The Owls have had plenty of time to think about what went wrong last Saturday night. Coaches have been saying for years that biggest improvement in a team comes between the first and second game. That will surely have to happen for the Owls to fine the "win" column this week. While Baylor is no powerhouse they regularly recruit against rice for the same athletes and are of course members of a BCS conference.
The offense will have to find consistency and increase its tempo. That starts with Chase Clement. The Rice junior shouldered much of the blame for last week's defeat at the hands of Nicholls State, but the entire team, coaches included, have spent the week working on mistakes that each made. Rice must play with the realization that it will not line up against many teams and purely "out athlete" them. Scheming was such a big part of the success Rice found last year. Tom Herman, like Major Applewhite before him, must have concluded this week that the offense will need all of the playbook to be successful. In press conferences this week, Coach Bailiff hinted at the fact that they held back certain plays in the interest of protecting Chase and Jarett Dillard. Unfortunately we discovered that we couldn't do that and still win the game. Without points on the board, we had no margin for error, so when those errors eventually happened, we didn't recover. There's no reason to think the Owls won't bounce back strong this week. Each of the sum parts played well last Saturday night – we just didn't organize the successes into the necessary sequences needed to sustain drives and score points. If we are to be successful the offense must dictate to the defense using our full complement of weapons. JD will again likely see double coverage so other receivers have to make plays. This will help Chase find his rhythm and keep the defense from sitting on any particular play. I'd like to see Dillard used more in the 2nd of progressions. I think the running game can be effective – in spite of what some Owl fans are saying, I'd love to see a 3 –man rotation of our backs. The Horned Frogs chewed up 181 rushing yards against the Bears. I think we can do the same.
The defense will have faced perhaps an even bigger challenge in preparation this week as they shift form defending the Option run to the Spread attack of the Bears. The Owls cornerback duo of Ja'Corey Shepherd and Brandon King will see about 10 times more passing against the Bears. The Bears have a couple big receivers that can create mis-match problems in Ernest Smith (6-3 191) and David Gettys (6-4 211). Gettys is a track star that can obviously run well too. Mikail Baker (6-0 191) starts at the "Z" receiver position and returns kicks too. In the backfield, Brandon Whitaker is the starter. He is the Bears' punt returner as well. Whitaker is dangerous out of the backfield too, having caught 65 career passes. The Owls coverage defense will get a strong test. The Bears pattern their offense to resemble that of Texas Tech's – they just aren't real efficient at it yet. Brian Raines will likely have the opportunity to excel. The Rice DE's – likely to be Dietrich Davis and Scott Solomon will get the opportunity to pin their ears back and pressure the QB. That job won't necessarily be easy - TCU only sacked Baylor‘s QB's once, but were without All American DE Tommy Blake.
To win Saturday the Owls will not only have to play better on both sides of the ball they must eliminate the turnovers and special teams mistakes that ultimately led to their loss against Nicholls State. If the Owls can come out of Waco with the win Saturday they will gain much need confidence as they face a tough 4 game stretch where they'll take on Texas Tech, Texas, Southern Miss, and cross town rival Houston. I'm sure Gary Patterson has had many conversations with David Bailiff this week on defending the Bears.
Here are some key matchups for Saturday's game against Baylor:
Dietrich Davis vs. Chris Griesenbeck – Baylor starting left tackle Chris Smith will be out of the game after going down with a sprained MCL in the TCU game. He was Baylor's most experienced OL, notching 21 starts for the Bears. The Owls must exploit the match up with Smith's backup Chris Griesenbeck, who is a red shirt freshman who walked on last year.
Tom Herman vs. Baylor Defense – Herman must call a game that is both executable and indefensible. Not an easy thing to do, but the Owls must rely on what took them to a bowl last year – confusing defenses with unpredictable, high percentage plays that moved the chains. Allowing opposing defenses to anticipate where Chase and JD will go does not protect them – it arguably puts them at a disadvantage.
Rice Secondary vs. Baylor WRs – Ja'Corey Shepherd and Brandon King are two of the better corners in the C-USA. They will get the first of several weeks of tests on Saturday. How they respond against Baylor will probably say a lot about the next several weeks will go. I'm not crazy about them playing so much on special teams – staying on the field just takes away from their legs in the fourth quarter. Against a spread offense they'll be on the field plenty enough as is.
The Owls will win if: Chase completes 60% of his passes and doesn't turn the ball over. The Owls need 150 + yards on the ground. Last year's success aside, Rice is still a team that cannot make several mistakes and still win. Fundamentally, we have to eliminate mistakes and execute: block-tackle, pitch-catch, minimize penalties, eliminate turnovers.
Kickoff is at 6:00 p.m.