Rice Owls Battle The Little Things

I've got a confession to make. I've got this thing for mediocre mid-`90s alt-rock, specifically, Bush. I mention this because whenever I attend a Rice press conference, or do the interview thing after the games, the one thing I hear over and over is a discussion about little things. So thanks to Rice, I can't get Bush's "Little Things" out of my head.

So this week I'm sharing with you. The 1-3 Rice Owls are hosting the 2-2 SMU Mustangs at 6 p.m. at Rice Stadium on Saturday night. And for the Owls to defeat the Ponies, they're going to have to do something they've been unable to do this entire season: they're going to have win their battle against the little things, because it's these little things, these little mistakes, which are killing the Owls week after week after week.

The Owls start conference play this week, and as far as they're concerned, the past four games have all been about preparing for Conference USA play. They've been learning what they can do offensively -- like how to fit Sam McGuffie into the offense, or which quarterback should play, or how Tyler Smith and McGuffie can play out of the same backfield at the same time -- and what they can do defensively.

The big thing the Owls have learned, besides the fact that their punter Kyle Martens and field goal kicker Chris Boswell are exceptional, is that they're not a good enough team to overcome the little things that are killing them game after game. The offense has been able to move down the field against every team the Owls have played -- yes, even Texas -- but at about every juncture, the Owls have made little mistakes that have cost them points.

"What we have to do is we have to worry about Rice," head coach David Bailiff said on Monday. "We have to execute what we do offensively, and defensively, and on special teams. That's really what we take out of these [first four games]....It wasn't really what Texas did, what Northwestern did, it wasn't really what Baylor did. It's what we didn't do. And we had opportunities and we can't have those same type of opportunities present themselves at SMU and not take advantage of them. We've got to get touchdowns when we're in the end zone. We've got to tackle better. We've got to eliminate the big play."

The Owls had drives of 14 and 11 plays to open up the game against Baylor last week. The first drive netted only three points and the second netted zero points. That's because when the team's driving they start to make little mistakes. There will be a false start. Or there will be a hold. The line lets a defender through. The quarterback makes a wrong read, or a running back tries to hit the wrong hole. And suddenly all of those little things build to one big mistake and the Owls, instead of scoring a touchdown are finding themselves lucky to get three points.

That in turn puts pressure on the Rice defense. The Owl defense has, for the most part, done an exceptional job. The line has been good at pressuring opposing quarterbacks for the most part, but it only takes one big play for a touchdown to happen, and in all four games, so far, the Owls defense has slipped up on at least one play.

"If you look at who we're playing...we haven't been favored in any of our games," nose tackle John Gioffrie said. "We've been the underdog. And we're really just, just kind of fighting for our reputation. And we're getting closer and closer. Like coach was saying, there's just these little tiny mistakes, and none of the scores of the game really justify how much we were in the games....we have this tough schedule so that we're already prepared for the rest of this season."

The rest of that season starts against SMU which last week lost 41-24 to number-four ranked TCU. The Ponies, coached by June Jones, play the run-and-shoot, and are thought of, much like the Houston Cougars, as a pass-first team. But much as the Cougars have been changing up that pass-first mentality, so too has SMU which has been showcasing a running attack led by sophomore Zach Line, a converted linebacker averaging 103.8 yards a game.

"You just can't play the pass," Bailiff said. "You're going to have to make sure you get the numbers right and June does a good job of seeing where you have your numbers and where you don't. They're an improving football team."

And for the Owls to have any shot against this improving football team, they're going to have to find some way to stop screwing up the little things because those little things are leading to big, big mistakes.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Owls and Mustangs are meeting for the 88th time. SMU holds a 46-40-1 series edge....The Owls have scored on their first possession in three of their four games this season, getting two field goals and a touchdown. But it should be noted that SMU has scored on 14 of 16 trips inside the red zone, getting a touchdown on 12 of those trips. Red zone scoring has been a noted problem for the Owls....The Owls have, however, scored a touchdown in 68 consecutive games.

And in honor of the Owls and their problems with the little things, I present for you, Bush and "Little Things" because as the song says, it's the little things that kill.

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