Rice, Houston ready for anticipated rivalry game

Two seasons ago, Rice and Houston resumed a crosstown rivalry that dated to Sept. 11, 1971, a matchup that featured the Owls and Cougars battling as Southwest Conference foes and in nonconference tilts as the programs changed affiliations amid a shifting landscape.

The Owls (0-1) will host the Cougars (1-0) on Saturday at Rice Stadium with the programs again debuting with new leagues. Rice is in its inaugural season with the American Athletic Conference, which the Cougars departed to join the ever-evolving Big 12. That both have maintained their connection through the volatility is a testament to their joint commitment.

“I’ve said this: This game needs to be played,” said Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, whose Cougars fended off UTSA 17-14 last Saturday. “Us and Rice needs to be played. I support that.

“I’m sympathetic to those games. Those games are fun to be a part of. … I’d be disappointed if this game against Rice doesn’t happen.”

In advance of the Owls’ opener at 11th-ranked Texas, Rice coach Mike Bloomgren pledged that his team would not shrink in the moment and would be prepared for the stiff challenge ahead.

And, for one half, the Owls did indeed meet that challenge. Prior to the intermission, the Longhorns recorded only one touchdown, settled for a red zone field goal, and booted field goals of 46 and 49 yards while carving out a 16-3 halftime advantage. Rice displayed spirit before surrendering three third-quarter touchdowns en route to a 37-10 loss.

The Owls’ defensive pluck was undermined by their lack of offensive punch. Rice totaled 176 yards and eight first downs, committed three turnovers and converted only four of 13 third downs. For a team expecting to rely upon its skill position talent, the result was disheartening.

“I think our players and our coaching staff know that we need to grow from this,” Bloomgren said. “That’s something you always want to do; you want to have huge growth between week one and week two. It should be your biggest growth of the season. Of every great team I’ve ever been on that’s been the case. And that’s exactly what we’re striving to do this week.”

In order for that improvement to yield a tangible result, the Owls will have to do something they haven’t accomplished since Oct. 16, 2010. That marked their last victory over Houston, a 34-31 home win. Changing conference affiliations hasn’t stemmed the tide of this lopsided series, which went to the Cougars last season, 34-27.

“I know this is one that means a lot to them,” Holgorsen said of Rice, noting that the Cougars’ seven-game winning streak in the series is unprecedented. “So we will expect a challenging game. They were one play away last year, as we all remember.”

–Field Level Media