It's going to take a very strong effort from the Owls to slow down Baylor's high-scoring attack.
GAME NOTES: An old Southwest Conference rivalry is dusted off this weekend when the No. 17 Baylor Bears play host to the Rice Owls, who are coming off of a bye after a dramatic win over Purdue two weeks ago.
Rice rested last weekend after its 24-22 win over Purdue at home on September 10th. The Owls sealed the win after Justin Allen blocked the potential 31-yard game winning field goal as time expired. The win snapped Rice's 22-game losing streak against BCS conference schools, and was also its first win over a Big Ten opponent in 14 years. Now the focus is on extending that streak against a Big 12 school this weekend in Waco, which will be perhaps the toughest task of the season for the Owls.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III grabbed the nation's attention after leading Baylor to a wild 50-48 win over TCU in the opener. Following a bye week, Griffin picked up where he left off, and Baylor thrashed Stephen F. Austin 48-0 in a game that was called in the third quarter due to lightning. It didn't matter. Griffin's 244.5 passing efficiency rating leads the country, and even though last weekend's showing came at the expense of an FCS opponent, the quarterback is a legitimate Heisman contender heading into the final week of September.
"He (Griffin) is one of the most exciting players I have ever watched in college football," said Rice head coach David Bailiff. "He was exciting last season but he has really matured and making great decisions with the football. He is doing an amazing job this season."
Baylor leads the all-time series 46-30-2, and has won the last five meetings with Rice.
Rice had 352 yards of total offense against Purdue, and struggled to gain momentum with the ground game with just 110 yards rushing (2.3 ypc). Through two games against Texas and Purdue, the Owls are averaging just 288 yards of total offense, while opponents average 436.
Quarterback Taylor McHargue is still progressing; he has completed 33-of-58 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Tyler Smith and Sam McGuffie will continue to be the primary cogs in the running attack and catching the ball out of the backfield. Smith has 21 carries for 92 yards (two catches, five yards) while McGuffie has 10 totes for 52 yards and has caught two passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in two games. The top receiver for the Owls is Randy Kitchens, who has seven catches for 73 yards.
Texas and Purdue combined to rush for 206 yards and three touchdowns against the Rice defense, which will see a much different animal in the versatile Griffin this weekend. Bailiff emphasized the importance of Scott Solomon's return during fall camp, and the defensive end has been instrumental in Rice achieving pressure in its first two games against quality opponents. Rice has six sacks, two coming from Solomon, who has posted 3.5 of the team's 15 tackles for loss. Pressure will be paramount for Rice to hang with the skill players from Baylor's attack.
Griffin can electrify with his feet, but his efficiency as a passer was on full display last weekend against Stephen F. Austin, completing 20-of-22 passing for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He has as many incomplete passes this season as touchdown throws, with eight in each category.
"I really thought he was playing at a real high level, I thought he kept plays alive. He definitely gave us a spark offensively," said Baylor head coach Art Briles following the win over Stephen F. Austin. "I think one time he was 14- of-15 throwing the football and he made a bunch of plays with his feet."
The Baylor offense is averaging 554.5 yards per game, and has playmakers all over the field. Kendall Wright has already caught 20 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, and Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson have combined to catch 12 balls for 222 yards and four scores. Running back Terrance Ganaway offers change of pace from Griffin's scrambling abilities. Ganaway has already carried the ball 33 times and has netted 200 yards and two touchdowns.
The Baylor defense has turned in two polar opposite performances against two teams of different caliber. TCU's furious comeback in the fourth quarter featured four touchdowns in the final frame by the Horned Frogs and almost blew a top-25 win for the Bears. The unit forced a clutch interception as time expired to win that game however. Last week, Baylor came back to shut out Stephen F. Austin while its offense put on a show in the home opener. The Bears are giving up 336 yards of total offense through two games, surrendering 150 average yards on the ground.
Even though he has an explosive offense on his side, Briles knows the Owls will scheme properly and be prepared come Saturday in all three phases of the game.
"They're just a very intelligent, scrappy football team that knows what it's doing on both sides of the ball and they're sound in the kicking game," said Briles. "They're a tough team to beat."
That may be the case, and Rice won't fold against an in-state rival this weekend. The Owls have a pair of really talented runners in Smith and McGuffie, but the ground attack has been largely absent to open the season. Don't expect the trend to change against a Baylor defense that needs to make a statement against a quality opponent after TCU hung 48 on the unit.
The difference is Griffin though. He's not a perfect player, but he's as good as it gets in the game right now, and the Owls will have no answer for him come Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baylor 42, Rice 17