I would be a lot more concerned if there were a lot of missed tackles and we got run all over."
Come Sunday the Cougars should be 2-0 on the season, and the Owls should be 0-2. But the Cougars have been prone in the past to losing games they should easily win, and the Owls have the ability to pull off the upset this weekend. But it's doubtful that either of those is happening tomorrow.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Rice-Purdue game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. If you can't make the game, it will be aired on CBS Sports Network (previously known as CBS College Sports), and the radio call of David Saltzman and Nate Griffin can be heard on 1560 AM. The UH-North Texas game kicks off at 6 p.m. There's no TV for that game, but it can be seen on the Internet at ESPN3.com. The radio call of Tom Franklin, Ted Pardee and Chuck Brown can be heard on 790 AM.