Rice Season Preview: Changing Everything

One could make the argument that David Bailiff is the best coach in Rice history post 1966 and Jess Nealy. I actually don't even think it's an argument. Unless you want to throw Ken Hatfield into the mix, but even then it's not close. Rice has three ten win seasons in school history, Bailiff coached two of those campaigns. Before Bailiff, Rice's last ten victory year was in 1949. He led Rice to their first conference title since 1957. 

Let's honor the man before we go negative on the current state of his program. 

The Owls have taken a turn. From the greatness of a three year bowl run with a conference title sandwiched in between to now, a program struggling and falling behind. You can't blame Bailiff for making the decision to bring about whole sale changes to his program. But it seems like too little, too late. 

New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart brings an aggressive 3-4 defense. Billy Lynch is now the full time OC, a position he split prior to this season. Rice brought in Wesley Beschorner to coach quarterbacks. Scott Vestall was brought in to coach the safeties. Schemes are changing, terminology is changing, all in an effort to right the ship. 

All these changes could bear fruit early, but if not will the Rice administration give Bailiff more time? We doubt it.

Key Numbers

Scoring Drive % TD Drive % Scoring Drives % Allowed TD % Allowed 3rd Down % Turnover Margin Total Adjusted Run Rate
0.305 0.253 0.467 0.382 36% -7 -1.374

Legend

  • Scoring Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in points.
  • Touchdown Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in touchdowns. 
  • Scoring Drives % Allowed: Percentage of drives allowed that ended in points. 
  • Touchdown % Allowed: Percentage of opponent's drives that end in a touchdown. 
  • 3rd Down %: Offensives success on 3rd down. 
  • Turnover Margin: Total number of giveaways minus total number of takeaways. 
  • Total Adjusted Run Rate: Taking the national average of yards per carry and yards allowed per carry and comparing that to the relative team. Teams that end up with a plus Total Adjusted Run Rate average 8.4 wins per year. Teams with a negative Total Adjusted Run Rate average 5.5 wins per season. The top 20 teams in Total Adjusted Run Rate Averaged 9.7 wins per season over a five year period. 

Quarterback

Rice's quarterback job is wide open with three candidates looking to replace Tyler Stehling. The options are young, big, and generally unknown. We'll begin with Jackson Tyner who actually started the Owls' last game, when Stehling was out with a knee injury and played significant minutes a week before against UTEP. The results were...starkly different.

Jackson Tyner

Jackson Tyner

Against UTEP, a conference opponent with a more similar talent level to Rice, Tyner completed 72% of his passes and generally looked like a Heisman candidate. In the Owls' trip to Palo Alto, Tyner completed a quarter of his passes for under 70 yards. All that comes together to give us an incomplete grade on Tyner in terms of live action production.

Tyner is a sophomore from tiny Edgewood, Texas, and every bit of 6-5, 240 pounds. He's a better athlete than his size indicates, but he's still a bit awkward. Tyner took most of the first team snaps in the spring, but offensive coordinator Billy Lynch was clear that there was no pecking order and that competition is wide open. 

The most interesting prospect is Sam Glaesmann, a redshirt freshman from Waco Midway. He was a three star recruit. Glaesman was impressive in the spring game. He's the most fluid athlete of the Rice quarterbacks. In the spring game he completed three of his five passes for 95 yards. He was also the most willing to break the pocket and run. We'll see whether that continues when the red "no touch" jerseys come off. 

Finally there's J.T. Granato who came in the same recruiting class as Tyner and at 6'4, 220 pounds has good size. He was listed as Stehling's backup, however once Stehling went down the Owls' turned to Tyner. He's thrown nineteen career passes, completing eight of them. We've always assumed he was the next man up, but so far that hasn't been the case. In the spring game he was 6-10 for 60 yards. 

The Rice starter in 2017 will be an unknown commodity by-in-large. None of the three prospects will get to dip a toe before the heat starts. The Owls kick of 2017 in Australia agains PAC 12 North power Stanford.  

Runningback

Samuel Stewart never really got his 2016 season going. Every time he broke through, he broke down. After a limited appearance due to injury in the opener, he missed three straight games. He came back in week 5 against USM and set a career high, rushing for 132 yards on just 19 carries. He added 77 against UTSA and 116 vs. Prairie View. Then, early in the Louisiana Tech game, Stewart was injured again and missed two more games. 

