UH Preps for UTEP While Rice Takes on Southern Miss

It's no secret that the Houston Cougars (4-0) have problems when it comes to playing the UTEP Miners (2-2). No matter how good the Coogs might be, or how bad the Miners might be, the game is a struggle. They've played eight times, and each team has won four times. The Coogs are 2-1 for the past three, but UTEP knocked the Cougars out of the BCS-buster hunt two seasons ago, and they knocked Case Keenum out of a game with a concussion last season.

It's also no secret that the Cougars have struggled on the road, not just this season, but in seasons past. This is well known to UTEP, whose head coach, Mike Price, has found ways to take advantage of UH's road problems in the past, and who admits that he has been carefully studying the tapes of the UH/Louisiana Tech game for clues on how to defeat the Coogs tomorrow night in El Paso. And while Price won't admit to having noticed anything special that Louisiana Tech was doing to the Cougars, he did note one thing: The Cougars didn't seem to be prepared.

"I don't know if Houston was really prepared or ready to play that game [against Louisiana Tech] until it was almost too late," Price said on Monday.

This is a problem that Cougar head coach Kevin Sumlin has acknowledged in the past, particularly after the North Texas game. He said this is an issue that needs to be addressed, but if it is going to be addressed, they better do it quickly seeing as how the game is being played tomorrow night off a quick turnaround.

"We're used to playing at kind of weird times," Keenum said after Saturday's win over Georgia State. "We've had a lot of different games on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Mondays, Sundays, so we'll just do what we do and go out and there prepare to win."

The Cougars say they need to work on their focus. That focus has to be on UTEP. And linebacker Marcus McGraw said that focus started as soon as Saturday's game ended.

"Just being smart tonight, first of all," he said on Saturday. "And getting ready tomorrow [Sunday] and not sitting on this win too hard because tomorrow we're already starting on UTEP. We've just got to get here tomorrow and refocus our minds real quick knowing we have a game in a couple of days."

If the Coogs come out prepared and ready to go, then they should win the game easily. They are, as to be expected, the NCAA's top passing team, and Keenum, when given time by his offensive line, has a plethora of running and receiving weapons to choose from. And the better the offense does, the better the defense does, spending less time on the field, which is a good thing, even when it comes to a struggling UTEP team, because, as UH fans know, there's no such thing as a struggling UTEP team when it comes to the Cougars.

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Brett Favre will be in the broadcast booth for Saturday's Rice/Southern Miss game.
The Rice Owls (1-2) don't have quite the same problem as the Cougars. If anything, the Owls have a problem with being too consistent, as in consistently inconsistent. They play great for one offensive series. They play awful the next. They'll be a fine-tuned offensive machine that suddenly throws a rod and turns into a penalty-prone, mistake-laden offense that is lucky to get off a field goal from 50-plus yards. Their best receiving weapons are two tight ends, Luke Willson and Vance McDonald, who seemingly catch everything thrown in their direction and refuse to be tackled. Unfortunately, the rest of the so-called offensive weapons are a bit easier for defenders to bring down.

The defense is as inconsistent as the offense. They often put opposing defenses in third-and-long situations only to miss assignments, whiff on tackles, get beat on bombs or commit stupid penalties. Head coach David Bailiff refers to this as Rice beating Rice, and the Owls are a team that has a very thin margin for errors.

The Owls travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Saturday to face Southern Miss in a game that will feature Brett Favre offering up a TV commentary for anyone who can get CSS (i.e., not most of Houston). Southern Miss (3-1) is one of C-USA's best teams, upset loss to Marshall notwithstanding, and for Rice to have a shot at winning this game, they have to stop letting Rice beat Rice. Besides, after playing two Top 25 teams, C-USA play has to be a bit of a relief for Rice.

"You play those tough opponents and we got out of those three pretty healthy," Bailiff said of the opening schedule, which saw Rice face UT, Purdue and Baylor. "You play the best and hopefully we will be our best when we roll into Southern Miss. Yeah, this is a big game because it is our first conference game. Two weeks ago you are top of the world because you beat Purdue, and then you lose to every talented Baylor squad. We need to play our best. Take care of the football. Keep the chains moving. We need to tackle better defensively. Eliminate the stupid penalties. But sitting here 1-2, I still [think] we are a pretty good football team."

The Owls are 2-0 all-time against Southern Miss, but this game promises to be much tougher for the Owls, seeing as how the last time they faced Southern Miss, the Owls had players like Chase Clement and James Casey. This Southern Miss team features the NCAA's 28th-ranked defense -- the Owls are at 107 -- and the Golden Eagle offense is led by senior QB Austin Davis.

"I know he is running that offense," Bailiff said of Davis. "He has grown up in the [head coach Larry] Fedora system. Rushing touchdowns, he is one of the tops in the school. They are scoring enough points to be 3-1. He has a lot of confidence in what he is doing. They have the bulk of their receivers back. They have some talented running backs. Like us, I think each week they hope to get better and they are sitting at 3-1."

It's doubtful Southern Miss will take Rice for granted, especially after that loss to Marshall. So for Rice to have any chance, they have to stop being consistently inconsistent and play error-free ball. It's doubtful, but it's possible. As for the Cougars, they should have learned this lesson regarding UTEP several years ago. Then again, they should've learned this lesson regarding preparedness several years ago, too.

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