The Rice of the north meets the Northwestern of the south

Rice Faces Northwestern In Battle Of The Brainiacs

The Rice Owls (1-1) open the Rice Stadium portion of their home schedule on Saturday night when they host the Big 10's Northwestern Wildcats (2-0). But despite last week's 32-31 come from behind win over North Texas, the Owls know that they've got a lot of work to do to not only defeat Northwestern, but to keep winning games this season.

To a man, the coaches and players talked this week not so much about getting the win, as what they did wrong in getting the win. They found plenty of positives -- the special teams in particular -- but they were all upset about the numerous opportunities for points which were missed, or not fully utilized, such as in the first quarter when, despite being in constant and excellent field position, the team had to settle for field goal after field goal after field goal in taking a 16-7 lead.

"I really felt like, as an offense, we did some really good things, but at the same time, we could have done a lot more," tight end Luke Willson said. "It came down to us -- it wasn't so much things that North Texas did, but things that we did to ourselves that we really could have done a lot better job with."

Willson says the team is having a problem with the little things, such as completely and fully executing assignments and they need to be more serious and fully concentrate on making the proper blocks, reads, and cuts.

"After watching that film [Monday], the feeling I had was we really have potential as an offense to be extremely good, but we really have to execute all of our assignments," he said. "We have to take the little things more serious so that we can end up getting the ultimate goal or like really succeeding and not leaving 20 points on the board."

But the North Texas game is over. The important thing is that the Owls got the win -- which was big seeing as how last season went. The only thing coach David Bailiff wants from the players is for them to have learned from the mistakes of that game, and to focus on this week and defeating Northwestern.  

"Now they're really big and fast," Bailiff said of the Wildcats. "[Head coach] Pat [Fitzgerald] has done a really good job of recruiting. They're very multiple offensively. Their quarterback's a big-play guy. They've got some running backs who are big-play guys. And defensively, they don't blitz a lot, but they're just very sound in everything that they do. You can tell that they're a well-coached football team and they play very hard."

The key for the Owls will be in preventing the big plays, not repeating the mistakes of last week, and executing their plays. And despite the negatives from last week's win, Bailiff and the players found lots of positives. Positives that can be used this week.

While Bailiff and his staff have yet to find a way to fully incorporate running back Sam McGuffie into the games, they were pleased by the performance of senior running back Tyler Smith, who Bailiff thought did an excellent job of bringing life to a running game that had been dormant in the early stages of the North Texas game. And while praising Smith's play, Bailiff took some of the blame for the offensive line's poor play.

"[Tyler Smith is] a man," Bailiff said. "He averaged 7.7 yards a rush. And he did a lot of that on his own. We had a hard time establishing the line of scrimmage this week. We need to improve on the offensive line. I think I didn't probably do a good enough job of getting over our loss at Texas -- even though they lost, they had a thousand pats on the backs and were kind of bruised when they started that game. But hopefully they see they've got to prepare like they did against Texas."

The Owls will find out if they learned from their mistakes around 6 p.m. on Saturday night. The game will be played at Rice Stadium, and it will air on 97.5 KNFC for those unable to attend.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The comedic star of Monday's press luncheon was Rice punter Kyle Martens, who averaged 49.3 yards a punt against North Texas, three of which were downed inside North Texas's 20. Martens, who is from Spearfish, South Dakota, admitted he'd never heard of Rice when the team offered him a scholarship: "I thought Rice was in South Carolina," he said. 'I'd honestly never heard of it before." But within minutes, he was quickly looking up every piece of information he could about the school, especially since his family had promised him a brand new car if he got a full scholarship to a school....Nick Fanuzzi, who got the majority of playing time at quarterback last week, will get the start against Northwestern because of a shoulder injury suffered by Taylor McHargue.   

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