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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 3:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Reliant Stadium (71,054) -- Houston, Texas. Television: FSN, MASN2. Home Record: Houston 1-0, Rice 1-0. Away Record: Houston 1-0, Rice 0-1. Neutral Record: Houston 0-0, Rice 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 1-0, Rice 0-0. Series Record: Houston leads, 28-11.
GAME NOTES: Reliant Stadium will host the battle for the Bayou Bucket for the second consecutive season on Saturday when the Houston Cougars and Rice Owls square off as non-conference opponents.
This will be the 15th consecutive season Rice and Houston will meet and 40th time in the history of the rivalry. The Cougars hold a sizeable 28-11 all-time series lead and have won six of eight meetings when both were members of the Conference USA. Houston completed a 35-14 rout of the Owls last season, which was the first time the game was held at a neutral site.
Rice scored 10 points and held Kansas scoreless in the fourth quarter to secure a 23-14 victory over the Jayhawks in a non-conference matchup at home last week. The Owls are now at the .500 mark after falling to Texas A&M by 21 points in their season opener. Coach David Bailiff will be looking for his seventh win in eight games.
Tony Levine took over the helm of Houston's program last season and began his head coaching career with three straight losses before claiming his first win at Reliant Stadium over the Owls. The Cougars started this season on a positive note with a 62-13 rout of FCS foe Southern. They had a bye last week after they improved to 2-0 with a 22-13 decision over Temple on t he road in week two. The victory in Philadelphia also marked their first-ever over a league opponent as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
Although the Cougars survived their conference opener and racked up 524 yards of total offense, they scored a touchdown on only 1-of-8 red zone trips and were held scoreless on three of them. Richie Leone was the team's MVP thanks to his five made field goals.
Houston failed to find the end zone until the 1:06 mark of the fourth quarter despite some strong individual performances. David Piland was taken out due to a concussion after he went 6-of-17 in the first quarter. True freshman QB John O'Korn provided a spark as he connected on six of his first seven pass attempts. O'Korn went 23-of-31 for 233 yards with no interceptions. The rookie signal caller had a strong debut in the opener with three TD passes against Southern. Piland's status for the Battle for the Bucket is questionable, which could mean the 18-year old O'Korn will be making his first career start.
Houston's aerial attack will be difficult to slow down regardless of which quarterback is in the pocket due to the dangerous wideout tandem of Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer. Greenberry is having a breakout sophomore campaign with 20 catches, 235 yards and a touchdown through two games. Spencer is second on the team in both receptions (12) and yards (142) to go along with two touchdown grabs. Levine also has a talented sophomore tailback in Ryan Jackson, who is just 23 yards away from his 2012 total of 252 yards already.
The Cougars' defense has made huge strides under its new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. They have given up a total of only 26 points and 672 offensive yards through the first two games compared to the 86 points and 1,042 yards of total offense surrendered in 2012's first two games. Houston had not held its opponent to 13 points or less in consecutive games since 1989. Junior linebacker Derrick Matthews is ranked 12th in the nation with an average of 11 tackles per game.
Houston may not get Rice's best shot as starting quarterback Taylor McHargue is listed as probable and backup running back Turner Petersen's status is questionable due to a shoulder injury. The Owls displayed some offensive firepower in their opener against Texas A&M, amassing 509 yards against the Aggies. They were not as sharp last week against the Jayhawks, who held them to 370 yards of total offense and just one offensive touchdown.
McHargue has thrown four interceptions against just two TDs through two games and has completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 348 yards during that span. The senior signal caller is likely to improve his numbers with time. McHargue compiled 2,876 total offensive yards despite missing a game and threw only five picks to 12 TDs in 2012. Jordan Taylor has tallied a team-high 12 receptions for 140 yards and a score after leading Rice in receiving in both games.
While the Owls struggled through the air last week, Charles Ross racked up a career-high 157 rushing yards and helped Rice put it out of reach with a late touchdown run. He has taken just under half of the team's carries this season and is averaging 5.7 ypc.
The Owls were no match for the high-powered Aggies in their opener, however they were outstanding on the defensive side of the ball last week, limiting Kansas to only 270 yards of total offense and registering three sacks on Jayhawks' QB Jake Heaps. The defense also provided some points as senior linebacker Michael Kutzler scored a defensive touchdown on a 52-yard interception. He is leading the unit in tackles with 15 through two games.
Rice will need McHargue to avoid throwing multiple interceptions for the third straight game. The Cougars are very skilled on offense and will eventually be unstoppable in the red zone once they put it all together. McHargue is bound to step up the level of his play also. He came up clutch down the stretch on multiple occasions in 2012. The Owls have a shot if the offense finally gets into a groove.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 31, Houston 30
09/18 10:32:25 ET