The season didn't start out this way for Rice. Sure they lost to Texas, but they were competitive and they stayed close for most of the game. They struggled against North Texas, but still got the win. The loss to Northwestern stung, but once again, the team competed, and they were, like with Texas, killed by one or two plays resulting from bad execution.
But that was the start of the season, and except for a victory over the Houston Cougars, a game in which Rice played a nearly perfect first half of football and then had to hang on for dear life to get the win, the Owls have looked awful. It's one thing to lose when you're competitive, but in their last several games, the Owls have looked to be the Dallas Cowboys of C-USA.
This Rice season has been a snowball rolling down a mountain. It was one thing to lose to Texas on one big play, but the Owls were never competitive against UCF and Tulsa, and though the players were confident going into each game, one mistake, one botched kick return, one missed tackle, and the game was over. Forget about focusing on the small things because at this point, all the Owls can hope to do is to not get caught in the avalanche of destruction that has arisen from that one small snowball.
"We've got to learn, when bad things happen, just like life, you've got to keep going," Rice head coach David Bailiff said on Monday. "You've got to draw a line in the sand. It's when you've got to be your best, not your worst. When we fumbled that kickoff [after Tulsa's first score last week], you felt on the sideline where there was just a demeanor, an attitude change. We've got to address that as a problem, and continue to work on them, and talk them through it. We've got to still be demanding from these guys to do the right thing."
It's an attitude thing according to Bailiff and the select players made available on Monday. A cultural attitude of it's all happening again and they're powerless to stop it or to change it. It's an attitude that Bailiff says has to change because Bailiff isn't going to allow a losing attitude to permeate among his squad.
"I think it's a culture that we're not going to let set in here," he said. "We've identified it, and as long as we continue to work on it, we're going to work through it."
The Owls have a chance to do something about that culture this week as they had to the Superdome to face the Tulane Green Wave (3-6). Tulane's another of those schools like Rice. A small school with little success in football for a long, long time. They're coached by Bob Toledo, a former big-time program coach at UCLA who is in his fourth season of losing football at Tulane.
Like Rice, they're a team with an attitude that needs changing before the culture of losing permanently takes over. And like Rice, Tulane is a team with talent that runs an offense somewhat similar to what Tulsa does, but without the success of Tulsa.
One thing the Owls need for success, according to Bailiff, is a bad short-term memory. The players have to forget about the last play, the last drive, the last touchdown. They can't win when they're focusing on the past because it's the present that's killing them.
"Football, you've got to have a very short memory," he says. "You need to get it behind you and you have to worry about the next play. I haven't done a good job of conveying that to this football team. But when something bad happens, you've got to put it behind you."
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If this losing culture's going to change, then it's going to be up to players like defensive lineman John Gioffre and tight end Luke Willson to get that done. Bailiff speaks glowingly of their abilities on the field, and their attitude and effort on and off the field.
"We've still got three games left...we've got to just play our hardest" said defensive lineman John Gioffre. "This is about getting morale back up for next season, and coming together as a team."
There are three games left for the Owls. Three more chances to get in the win column. And Gioffre's right. It's not really about this season anymore. It's about next season, and getting into the right mindset. The avalanche has wiped out this season for Rice. Now they just have to erase their short-term memories and focus on what's ahead.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The injury bug struck Rice again last week, and it hit them hard. Gone for the season are receivers Randy Kitchens, Andy Erickson, and linebacker Trey Briggs....Bailiff wouldn't commit to a starting quarterback for this week, saying that while Taylor Cook looked good in the second half against Tulsa, he's still going to have to beat out incumbent Nick Fanuzzi in practice this week. However, the phrasing of his answers made it sound as if Bailiff was leaning toward starting Cook.