A Call to Battle - Rice vs. SMU

There's no bowl implications for this year's game between Rice and SMU, nothing but pride and the Mayor's Cup is on the line. So who wants this one more? The Ponies playing for their soon to be ex-coach? Or the Owls, playing to close out the season with 4 straight wins and momentum for the future?

Regardless of records these two teams have never had a problem getting fired up to play each other. Rewind to 2001 when Rice needed a win over the Ponies to secure a bowl berth - the Ponies prevailed 37-21 and Rice, without a guaranteed bowl tie-in, stayed at home in spite of an 8 win season. The Ponies again were spoilers of sorts for the Owls in 2005 when they beat Rice 27-7 - a game that was one of the last of the Ken Hatfield era. Rice returned the favor last year though, winning a hard fought 31-27 game with a Bencil Smith interception at the Rice 4 yard line late in the 4th quarter. The win propelled Rice to the New Orleans Bowl while SMU finished 6-6 and stayed at home. The Ponies never quite got back on track this year and as a result SMU's Athletic Director Steve Orsini has announced that this will be Phil Bennett's last season as head coach. SMU has 1 victory to Rice's 2 in 2007. Both teams are looking at this game with the intention of building for the future. SMU may have a slight edge statistically - they are 6-2 in Homecoming games at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

These teams have a lot in common on the field and off. Both are private universities who once enjoyed "Glory Days" while in the SWC. Each has struggled to find success in the last decade, enjoying only brief glimpses of it. Rice has changed coaches twice in the last 3 years - SMU will be doing so this year - each looking for long term answers. Both were members of the WAC before joining C-USA. Both are private institutions. The two are located in Texas' 2 biggest cities, yet each has a serene campus with small enrollments. On the field two players bear strikingly similar skills sets, SMU quarterback Justin Willis and Rice's Chase Clement are both as dangerous with their arms and their feet. Statistically the two players are within 100 yards of each other for total offense on the season. Chase Clement has totalled 2452 total yards on the season thus far compared to Willis' 2368 yards. Each is arguably the MVP of their respective team. Even both head coaches were former defensive coordinators. On that side of the ball, SMU is very similar too - also very young and has struggled with injuries to key players all year.

So as usual, this game should be a hard fought battle of two very similar programs from like institutions. This game is almost like two siblings going at it - knock down, drag out, then at the end of the day get up and shake hands as brothers woven of the same fiber. Make no mistake though, the battle will be fierce.

Players of Note:

SMU's Thomas Morstead, a Pearland native, leads C-USA in punting with a 44.1 yard average.

Defensive End Corey Muse leads the Mustangs in sacks with 5.

Sophomore cornerback Bryan McCann leads the Ponies with 2 interceptions. The Oklahoma City native was a member of the C-USA All Freshman Team last year.

Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders is another SMU player from the Greater Houston area. The Bellville native leads SMU in receiving with 52 catches for 652 yards.

Justin Willis leads the team in rushing, but another sophomore James Mapps, also a member of the C-USA All Freshman Team last year, is second with 384 yards on 82 carries.

Keys to a Rice Win:

Ball security - without 7 turnovers last week against UTEP the Owls would not have needed the Superhuman efforts of Chase Clement and others. Rice is a team with a small margin for error right now - and believe it or not Chase is human.

Stop 3rd and 4th down conversions - the Owls held UTEP to 7 of 19 on 3rd down conversions and stopped all the Miner's 4th down attempts.

Take the lead early - Both Owl victories this year came when they were leading at the end of the 1st quarter. The Owls need points when they get the ball - preferably touchdowns.

Create turnovers - Willis has had problems turning the football over this year. Getting 2-3 takeaways early could take him out of his rhythm.

Stop the run - the Owls did a great job of shutting down UTEP's Marcus Thomas, who was eighth in the country in rushing headed into last week's game. If the Owls can stop James Mapps, and contain Justin Willis they stand a better chance of keeping the Ponies out of the end zone. SMU has decent receivers but Fred Rouse and Lorne Sam they're not.

Start the game on a high and finish it that way - the Owls have had a few slow starts this year. They need to leave the shovels in the shed in this game - no digging of the proverbial "deep holes" that have plagued them in their last two starts. They can't afford to get behind in this game, especially on the road and playing in the other team's Homecoming Game.

Go OWLS!!!

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