Owls Focusing, Dammit, On The Cougars

This post about Saturday's football game between the Rice Owls and the Houston Cougars is brought to you by the word "focus," as in the Rice Owls need to focus on making their plays. And as in the word "focus" is the current term of choice for the Owls in explaining their difficulties in playing football.

"There's no little thing in football," head coach David Bailiff said Monday. "It's all important. Where are your eyes? Do you have the discipline to keep your eyes on the receiver? Do you have the discipline up front to kick-step by the offensive tackle? Everything's important in the game of football. We lost our focus [against UTEP] and didn't do that."

After struggling with the little things all season. Little things that snowballed into bigger things. Missed assignments leading to sacks. Missed reads leading to interceptions. Missed tackles leading opposition touchdowns. That's been the problem for the Owls this season. And apparently, that's all caused by the Owls losing focus during games.

The Owls game against UTEP resembled most games the Owls have played this season. There were times when the offense clicked on all gears which resulted in the Owls driving the field for a touchdown. Then there were times that lost focus, such as fielding a kick by their goal, snowballed into a Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi intentionally grounding the football while he was in the end zone, resulting in a safety.

"Everything in this program always begins and ends with me," Bailiff said. "We have got to do a better job of getting our players in position to be successful offensively and defensively and special teams. We have got to expect to play hard-nosed football for four quarters and to remain focused regardless of what happens."

And while there's truth to everything beginning and ending with Bailiff, it's still up to the players to execute the plays, and execute the plays they haven't been doing. They had better protection for most of the last game. They had a better running game. But they've had those things for most of the season. It's just that they'll have a drive going then they'll find some way to self-destruct.

All because they lose focus.

"Offensively we did some nice things," Bailiff said about the UTEP game. "We ran the ball well. We had better protection. We only had one sack on the night....but we're too inconsistent, lose focus....we've got to score points continually throughout a football game. We can't lose focus like that over there [Houston]."

The Cougars will present perhaps the toughest contest for the Owls this season. They were able to stay with the mediocre run-based offense of the Longhorns, they ultimately had too much talent for North Texas, but not even Baylor and SMU, both which run offenses that share similarities with Houston, can run an offense like the Cougars when the Cougar offense is working at top speed.

But luckily for the Owls, the Cougar offense hasn't been at its best this season, especially not since they lost Case Keenum for the season during the UCLA game. Still, the Cougars have shown that they have a running game that can push around smaller teams, and that might be enough for them against a team like Rice.

Working in the Owls favor, along with the Cougars being beat up offensively, is that the Owls are playing for a little something. They're trying to salvage what's left of their season, and they're trying to avenge an ugly, nasty 73-14 loss to the Cougars last season.

"I don't think there's been a day that's gone by since last year when we played Houston where I myself haven't thought about that game and what they did to us over on that field," quarterback Nick Fanuzzi said.

And it's those memories that the Owls will be feeding off of on Saturday. But the revenge factor won't matter if the Owls continue to play unfocused, inconsistent, error-filled games.

"That was an embarrassing loss for us last year," Bailiff said. "We're a prideful bunch. And we have to play our best to be in this one. We can't have the mistakes that we've continued to have this whole season and win a football game. We have to eliminate them. We have no margin of error for the kind of mistakes we're making."

So if the Owls will just fix that little focus thing, will stop making the little mistakes, and will stop with the errors, they might have a chance this weekend. Maybe.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: For their next two games, the Owls helmets will contain a pink Rice logo instead of their standard white logo, as they show their support for the battle against woman's breast cancer....Despite all of their problems, the Owls have still managed to score a touchdown in 70 straight games....This is homecoming week for the Owls, and the Owls have won their last five homecoming games, and the Owls have won three of their last five games against the Cougars.

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