Stephen Pinchback/Houston Athletics Communications Tony Levine and the Cougars celebrate after winning the Bayou Bucket
Rice (1-2) controlled the first quarter of the game, scoring 13 points and treating the UH (3-0) defense like the UH offense had treated the Southern defense in week one of the season. And Rice's defense was all over the Cougars, knocking UH quarterback John O'Korn out of the game for several plays early in the game with a brutal-looking hit. But the Cougars proved resilient, dominating play in the second quarter and gaining the momentum and the 17-13 lead as the half came to an end.
The Owls seemed off balance for the rest of the game, never quite able to find their rhythm on offense. The Cougar offense looked as if it was able to do just about whatever it wanted, and it seemed to put the game early in the fourth quarter when O'Korn hit Ryan Jackson on the wheel route for a 32-yard touchdown on fourth and three to go up 31-13. But the Owls got battled and thanks to the defense and special teams, were down 31-26 with 2:16 remaining in the game. The Owls recovered the onside kick, but were unable to do anything offensively, leaving UH the victor.
"A win's a win, and we'll certain take that one in this rivalry," Houston head coach Tony Levine said. "Again, I think the build-up of this week, to this game today, I think it certainly matched its billing."
THE MOMENTUM SHIFT
Rice was up 13-10 late in the second quarter when it began driving on the UH defense. But as has become the case with the Owls, the offense started misfiring. With under a minute on the clock, Rice trotted out the usually-reliable Chris Boswell for a 56-yard field goal attempt. Boswell's kick went wide left and UH got possession of the ball with 51 seconds left on the clock. A mere 46 seconds later, the Cougars were up 17-13 after hit Daniel Spencer on the post route for the 25-yard TD pass.
Bailiff cited a confidence in Boswell in going for the points, and a desire to put some distance between the Owls and the Cougars on the scoreboard. He also cited faith in his defense. The Cougars were going to try to score no matter the result of the field goal, but the excellent field position did make the play-calling decisions easier.
"We had timeouts left, unless we were back on our own goal line, we were going to down the field and attempt to score," Levine said. "But the missed field goal gave us the ball closer to midfield, so at that point, with our timeouts lefts, it was a no-brainer."
Stephen Pinchback/Houston Athletics Communications Deontay Greenberry picking up some of his 146 yards after another reception
Houston kept with the dual quarterback approach, but instead of David Piland and John O'Korn, it was John O'Korn and fellow freshman Greg Ward, Jr. Levine stated after the game that the plan had been to play Ward in the game, no matter what. But he had to come in early when the wind was knocked out of O'Korn, then he got more extensive time in the third quarter. And while the playing time had been planned, Levine said a lot of it was based on feel. Levine liked the play of O'Korn - stressing his poise - but what happens from here on out depends on the status of Piland, who is still recovering from a concussion he suffered in the Temple game.
As for Rice, Taylor McHargue had some decent numbers (21x36, 232 yards), but the offense never seemed click, and McHargue seemed unsure of himself at times. The Owls made extensive use of its Wild Owl offense with Luke Turner and Turner Petersen taking turns at QB. One of the most dynamic offensive plays of the game came in the first quarter when Turner connected with Petersen for a 57-yard TD pass. Afterwards, Bailiff stated that maybe he and the coaching staff need to rethink the offensive strategy.
"Are we as a coaching staff asking [McHargue] to do too much," Bailiff said. "We have to analyze tomorrow and figure out, maybe we're asking McHargue to do too much. Maybe we have to simplify what we're doing offensively and defensively."
THE KICKING GAMES
Maybe there's some kind of curse at Reliant Stadium. Rice's Boswell missed both of his field goals, a 50-yarder that went wide right and the 56-yarder. UH's Richie Leone made one field goal, but his try from 40-yards with 2:19 on the clock was blocked, with Rice's Alex Lyon returning it 62 yards for a touchdown and making the score 31-26.
That blocked kick then made possible this, perhaps the most incredible onsides kick you'll ever see in a football game. Make sure to watch to the end of the video for the shot of Boswell kicking it with his back foot. Rice was unable to convert, but still, the kick was incredible.
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The Cougars are a young team that played its best opponent of the season and stepped up to the challenge. John O'Korn played like a freshman at times, but he's poised on the field, and he and receivers Daniel Spencer (four receptions for 76 yards and two TDs) and Deontay Greenberry (six receptions for 146 yards and a TD) have developed some real chemistry. The running game continues to excel, and the defense is improving. Levine has said that he wouldn't be comfortable continuing to play O'Korn and Piland every week, so it needs to be seen what he'll do with O'Korn and Ward and what happens when Piland's ready to return.
As for Rice, it was more of Rice beating Rice. There were miscues, penalties, turnovers, and missed assignments. Bailiff suggested that he and the coaches need to revisit the playbook and perhaps simplify things a bit. He also stated that he and his staff need to do better at making sure the team's properly prepared week and week out.
And for the foreseeable future, the holder of the Bayou Bucket will be the Houston Cougars. Let's hope the grownups in charge can figure out some way to make this game a possibility once again.