It’s been four years since the Houston Cougars and the Rice Owls last met on the football field and played for the Bayou Bucket. The Cougars won that game 31-26. The Cougars have won lots of the games versus the Owls and lead the series 29-11, and this matchup shouldn't be any different from the last one.
The Cougars are favored by more than three touchdowns this time out. That's likely based on the fact that UH beat a PAC-12 team last week and that Rice was embarrassed by Stanford (another PAC-12 team) 62-7 back in week one of the season. But UH did struggle a bit last week against Arizona, and Rice did look like a lot better team in defeating UTEP last week.
There’s also the fact that this game is being played for the Bayou Bucket. The trophy represents bragging rights for college football in the city of Houston, and as both head coaches, Major Applewhite and David Bailiff, said this week, players on both teams have been playing against each other for a long time, going back to high school, and that the right to brag means a lot.
“For the players, who haven’t really delved into the history of the rivalry, it’s just a game to them. It’s week two,” Applewhite said. “But for the schools, and the alumni, and the city of Houston, who have been here for a long time, it’s a rivalry that everybody’s glad has been renewed.”
Bailiff, who spoke about being upset when the series was halted several years ago, is eager to heat up the rivalry.
“It would be great to get the trophy, the Bayou Bucket, back in the locker room,” Bailiff said. “We’ve had it in there a couple of times since I’ve been here and it’s a game that you take great pride in when you do win them. It’s a game where we’re going to have to execute in all phases and not make any critical errors because they are a great football team.”
The Owls always talk about the need to play smarter than everyone else, and about how they have to execute and not make mental mistakes. For the Owls to be competitive against the Cougars, they’re going to have to play near-perfect football because playing for bragging rights will not be enough for the Owls to beat the Cougars. The Cougars offense didn’t show in last week’s 19-16 win over Arizona that it can put up points the way Stanford did on Rice, but if Rice plays like it did against Stanford, then the Owls are just not going to be able to win even if the UH offense struggles.
The Owls worked the offense to near perfection in the win over UTEP, cranking out 437 yards on offense (306 yards on the run). Rice turned the ball over just once and played sound football, keeping UTEP off balance for most of the night. Then again, the Cougars proved last week that the defense can shut down a running game, holding Arizona to just 152 rushing yards a week after the Wildcats rushed for more than 500 yards.
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Houston also offers up a weapon that neither Stanford nor UTEP has come close to replicating. That weapon, of course, is defensive lineman Ed Oliver. Many superlatives are spilled regarding Oliver’s play on the field, and there are many, many NFL teams salivating over the thought of adding Oliver to their rosters in a few years.
“You’re not going to believe this guy,” Baliff said he told his team about Oliver. “He truly is the most disruptive defensive lineman I’ve seen in college football. He dominates football games. And if he’s not making the play, he’s disrupted the play somehow. And he doesn’t take plays off. A lot of great players, when they get tired, take plays off. He doesn’t take plays off. He plays hard every single snap.”
Applewhite says his team didn’t play a perfect game last week, but that the Cougars did play well enough to win. The team did look sluggish at times, especially on offense, and that likely had to do with it being the first game of the season and because Kyle Allen wasn't officially named the starting QB until just before kickoff. Still, the Cougars gained 383 yards and found a way to put points on the board against a good defense.
The game kicks off a little after 7 p.m. Saturday at TDECU Stadium on the UH campus. It’s the first home game of the season for the Cougars, and after opening the season in Sydney, Australia, then playing last week in El Paso, it’s very nearly a home game for Rice. But the Cougars should be the ones bringing home the Bayou Bucket.