Both parties know that a win tonight can set their season on a course for better times in 2008. SMU is looking to kick off the Junes Jones Era on a winning note. For the Owls, they also want to take a giant step forward, but in Coach David Bailiff's second year on South Main.
Keys to Success For Rice
Ball Security – No Giveaways
SMU has made no secret of their intent to create turnovers in tonight's game. They've suggested that creating turnovers, and capitalizing on them, is more of a priority than shutting down the Owl Offense all together. Rice should be focused on holding on to the football – they've worn "Protect the Ball" on the back of their practice shorts all since fall practice started. Turnovers can disrupt an Offense's rhythm, and wear out a Defense. Rice has proven it can move the ball and score with its Offense so they must make SMU do the same. Giving up easy points through turnovers just keeps a young team in a game - something that's dangerous with a June Jones Offense.
Finding An Offensive Rhythm Early
Rice finished last year with all cylinders firing in its high octane Offense. If the Owls can score on its first several possessions it will force the SMU Offense to do the same. The Mustangs will be led by a young QB, likely true freshman Bo Levi Mitchell, so putting pressure on them to consistently execute their offense in matching scores may prove difficult for their youngsters to do. The Owls need to score from start to finish. I hope the hard work on the running game will also show up tonight in the form of perhaps 150+ team rushing yards.
Playing Better Defense
Sounds like a primary goal for any team of course, but the Owls must prove they are a much improved Defensive team to win tonight's game. Some folks from the SMU side have already discounted the Owl defense as unable to stop the freshman led Run-and-Shoot attack from the Ponies. The Owls have the chance to prove them wrong tonight. Something I feel they can do. Last I checked they may have Mustangs on the sideline but none of them are a "Colt" (as in Brennan, last year's NFL drafted Hawaii QB). If the Owls can hurry SMU QBs with constant pressure tonight they can disrupt the Ponies' rhythm and force hurried (if not poor) decisions from their young QBs.
Consistent Special Teams Play
The Mustangs have an excellent Punter and Kicker rolled into one in Thomas Morstead. I don't expect Rice to win the Special Teams battle but they must at least perform consistently. The Owls can ill afford a blocked or "shanked" punt. I'm expecting better Special Teams coverage from Rice units – they have gotten much more physical since last year's season. That "physicality" must show itself in secure coverages yielding no big returns.
So, there's a little more talk. And that's enough from me. Now its' the Owls' turn to do the talking on the field. It's time to strap on the pads, and mentally travel to that land of gladiators and fierce combat. Time for them to put it all together on the field and take flight like winged warriors…It's "R" Time!!!!!!!!!!