The Rice Owl fans must have sniffed something in the air. There can really be no other explanation.
The score was only 7-3, Baylor over Rice, when the football game was delayed due to lightning in the area. It wasn't raining yet -- the downpour was still about 20 minutes away -- and the Owls had been playing, for them, some good football.
But once the weather delay was announced, once the teams cleared the field, the Rice fans cleared the stadium. The Baylor fans sat in the stands, then converged in the concourses and under the upper deck once the rain began. But the view from the press box showed a long line of tail lights departing the Rice Stadium parking lot.
In the end, it's the same story for the fourth time for the Owls. The defense does its best, but can't play perfect football while the offense implodes time and time and time again. The Owls had an opening drive of 14 plays but had to settle for a field goal. They followed with an 11-play drive, but had to punt after a holding penalty pushed them out of field goal range.
Once the game restarted, over an hour later, except for family and The MOB, the stands were devoid of people in Rice colors while the Baylor green and gold were plentiful. Then again, maybe the Rice people knew something was up because even though the Rice players returned to the field, they might have been better off joining the fleeing fans.
By the time the end of the first half had hit Rice Stadium, a close 7-3 game had turned into a 20-3 Baylor lead, and Rice never threatened the rest of the game as the Owls (1-3) lost another error-filled game, this time by the final score of 30-13 to the Baylor Bears who are now 3-1 on the season.
Then the storm delay, and the Owls never recovered.
"You know, it's really about the same," head coach David Bailiff said. "The little things we got to get better at doing. And we've got to get an accumulation of the little ones to get the big one. We start that game, we've got a rhythm offensively, we get a 14-play drive, but we get in the red zone and we come away with a field goal again. We have got to get touchdowns when we get the field goal. We just don't have that margin of error when we get down there to continue to kick field goals. We need to come out of there with touchdowns. That was a point of emphasis last week, and obviously we've got to continue to make gains on that side of the field.
"We came back with an 11-play drive, then we had the delay from the lightning delay, and it looked like we lost all focus and can't do anything right. That's mental toughness, and that's on me. I've got to continue to grill these young men up and do a better job."
The big problem for the Owls was, once again, the little things. The false start penalties. The holding penalties. Bad decisions from the quarterback -- alternately holding on to the football for too long and taking sacks that moved the team out of scoring position or else making bad reads and bad throws.
And while it's frustrating for the Owl fans -- thus splitting the game while it was still competitive -- it's frustrating for Bailiff, and for the players. Bailiff, taking the Gary Kubiak approach, took all of the blame, especially for the failings of Nick Fanuzzi at quarterback, but also for everything that went wrong during the game.
"With Nick, that's us," Bailiff said. "We've got to continue to work that kid. That's coach's responsibility to get kids in position to be successful. And we obviously have to work harder at some of these positions to do that. Everything in this program starts with me, and ends with me."
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SHOW ME HOW
That said, it's the players on the field who are supposed to execute the coaching plans, and ultimately, it's the players who are failing to follow through.
"I mean tonight, you guys saw what the offense can do, when it clicks," left tackle Scott Mitchell said. "We had an 11-play drive, and a 14-play drive. Even in the second half, we got it going a couple of times, moving the ball. It's just frustrating to see how good we can be, and then how the little things add up and we make those silly mistakes we shouldn't be making."
The Owls have yet to find a way to prevent those silly mistakes this season. Even the team's lone victory this year was one that was full of silly mistakes. And while it's nice to see that the offense can work when it clicks, or that the defense can keep the team in games, the end result of loss after loss just isn't what Bailiff, the players, or the Owl fans are that interested in seeing.
MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: The Owls have scored on the opening drive of three of this season's first four games....the second quarter lightning/weather delay lasted one hour and seven minutes. It was the first weather delay for a Rice game since the 2007 opener against Nicholls State....Chris Boswell made two field goals for the Owls, and he has now moved into tenth place for field goals made in a season by a Rice kicker....The Owls open C-USA play this Saturday when they host SMU at 6:00 p.m.