Samuel Stewart

Samuel Stewart

A healthy Stewart goes along way to giving Rice a potent rushing attack. Stewart is the most athleticaly gifted backs to come out of West U in recent memory. His stocky frame and direct running style suit him when he runs between the tackles. He finishes runs well and make the occasional eye popping athletic play as if to remind you he's capable of it. 

Austin Walter is a burner who lacks the physicality of Stewart, but can be a game breaker. If gets to green grass watch out, he can go. The key is getting him into that space. Emmanuel Esukpa is a bigger back at 220 pounds who saw some action as a true freshman in 2016. He showed out in the spring game with 45 yards on just five carries. He can fill the role of the much needed bigger, short yardage back for coach David Bailiff. Redshirt sophomore Nahshon Ellerbe was a valuable asset in the return game last year, and transitioned back to running back after spending time at receiver in 2016. 

Tight ends

Rice is the rare spread team that uses a tight end quite a bit. Connor Cella graduated leaving the job to 6-6 Robby Wells. Wells caught three passes last season in spelling Cella. Wells had a good spring and looks ready to take the job full time. While he's not a downfield threat, his size makes him a matchup problem underneath. 

Behind Wells things get thin fast. Junior squadman Austin Williams could factor in as could sophomore Chris Barnes. Neither has played a snap to date. The Owls signed Bull Jaeger from Corpus Christi Flour Bluff. Jaeger played tight end at Flour Bluff as a junior but was moved to quarterback as a senior. The Owls will want to put weight on Jaeger before throwing him into action.

Offensive Line

The Owls return all five starters from 2016. That could be very good news. Continuity is king on the offensive line. Still last year's unit, which will be this years unit as well, was 85th in the FBS in yards per rush and allowed 33 sacks - 102nd in college football. In short yardage the Owls were better, ranking 13th in stuff rate and 30th in power success rate. 

Calvin Anderson is the most decorated of the bunch. Anderson, a left tackle out of Westlake, was Honorable Mention All-CUSA last year. His 24 career starts are most of any returning Owl. 

On the other side, right tackle Sam Pierce started all 12 games in 2016. The 6-6, 300 pound junior from St. Pius X started two games in 2015. At center Trey Martin started for the second straight season. He's played guard as well. A converted defensive tackle, Martin is the best run blocker on the team. He was voted Honorable Mention of CUSA in 2016. In two seasons Martin has allowed just one sack. 

The guards are experienced. Pete Godber out of Toronto has 26 starts under his belt. He's played both guard positions, making four starts at right guard and seven at left guard in 2016. His partner is Cory Klingler who rebounded from offseason surgery to start eleven games in 2016 - starting at every interior position at least once. When Martin went down with injury in midseason, Klingler stepped in and started four games. He's an instinctual player who comes by his acumen for the game honestly, his dad Jimmy and uncle David played at Houston. Dad Jimmy is the offensive coordinator at Blinn.  

Defensive Line

Rice transitions from Chris Thurmond's 4-2-5 to Brian Stewart's attacking 3-4. The transition means that Rice will need to find players on its roster to fill out new roles, most notably, moving from a four man based defensive end to a bigger 3-4 defensive end. Ideally a 3-4 defensive end is going to weigh 270 and up and play a one gap attack. It's a different approach and mirrors Wade Phillips' units in the NFL. At the snap, rather than reading, defensive lineman are attacking a gap. 

Blain Padgett and Carl Thompson 

Blain Padgett and Carl Thompson 

At end Rice has a several viable options, undersized, but viable. Blain Padgett is a wrecking ball who should do well in the new attacking scheme. The junior from Hardin-Jefferson goes 6-5, 25o. He has all conference potential. On the other side are seniors Graysen Schantz and Brian Womac. Womac and Schantz split starts in 2016. 

Inside the Owls will use Preston Gordon and Carl Thompson at the nose. Gordon started ten games in 2016 while Thompson started four. Gordon is a bit light at 280 to hold up inside but Rice will be relying on movement and speed to make the necessary plays. Zach Abercrumbia played quite a bit last season and, like Thompson, gives Rice a little more girth inside. 

Roe Wilkins made five starts at tackle in 2016, but at 265 he may be a better fit outside. The Owls added Trey Schuman during the 2017 recruiting cycle and his size gives him a chance to compete for playing time at end. 

 Linebackers

Sophomore Uzoma Akunebu is the next most experienced linebacker, which is to say he's seen the field. He played in six games and made two tackles. Who plays outside is anyone's guess. Ellerbee and Lyons carried such a huge load last season and now with the defensive switch, we'll get to see some new contributors in 2017. We look forward to meeting them.

