The 2017 Rice Owls football season ended with a 30-14 loss to North Texas (9-3) and a 1-11 overall record. This season was supposed to be a make-or-break year for head coach David Bailiff; a decision on his future should come down sometime Monday.
The Owls briefly led the game thanks to cornerback Brandon Dotson-Douglas jumping a curl route and taking an intercepted pass 75 yards for the Rice touchdown. North Texas quickly tied the game, then just as quickly got two more touchdowns. The score was 24-14 at the half. Aside from two North Texas field goals, there was no second half scoring.
Rice held the Mean Green to just 84 yards in the second half. But the damage was done, especially as the Owls offense was only able to accumulate 168 yards in the second half. On three separate drives the Owls stalled within field goal range and elected — unsuccessfully each time — to go for it on fourth down.
“That was a football game,” Bailiff said. “We had our opportunities, especially there in the second half, where we were inside the 35 three times and went for it on fourth down. One of them was fourth and short. We just didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. The defense played outstanding today — they only gave up 23 points (the other seven points were the result of a 81-yard punt return for a touchdown) to a team that had been [scoring] 38 points a game…and averaging 474 yards a game.”
The Owls lost some close games this season. They were blown away in others. They played a game in Australia then were stranded in Fort Worth during Hurricane Harvey. There were some outstanding individual performances. But the team never came together as a whole. There were too many mistakes and too many broken plays.
“It’s hard,” Bailiff said. “These seasons are tough. They’re tough on your soul.”
Bailiff talked of his team being too inconsistent on offense Saturday. And that has been the case the entire season as the Owls offense would often go on long, time-consuming drives only to come away with no points. Part of that is likely the result of injuries, and the Owls did look a lot better offensively in the second half of the season when the offensive line was healthy. But it’s also likely this was a failure of the coaching staff to figure out how to best use what talent there was and for juggling quarterbacks.
Bailiff was questioned about his future on Saturday, and he delivered an emotional response to Fox 26’s Mark Berman regarding his prospects.
“Probably not real good, Mark? How do you view it?” Bailiff said. “We’ll sit down with the boss Monday. I wasn’t worried about it [earlier last week]. I’m not worried about it now.”
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Bailiff said his desire after the game was to talk to his players, and then to head out to Methodist Hospital to check on running back Sam Stewart. Stewart’s chin was hit by the helmet of a North Texas player on a second quarter rushing play. Stewart was limp by the time he hit the turf, and he lay there for approximately 20 minutes as he was immobilized, placed on a gurney, then rolled off the field to an ambulance. Bailiff said that Stewart was not able to move while on the field, but was able to answer some questions and to squeeze the hands of emergency medical personnel who were on the field. Stewart stayed in the hospital overnight before released on Sunday afternoon. The extent of his injuries are still not known, but he was placed into the school’s concussion protocol.
“It’s a tough year.,” Bailiff said. “And for these young men to play as hard as they did throughout, from start to finish, is an absolute to tribute to the type of character they have, and resiliency, where they never quit. A lot of these young men, what they will realize at 30 and 40, is that they’re going to have some bigger highlights than Rice football.”
What’s next for the Rice Owls? That’s still to be determined, but it likely doesn’t involve David Bailiff. And once that decision about Bailiff is made, other questions need to be addressed. Such as what is the future of Rice football? Is there a corner that the team can turn? Is there anything that can be done that will revitalize not only the dwindling Rice fanbase, but will somehow make the program relevant throughout Houston so that people will actually come out to Rice Stadium?
These are all questions for another day. But they all need to be addressed sooner rather than later.