Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – Thinking it's just Rice this weekend? Texas RB coach and favorite son Major Applewhite has two words for you: Louisiana-Monroe.
Well, maybe that's one word, but it's the last word in taking an opponent too lightly, as far as Applewhite is concerned. Applewhite was on the bitter end of a 21-14 home loss as Alabama's offensive coordinator just 10 months ago. It was just the latest reminder, in many places, of the dwindling gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots'.
"I don't think anybody is at a disadvantage at kickoff," Applewhite said this week, "and that scares the heck out of me every time we play... If you come into contact with a hot quarterback, a running back and a receiver, and if you go out there and slop around and put three or four balls on the ground, you'll be in a fight in the fourth quarter."
As if Texas fans needed reminding, ESPN Classic re-broadcast Thursday the Owls' 19-17 shocker against Texas in 1994. It was Texas' first loss to Rice since 1965: the Horns have not lost since. But the flock of Owls that descend upon Austin this weekend might represent one of the two or three best Rice teams since that upset 14 years ago. Some would argue that Rice is the best non-conference team Texas faces in 2008. The Owls averaged 49 points in wins against Memphis and SMU and hung with Vanderbilt for three quarters before falling, 38-21.
QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard are the most polished pass-and-catch combination that Texas' young secondary will see this side of its bloody October slate. Dillard is the nation's active career leader in yards, catches and TDs. Clement broke all kinds of school passing records last season and is the only QB in NCAA history to pass for 300+ yards and run for 100+ in consecutive games. Meanwhile, the Owls' defense has been so abysmal for many years (ranking dead last in pass defense last year) that the most positive thing you can see about the unit is that it can only get better.
Texas has won by an average margin of 54-10 the past three meetings, but the one-two punch of Clement and Dillard should keep this one competitive for a while. In the end, Texas just has too much depth. Texas 49, Rice 17.
Ross Lucksinger, Inside Texas Editor - The Owls have shown significant, steady improvement on the offensive side of the ball over the last four years and will bring to Austin what is soon to be the most prolific QB/WR tandum in the history of college football. But for all that the Owls have accomplished in the short time since Major Applewhite helped shepherd an option rushing attack into a spread passing offense, Saturday will be a blowout.
It will be a blowout because Texas is more talented top to bottom, because the Horns will be able to put pressure on their opponent's talented quarterback, because their opponent's defense defense will struggle to keep up with Texas' passing attack.
Basically, it's going to be Florida Atlantic all over again.
Based on Rice's personnel, I'm expecting both the opener and this game to look almost exactly the same.
McCoy will run. Without effective containment and only two linebackers to track him down in the open field, expect a lot more rushing yards from him than the eight he put up against UTEP. Expect something closer to the 103 he churned up against FAU.
The defense will give up a big passing play. Much like against FAU, the Horns are facing an experienced QB who knows how to get the ball to his weapons. The athleticism difference between the two teams is too great for the Rice offense to move the ball consistently, but there will be one or two breakdowns in the Texas secondary and one big passing TD for the Owls.
The Texas offense will be very efficient and nearly unstoppable. I'm giving the same prediction as I gave for the Florida Atlantic game, except I'm giving the Horns and additional touchdown due to the woeful Owl defense. Rice scores one TD, chips in several field goals, but is ultimately crushed by Texas. Texas 52, Rice 16.
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor – If Rice wins this football game, it might be the most amazing sports feat ever. Ever.
Here's how the week went for the Rice Owls: they were stuck in Nashville after playing and losing to Vanderbilt last weekend (thank you, Hurricane Ike). They didn't get back to Houston until Tuesday.
Most of the Rice players have been living without power, and so is head coach David Bailiff, who slept this week in his office with his wife and twin daughters. Bailiff took the easy chair, his wife got the couch, his daughters got the air mattress on the floor. Not exactly how you'd expect to spend the week preparing to play Texas in Austin.
One player for Rice had a three-bedroom house that miraculously still had power, and a dozen players moved in temporarily, giving a whole new meaning to the word "teamwork."
At their first practice this week, the players spent their time scouring the practice field for debris left over from Ike's wrath: broken glass, nails, screws, slivers of wood.
Again, not exactly how you'd expect to spend the week preparing to play Texas.
How will this affect Saturday's game? Well, initially, the players will probably feel a great sense of relief when they board the bus and head to Austin. After all, they'll get a hotel room with air conditioning and all the water and food they can drink and eat. They can watch TV. Those buses will also pluck them out of the devastation and give them at least a couple of days of relief. They'll be able to hit somebody.