New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is looking for explosiveness on the edge and isn't averse making a few position changes to get there. Safety Martin Nwakamma played some linebacker in the spring. At 210 pounds he's undersized but should use his speed to an advantage. Bryan Womac and Graysen Schantz both transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. They'll be asked to set the edge as well as have more coverage responsibility. 

Dylan Silcox a RS freshman from East Chambers, makes the move from safety to outside linebacker as well. Dylan James, a walk-on from San Antonio Johnson, played with the first team in the spring game. At 6-4 and 215 pounds he's the kind of rangy athlete you can build up to set the edge.

Secondary

Rice needs help on the back end. They allowed an FBS worst 170.55 passer rating in 2016. That was over eleven points worse than the next worse pass defense. The Owls gave up 10.2 yards per completion. Lots of help. 

J.T. Ibe

J.T. Ibe

J.T. Ibe is the best of the bunch here if he's healthy. Ibe has made seventeen career starts and put up career numbers last season even though he missed time. With Ibe at strong safety, Cole Thomas moves over to free safety. Thomas spelled Ibe when he was injured in 2016. Destri White was one of the more productive Owls last season, but he finds himself in a  backup role. His starting experience is a plus. 

Senior V.J. Banks is back at corner, a position he started in eleven of twelve games. Banks will play the field corner or the corner on the wide side of the field. On the other side D'Angelo Ellis was pressed into action as a true freshman and made three starts. Behind Ellis is the undersized but experienced Brandon Douglas-Dotson.  

Specialists

Former walk-on Haden Tobola will return to handle the kicking for Rice. The junior from West connected on 59 of 62 extra points last season. He hit on 7 of 11 field goals with a long of 44. 

Jack Fox returns to handle the punting chores. Fox was Honorable Mention all CUSA after landing 27 punts inside the 20. He also hit thirteen punts of 50 plus yards. He handles kickoffs for the Owls. 

Twin Astin and Austin Walter each returned kickoffs along with Nashon Ellerbe. Ellerbe averaged 27 yards a return in his five attempts. Austin Walter averaged 19 yards per return. Ellerbe was the primary punt returner as well. The sophomore from Trinity Christian in Frisco averaged four yards a return. 

2017 Schedule

Best Case Scenario:

One of the three quarterbacks takes the reins and proves effective and Samuel Stewart stays healthy. Rice's offensive line form a gang of bullies that pushes people around and the Owls are a physical football team that helps their defense by ensuring they stay properly hydrated on the sideline. The Owls beat UTEP, FIU, Army, UAB, and North Texas to get to five wins. With nine bowl teams on the schedule that's a success. 

Worst Case Scenario:

The Owl defense pulls a repeat of 2016 and continue to ride shotgun for various Sportscenter Top 10 plays. The offense, in their need to go fast, throws gas on the fire by handing possessions back and the Owls find themselves in a never ending scoring frenzy that they cannot keep up with. The road trip to Australia and the nine bowls teams serve to overwhelm the young Owls. Rice struggles to find two wins on their schedule.  

@ Stanford Loss

The opener in Australia won't go well for the Owls. 

Key is to not let the trip beat you twice. 

@UTEP Pick 'em

Rice blew the Miners out last season but trips to El Paso can be difficult. 

Owls coming off a bye week and a long road trip. 

@ Houston Loss

The Bayou Bucket is BACK!

Houston proves way to explosive for the new look Owls. 

Florida International Win 

The Owls first home game comes a month into their season.

FIU under Butch Davis is dangerous but beatable. 

@ Pitt Loss

The Owl's fourth road trip in six weeks against an ACC foe. 

Full on survival mode

Army Loss

This one is closer than last year's game. 

Prepping for a flexion team is always tough business. 

@UTSA Loss

Owls head to CUSA West co-favorite UTSA. 

Last year's game went down to the wire, a lot will have to go right for this one to be that close. 

Louisiana Tech Loss

Owls welcome the Bulldogs to Rice Stadium last years game was a 45 point drubbing. This year won't be much better. 

CUSA wins are getting scarce. 

UAB.png

@ UAB Win

A trap game against a fired up UAB squad.

Perhaps the last best chance at a W. 

Southern Miss Loss

Explosive USM comes to town. Explosive and Rice don't go together. 

@ Old Dominion Loss

The Monarchs were a bowls team last season. That's the ninth bowl participant on Rice's roster. 

North Texas Pick 'em

The Birds of Prey Bowl. 

Last year's game went to overtime after Rice fought back late. 

Prediction 3-9

The Roundup...