The defending Conference USA champions are the only team in the conference that has not won a game this season.
Rice (0-3) will attempt to end that indignity when the team plays at Southern Mississippi (2-2) on Saturday. The 6 p.m. kickoff will be broadcast on Fox College Sports.
Scheduling and injuries have been a 1-2 punch on the Owls victory total. Rice, SMU and West Virginia are only teams at the FBS level to have played two current members of the Associated Press Top 10. Not surprisingly, the Owls, Mustangs and Mountaineers have each gone 0-2 in those games.
Rice followed up defeats at Notre Dame and Texas A&M, with a 45-42 loss to Old Dominion in its home opener Saturday. Old Dominion kicker Ricky Segers hit a 25-yard field goal as time expired, thwarting Rice’s comeback attempt. The Owls trailed 35-14 in the third quarter.
“It was definitely a hard pill to swallow, but we’re going to try and take the positives and build off them,” said Rice wide receiver Zach Wright at Monday’s news conference.
Wright himself has been a positive, filling in for an injured Jordan Taylor. The sophomore from The Woodlands made six catches for 80 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown catch. The former walk-on, who also had a touchdown catch at Notre Dame, leads the team in receiving yards.
“When Jordan does come back we’ve got to find a place to put him on the field,” Rice coach David Bailiff said of Wright.
Injuries have beset both sides of the ball. While Quarterback Driphus Jackson should be ready to go at Southern Miss after dislocating his non-throwing shoulder Saturday, the return of Taylor, defensive tackle Christian Covington and others is not certain.
“It’s got to be next man up, and it’s our job as coaches to figure it out,” Bailiff said. “We have to get better defensively. We’ve got to be able to get more pressure.”
Rice ranks 118th in the country in total defense, giving up an average of 528 yards a game. The Owls are 125th in pass defense, 118th in scoring defense, 107th in tackles for loss and 113th in turnovers gained, which has been just 1.
Southern Mississippi coach Todd Monken said those numbers are skewed.
“They have played Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Old Dominion with a senior quarterback who has played a number of years and is a really good player,” Monken said at his media conference. “So it’s going to be really skewed when you play good players, you play good quarterbacks. They’re going to expose you in a number of ways. Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Old Dominion have really good receivers so again, I don’t look at it that way.”
Monken praised Bailiff and his staff for building the Owls program and instilling a strong work ethic.
“You can watch them on film and they play hard, they play relentless,” Monken said. “You’re going to have to play good football to beat them. They don’t turn it over; unfortunately this year they haven’t had a bunch of turnovers and that’s hurt them. …We anticipate them coming here playing their best trying to get their first win of the season.”
Southern Miss has already doubled its win total from last year. The Golden Eagles are coming off a thrilling 21-20 win over Appalachian State where Dasman McCullum blocked an extra-point attempt with 6 seconds left.
“We’re a team that is still working towards being what we want to be,” Monken said. “Like I said after the game the other night, you don’t have to be best team in the country, or the best team in your conference every Saturday; you just have to be the best team on the field. Now, as we strive for this week. What is it that Rice does that poses problems for us? Offense, defense, and kicking game and then let’s go attack it and put our players in positions to make plays.”
This will be the fifth meeting between the two schools. Rice has split the previous two games in Hattiesburg and leads the overall series 3-1. Bailiff’s first coaching win at Rice came at Southern Miss during the 2007 season.