The No. 21 Baylor Bears are more than a four touchdown favorite to start 3-0 for the seventh straight season when they travel to Rice Stadium in Houston to take on the Rice Owls on Friday night. But even though the Bears buried the currently winless Owls 70-17 last year in Waco, interim head coach Jim Grobe is stressing to his team to not take anything for granted.
Grobe pointed out to his squad what happened to two fellow Big 12 teams, then-No. 22 Oklahoma State (30-27 home loss to Central Michigan) and No. 15 TCU (41-38 double overtime loss to Arkansas) over the weekend. And he believes the Owls (0-2) will be fired up to play a ranked team at home for the first time since 1997 when No. 21 BYU visited Rice Stadium.
"First and foremost, I hope that's a wakeup call to our players," Grobe said. "If you don't go out and play good football, there's a good chance you're not going to come out a winner. Whether they're ranked or not, be ready to play."
Baylor is a 30-point favorite against a Rice team that's playing its first home game after opening the season with a 46-14 loss to Western Kentucky followed by last week's 31-14 loss against Army. Baylor leads the all-time series with Rice 48-30-2, including having won the last seven meetings and eight of the last nine in Houston.
The Owls are averaging just 290 yards and 14 points per game while the defense has allowed 531.5 yards and 38.5 points per game. But Grobe made it sound like Rice's two road games at Western Kentucky and Army would be a lofty challenge for anyone in college football.
"I can't imagine starting the first two games of the season on the road, especially against good teams," Grobe said. "Western Kentucky is really good and Army has surprised everybody. I think they've played two really good teams."
Baylor's offense, led by quarterback Seth Russell, who has thrown for 424 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception, averaged 517 yards and 47.5 points in wins over Northwestern State and SMU. But thanks in part to 14 penalties totaling 101 yards, many on procedure calls, the Bears sputtered to just a 6-6 halftime score with SMU on Saturday before eventually pulling away for a 40-13 win.
Grobe is worried similar mistakes could snowball for his young team on the road. He's counting on his veteran players to stress the importance of treating the game as a business trip and to stay focused.
"The young guys are the ones you worry about on the road," Grobe said. "Besides being in a hostile environment, it's hard to get young guys to focus. You're in an unfamiliar setting, you're in a hotel, you're libel to find some of the youngest guys in the hallway throwing ice at each other, and running up and down the hallway doing crazy stuff. That's why you need your older guys to set a good example."
Grobe believes running back Shock Linwood will be ready to play against the Owls after leaving the SMU win with a neck strain. Linwood needs just 48 yards to break the Baylor career rushing record of 3,665 held by Walter Abercrombie (1978-81). However, senior cornerback Ryan Reid (high ankle sprain) and wide receiver Pooh Stricklin (sprained shoulder) are both questionable.
Rice enters the contest ranked just 119th in total offense (290 yards) and 121st in scoring (14 points). Head coach David Bailiff a lot of the woes are self-inflicted.
"Every rep, somebody's making a mistake," Bailiff told the Houston Chronicle. "It may be at running back this play, O-line the next play, quarterback, receiver. Just have to keep working hard over there."
The Owls have managed just 197 rushing yards in two games with quarterback Tyler Stehling leading the way with 81 and a touchdown on 17 carries. Bailiff blamed the offensive line, which will be without starting guard Connor Patterson for the rest of the year with a leg injury, for the struggles in the run game.
"A lot of what you see is really not the running back but the fact that we're not getting movement on people up front," Bailiff said. "We've got to start getting some seams up there to help them."
Bailiff is optimistic the Owls can turn things around.
"Once we get it, we're going to be fine," Bailiff said. "We're going to win our share of football games. We've been through hard times here. We know that you just keep working."