The Rice Owls played a hell of a football game last Saturday. They played a game that nobody, except for themselves, thought they were capable of playing. They shut down the Texas Longhorn running game, and they even shoved around the Texas offense from time to time.
Yet the Owls still lost the football game. Despite their effort, despite their heart, they still lost. Despite the confidence they gained from that game, the only thing that matters is that they lost. And they haven't forgotten that one small fact.
The Owls play football again on Saturday, traveling to Denton to take on North Texas. It would be easy to think that the Owls will suffer a bit of a letdown, what with having gone toe-to-toe with the Longhorns and with playing a so-called lesser team this week. It would be easy to think this, but that's not how the Owls see it.
"I don't think there's a chance at all [of a let down vs. North Texas]," free safety Travis Bradshaw said at Monday's media luncheon. "We're all excited. We didn't get a win last week. We're still hungry. We just got a taste of how good we can be."
Being hungry is the key to everything. The Owls remember last season, an injury-plagued disaster that saw them win only twice after having gone to a bowl the year before. They don't want a repeat of that, and the sooner they get that first win under their belt, the happier they'll be. Still, while that Longhorn game is over and done with, the Owls came away with a lot that will help them out.
Rice head coach David Bailiff was thrilled by his defense, especially his front line, which was playing without its best player, Scott Solomon. They didn't let the vaunted Longhorn offensive front push them around, they kept the big plays to a minimum, and they made tackles in open space, something which the team had lots and lots of problems with last year.
"I'm proud of that defensive effort," Bailiff said. "That was one of the things going into that game where Texas was going to try to run the ball better and I thought we played run defense a lot better. They averaged a little over four yards a carry, but if you take one of their long runs out of there, they're below that. The defense tackled well in space. There were times when we wouldn't have made those plays."
Taylor McHargue will return as the starting quarterback this week. Bailiff liked the way the redshirt freshman kept his composure, and he was especially happy with the way McHargue made things happen with his feet.
Bailiff was also pleased with the work of his two running backs, Tyler Smith and Sam McGuffie. The one fault Bailiff had with McGuffie was that McGuffie seemed to be going for the home run on every play, and Bailiff is trying to get him to realize that that's not always possible.
He saved the most praise for his offensive line, which at times, especially on the opening drive, dominated the Horns defense, opening holes and creating space for the runners.
"Our offensive line," Bailiff said. "Those guys really pushed some people around and created some holes and seams up there, and set some walls that allowed us a pretty good rushing night."
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The Owls might have lost to Texas, but the game gave them something they've been lacking for a while: confidence. Though they only came away with three points on their opening drive, it was the first time since early last season that the offense had a long drive in which they just totally dominated the opposition. If they can do that against Texas, they should be able to handle the North Texas defense.
"Going down on that first drive, it felt great," offensive lineman Scott Mitchell said. "We haven't had a long drive like that in a while. Especially after last season, so it was good. Especially on the first drive of the opening game of the season against Texas and against that defense. That drive like that, it felt amazing."
That drive might have been amazing for Mitchell and the Owls. But listening to them, there's one thing that will be even more amazing. That's getting the win this week. They didn't see many victories last season, and they'd like to make the North Texas game the first of many to come this season.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Seventeen Owls played their first collegiate game against the Horns, led by QB McHargue who was the only one to get a start....Safety Travis Bradshaw had 10 tackles against Texas. That was his seventh consecutive game with double-digit tackles, and the 13th time in his 19 career starts....This is the third meeting for Rice and Texas State, and the series is split 1-1.