Preview 2017: Rice Owls
Previewing and looking ahead at the Rice Owls season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Rice Offense
The Owls had their moments, but there weren’t enough of them, scoring more than 28 points just three times and without the pop to overcome the miserable defense.
Step One is to find a quarterback, but Samuel Stewart and Austin Walter return to a backfield working behind a veteran line returning all five starters.
There’s experience at receiver, but not enough explosion – that might change if the quarterback play is okay.
Biggest Key To The Rice Offense
The O line has to rock. Yeah, all the starters are back, but that’s a technicality. The Owls had a nightmare of a time putting together the puzzle thanks to a slew of injuries, but despite the 33 sacks allowed, the blocking wasn’t all that bad. The running game averaged over four yards per carry with a little bit of pop from time to time. If the front five is terrific – and now there’s experience, depth, and even a little talent – this could be a far better and far more effective offensive season.
What You Need To Know About The Rice Defense
It didn’t work, even a little bit. The Owls allowed over 500 yards per game with a bad run defense, a worse secondary, and almost no big plays with just 11 takeaways. On the plus side, it was a rebuilding year for the line and now everyone is back, including all of the backups.
A new linebacker will be added to the equation, but is there enough bulk to make it matter against the run? This was a very, very young group across the board, but the experience has to translate into production.
Four starters are back in the secondary, and there are linebacker options, but playmakers have to emerge. Mostly …
Biggest Key To The Rice Defense
The new look has to work. After a year with no almost no defensive production, the Owls made a change at defensive coordinator, with Brian Stewart coming in to try something different. To start, the Owls will crank up a 4-3 scheme to get an extra linebacker in the mix, but will it matter?
It’s not like going from a 4-2-5 will add too much more bulk with what Rice has, but Bailiff has to try something different after the team finished 123rd in the nation in total yards. Losing a defensive back won’t help a secondary that finished last in the nation in pass efficiency D.
Rice Will Be Far Better If …
The secondary can come up with a meaningful stop. The Owls came up with just five picks, and two of them were against Prairie View A&M. Everyone who tried throwing the ball had a whole lot of fun, with the Rice secondary getting hit for over ten yards per pass and allowing two touchdown passes or more nine times. By comparison, when Rice won the C-USA title in 2013, it allowed under seven yards per throw.
Best Rice Offensive Player
OT Calvin Anderson, Jr. – One of the few blockers who stayed in one piece for most of last season, the 6-5, 285-pound veteran left tackle did an okay job as the leader and top pass protector. The former defensive linemen turned into a full-time O linemen for the Owls, and now he’ll be a three-year starter.
2. RB Samuel Stewart, Jr.
3. C Trey Martin, Sr.
4. RB/KR Austin Walter, Jr.
5. QB Jackson Tyner, Soph.
Best Rice Defensive Player
LB Emmanuel Ellerbee, Sr. – Not much happened on the Rice defense, but Ellerbee was one of the few positives with All-Conference USA recognition with 118 tackles with 3.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss and a pick. The 6-1, 235-pounder could be more of a pass rusher depending on where he’s used, but with his range and talking ability, he’s needed in the middle of the new 4-3 alignment.
2. S Destri White, Sr.
3. DE Brian Womac, Sr.
4. DT Preston Gordon, Jr.
5. CB V.J. Banks, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Jackson Tyner, Soph. – Or J.T. Granato. The quarterback play wasn’t miserable, but it wasn’t good enough to keep up the pace. Tyler Stehling ran well at times and hit the 62% of his throws, but there wasn’t enough happening down the field – he wasn’t the problem, but now he has to be replaced. The 6-5, 240-pound Tyner has a big arm, and he can run, too. He has to be more accurate, while the 6-3, 225-pound Granato has the upside to battle for the job if he can hit the easy throws.
The Rice Season Will Be A Success If …
Rice gets to six wins and a bowl. That might be a lofty goal considering how awful the Owls were last season, and with all of the uncertainty on both sides of the ball, but they should be experienced enough and just good enough to battle at UTEP and hang at home against FIU, Army, and North Texas. Beat UAB on the road, come up with a few upsets, and it’s possible. A five-win season would be more realistic.
Key Game To The Rice Season
Sept. 9 at UTEP. Considering the Owls didn’t beat an FBS team until mid-November, coming up with an early win – especially in a conference game – would be a huge help after dealing with Stanford in Australia and with Houston up next. After coming back, they only leave Texas once before November, starting with the date across the state that could jumpstart the season. After beating the Miners 44-24, they’ve got to do it again.
2016 Rice Fun Stats
– Penalties: Opponents 91 for 800 yards – Rice 69 for 566 yards
– Total Yards: Opponents 6,054 – Rice 4,618
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 112 – Rice 50