Baylor will seek to stay perfect in non-conference play as is gets set to hit the road to Houston to take on Rice tonight. This will mark the first time the Bears have played away from McLane Stadium this season and will serve as the home opener for the Owls.
Baylor, ranked 21st in the AP and 19th in the Coaches Poll coming into this week, will be the first ranked opponent to play at Rice Stadium since the Owls beat BYU in 1997. The Bears expect the Owls to come out charged up in front of their home crowd and in front of a national audience, as the game is set to air on ESPN.
“I’m sure they will be fired up,” said senior linebacker Aiavion Edwards. “We’re excited to go down there. We have a lot to improve on. There is always a lot of improvements to make, but we’re excited to go down there.”
As the Bears get ready to head into a hostile environment, acting head coach Jim Grobe looks to the seniors and to the veterans to set the example for the younger guys and to help them develop a business-like mindset.
“This is a business trip,” Grobe said. “We’re not going on vacation; this isn’t spring break. We’re going to play football.”
The Bears’ defense has gotten into a good rhythm early on this season. They forced the Mustangs into four turnovers on Saturday, including three interceptions. They will look to continue to be aggressive and make plays to set up the offense this week.
“You have to be ready to play defense all game,” said senior nickelback Patrick Levels. “We go as hard as we can, get three and outs, get stops to give our offense confidence that they can rely on us. There’s no pressure on them, and by us doing good, it pushes them to up their game.”
Grobe expects the defense to continue to be strong moving forward. Along with defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, they will seek to use their depth as an advantage, and keeping them fresh and healthy will be a point of emphasis moving through the season.
“It’s a blessing if you’ve got more than 11 that can go out there and win for you, and I think we do on defense,” Grobe said.
Even though Baylor eventually pulled away from SMU en route to their 40-13 win last weekend, the Bears will look to get the offense rolling right off the bat tonight.
“It’s huge, going into an atmosphere like that on the road where it is stacked against you,” said senior quarterback Seth Russell. “We have to be able to start fast. That’s what we’ve always preached. Start fast, stay fast and finish strong.”
Russell was not afraid to accept some of the blame for the offense’s slow start on Saturday against SMU but is confident in the offense’s ability to execute at a higher level against Rice.
“We didn’t do that this past game,” Russell said. “A lot of that is my fault — just not making the right decisions or executing at a high level. We watched the film, we got better from it and we’re going to execute a higher level this week.”
With Rice struggling defensively to begin the season, allowing an average of 531.5 yards per game with 309 coming via aerial assault and 222.5 on the ground, Baylor will seek to put pressure on the defense early. One area where Baylor might look to exploit the Owls’ defense is with the rushing attack of senior running back Shock Linwood, who is just 48 yards shy of breaking the Baylor all-time career rushing record, sophomore runningback Terrence Williams, who saw a career high 19 carries against the Mustangs, and redshirt freshman JaMycal Hasty, who scored his first career touchdown on Saturday.
Having faced some adversity against SMU may have been a blessing for the Bears as they were able to see how the team comes together and how some of the younger guys react when put in tight situations.
Even when heading on the road, the Bears’ preparation and mindset need to align and be the same as it would be for a home game.
“Just be confident,” Edwards said. “We have to stay poised and take care of business just like we would at home. We have to focus on our responsibilities on defense, execute the gameplan and let the rest take care of itself.”
After taking a look around college football this past weekend and taking note of some established programs that lost, Baylor is sure to not overlook the Owls.
“I hope that’s a wakeup call to our players,” Grobe said. “If you don’t go out there and play good football, you’re not going to come out a winner. Everybody at this level has good players, ranked or not. You’ve got to be ready to play. Our guys need to focus every week on playing good football, regardless of who they’re playing and regardless of what’s at stake.”
Rice is coming off two losses to open its season, falling 46-14 at Western Kentucky and 31-14 at Army, but Grobe expects some wrinkles in the Owls’ offense and for them to rise to the challenge in their home opener against the Bears.
“I think Rice has played two really good teams,” Grobe said. “Rice is well-coached. They’ve changed some things, spreading the ball out a bit more, picking up the pace offensively, so I think they’re doing some different things and will probably show up better down the road. We’ve got to be ready to play, and I’m sure they’ll be fired up to play their first home game.”
Rice looks to flip the script of their 70-17 loss to Baylor last season. The game is slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff.