The Rice Owls came into Saturday's game against the Northwestern Wildcats on a high.
Though they had played a sloppy game against North Texas the week before, the Owls had come away with the win. The offense had moved the football. The defense had made stops when it needed to. And though they hadn't been perfect, the Owls had held firm and won a game they would have lost in the years past.
Defeating North Texas is one thing however. Defeating Northwestern of the Big 10 is quite another.
And defeating Northwestern is just something the Owls weren't able to pull off as they played another mistake-filled game that found the Owls defense finally collapse under the pressure as they lost 30-13 to fall to 1-2 on the season before 15,562 in the team's opening game at Rice Stadium this season.
The Owls said last week that the key to defeating Northwestern would be preventing big plays. But they weren't able to pull that off.
Despite some first-half offensive ineptitude, the Owls were hanging around 6-0 late in the second quarter. But quarterback Taylor Cook, in for the ineffective Nick Fanuzzi, threw an interception from deep within his own territory that was returned for a touchdown to make the score 13-0.
Rice came out for the second half down 13-3, but on their first offensive play of the second half, Northwestern scored when QB Dan Persa threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to put the Wildcats up 20-3.
And from that point on, even more so than it already was, the game was over and the Owls were well on their way to their second defeat of the season.
The Owls were also harmed, once again, by their inability to find a way to incorporate supposed stud running back Sam McGuffie into the offense. McGuffie has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but those flashes have been brief. Very brief.
McGuffie touched the ball only 13 times on Saturday, catching seven passes for 48 yards while getting six rushing attempts for a total of 30 yards.
But maybe it wasn't so much a failure of getting the ball to McGuffie as it was that Northwestern was just too good. It's easy to see Northwestern as the Big 10 equivalent of Rice, and that comparison is probably fair.
Then again, Northwestern plays in the Big 10, and Northwestern is competitive in the Big 10. That automatically makes them bigger, faster, stronger than the Owls who are more equipped to handle Conference USA physicality than that of the Big 10's.
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The Owls now have another week to adjust. Another week to figure out how to utilize McGuffie. Another week in which to drill into each other that the mistakes need to be minimized, and that they have to capitalize on all opportunities.
And the Owls have another week to test their maturity, another week to prove that they've grown from what they were last year where they just fell apart and had problems with just staying competitive.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
Next up for the Owls is a home contest on Saturday night against the Baylor Bears. The game will be televised on CBS College Sports with the game due to start at 7 p.m....Punter Kyle Martens averaged 50 yards on his six punts. His 19 punts this season are the most in the FBS this season....The Owls had nine possessions on Saturday in which they held the ball for 1:40 or less....Kicker Chris Boswell has six field goals in his last two games, and he's 7-for-10 this season.