Why Does Rice Play Texas?

Knowing they would return home to a city ravaged by Hurricane Ike the Rice Owls did their best to focus on football Saturday night in Nashville. They looked as if they might pull off the upset but unraveled in the second half. The Owls returned to Houston Monday to focus on a game they would love to win...

In light of the rash of injuries dealt to the Rice Football program in recent weeks a light hearted debate has surfaced as to what strategy the Owls will incorporate into their game planning against Texas - will it be "conserve and survive" or will it be "throw everything you have at them and hope to pull off a huge upset".

That's an easy one. Name one coach worth his salt that ever plays football "just to survive."

It darn sure won't be David Bailiff and his Rice Owls.

If the game in Nashville showed us anything its that Rice plays to win. In spite of great circumstance, like mounting injuries, and a hurricane at home, the Owls showed a lot of mettle against a good Vandy team. But then again, you should've known long before Saturday night, when the Owls played a tough SEC team onto its heels, that these Owls are always in it to win it. They love a challenge it seems. Obviously beating the #7 nationally ranked 'Horns in Austin is perhaps the biggest one the Owls will face all year.

"Their Best Shot"

Coaches like to use an expression when discussing playing an underdog - "we'll get their best shot." Rice is obviously an underdog to Texas, the current spread is 30 points. But they will give Texas their best shot. Count on it. While this matchup has been lopsided in recent years, Rice has made a lot of progress as a team in 2008.

Owls' injuries perhaps robbed them of a chance at being 3-0 right now, but several of those injured players will return to action this week. No doubt they'll be needed for Rice to have a shot at an upset. Big games like the one against Texas this weekend have a way of "healing" aches and minor injuries so I expect those not seriously injured will be ready. Rice could also get a shot in the arm from some of their talented youngsters. Red-shirts off, several youngsters have a chance to make a name for themselves this year. Freshmen Michael Smith has already been in the D-Line rotation all year, and is getting better every week. John Gioffre is also in the mix now. Ronnie Lillard is in the rotation now at Linebacker. He logged 3 solo tackles against Vanderbilt. No time like the present for all these guys to step up. Chris Jammer did it two weeks ago. Who's next?

The Reward

Though Texas will be bigger and faster, Rice has narrowed the talent gap somewhat in David Bailiff's second year of building the Owl football program. The game last Saturday night showed us that. The Owls basically went to Nashville with a defensive front that represented only 30 percent of its season opening starters - and played lights out for 30 minutes. Poor field position eventually did the Owls in, but Rice's schemes were solid against Vandy. They played good defense with backups.

Looking in the mirror, this team should be saying, "we can play with a SEC team - why not Texas?" Vanderbilt isn't Texas obviously, but the 'Horns put their cleats on the same way as the Owls. Who knows, with a mistake free performance, establishing a good offensive rhythm early, and perhaps a Texas team looking past Rice - anything could happen. It has before, and its why the games are played.

Why does Rice play Texas?"

Financial reasons aside, the bottom line is beating a team like Texas would launch the Rice Football Program into a new hemisphere. Recruiting would become easier, attendance should improve, and people that have never uttered the words "Rice Football" would perhaps speak them for the first time. The building of the program would accelerate exponentially. That's a big payoff for one game.

So to answer the debate - you do everything in your power to beat Texas.

The Owls certainly will...


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