But ultimately, the Owls can't be in the right frame of mind to play this game, nor are they properly prepared. In fact, it's embarrassing that this game will be played at all even in perfect conditions. Texas annually drops a half-a-hundred on the Owls, who are woefully overmatched.
Fortunately for Bailiff, he is fast friends with Texas coach Mack Brown, and thus this game will not be an 80-10 disaster, though that could easily happen. Brown will make sure that doesn't happen.
However, Texas needs to get quality work done in this game. After missing last week's game against Arkansas (thank you again, Ike), the Longhorns need to find a running game, and usually Rice will provide that elixir. Texas will run roughshod in this one early, and Brown will keep his offensive scheme simple. Expect to see plenty of John Chiles and Sherrod Harris at quarterback after Colt McCoy tosses his fourth touchdown pass of the game, and expect the Longhorns to score either a defensive touchdown, a special teams touchdown or both.
What the Owls have done this week – they came together and helped one another and persevered – will help them in the long run. What they've seen will stay with them the rest of their lives. Unfortunately for them, the game against UT at the end of this week will not have a fairy tell ending. Texas 49, Rice 10.
Michael Pearle, Co-publisher – In the wake of the terrible devastation that Hurricane Ike wrought on our state this week, the Longhorns' game with Rice Saturday has much the same feel for me as the Horns' game with Houston following the attacks on 9-11-2001.
In looking at images of destroyed homes and businesses and flooded neighborhoods, search and rescue teams going down streets in boats, coffins strewn along the side of the road due to the flooding of cemetaries, exhausted survivors boarding buses to be evacuated, animals in the tops of trees, and on and on, it is hard for those of us not directly affected by the storm to grasp what the people on the Gulf Coast have been through. Texas' game with Rice this weekend seems truly insignificant given the effects of this disaster on the state. And it seems almost unfair that the Rice Owls, already a massive underdog to Texas, would have to try and prepare for this game under the conditions they have faced in Houston this week, with power outages all over town and many players crammed into each others' apartments.
But I remember a week or so after the 9/11 attacks when Texas took the field against the Cougars in Houston, there was something about seeing the guys with the white uniforms and burnt orange trim out there under the lights that brought a sense of normalcy back, and made us forget for a few hours what a dangerous world we live in. Watching the Longhorns play football, putting on our orange jerseys and caps, singing our songs, are a part of what makes life a joy for many of us. And the same is of course true for the fans of the Rice Owls. Whatever the score turns out to be, here's hoping the game gives the people of the state who lost so much this past weekend a little bit of time to forget about what's been destroyed, and to remember that there are some good things, like family, friends, and Longhorn and Owl football, that they do still have. Texas 45, Rice 14.
Clendon Ross, Co-publisher – I had to chuckle this week when I read Mack Brown's comments about the fact that his team's running backs have yet to fumble the ball this season. "That. Is. Huge," the San Antonio Express-News quoted the Texas coach, highlighting the emphasis Brown put on each word. My reaction didn't come from disagreeing with the coach on this point, rather it reminded me that despite what seems like half a season's worth of football outside of Austin, and an eternity since UT walked off the field in El Paso, the Horns are heading into just their third game of the season Saturday. The lack of fumbles stat encompasses all of eight quarters of football. And eight quarters of football is all we've seen in every other aspect of this Texas team.
Do I like the fact that the Horns have been stingy with the football? Absolutely. And more generally, do I like where this team is at heading into game three? Well, more so than last year, that's for sure. But this season is just two games old for Texas. There's still a lot of uncertainty about the running game (can it continue without turnovers AND add an element of explosiveness, both of which are crucial to success once the Big 12 schedule rolls around), about the pass rush (yes, there has been some pressure on the opposing QB in the first two games, but not nearly enough to derail the passing attacks of Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech, etc.) and about the secondary (this unit's success is closely correlated with the pass rush; there's simply no way to magically make them more seasoned with, well, seasoning).
So the Rice game, which should be a mismatch similar to the first two weeks of the season, is important in the obvious respect (getting a win) but also in metaphorically advancing the ball in those three areas mentioned above. And the Owls are going to toss the ball around all over the field, providing a test of both the front seven and the back four. With Lamarr Houston back in the mix at DT and with another two weeks of reps for the youngsters in the secondary, I expect that we'll see a better performance from both of those groups. Combined with a so far so steady offensive attack, that points to another comfortable win. Texas 49, Rice 13.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 52, Rice 13