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Behind enemy lines: Rice Owls
Preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Emmanuel Ellerbee (58, above) will try to lead the Owls defense against the Cardinal attack. (DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)

Behind enemy lines: Rice Owls

No. 14 Stanford football will begin the season in Sydney, Australia against the Rice Owls on Saturday. To preview the game The Daily’s Sam Curry spoke with sports editor Andrew Grottkau of The Rice Thresher of Rice University about how Rice can improve from last year and what it means to play in a nationally televised game in Sydney.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Last season, Rice ranked 86th in the nation in total offense. Who could give the Owls the spark they need against a Stanford defense that is expected to be one of the toughest in the nation?

Andrew Grottkau (AG): The Owls face a lot of question marks on offense, but if there is one constant it is the offensive line. All five starters from last season return; together, they have combined for 92 career starts. Senior center Trey Martin was named to the preseason All-Conference USA team and junior tackle Calvin Anderson earned All-C-USA honors as well. The offensive line should give junior running back Samuel Stewart a chance to rack up yards. Despite playing in just four full games in 2016, Stewart averaged 6.2 yards per rush and had 13 carries for 77 yards in last season’s matchup against the Cardinal. Given the uncertainty at quarterback, which we will discuss later, he should be Rice’s best chance to get the offense moving.

TSD: What’s your take on Rice’s quarterback situation? With redshirt freshman Sam Glaesmann getting the nod over JT Granato and fall camp favorite Jackson Tyner, what new looks could we see from the Rice offense and is Glaesmann ready for this stage?

AG: According to head coach David Bailiff, Glaesmann won the job by showcasing his playmaking ability. That’s code for “he can run.” He has yet to appear in a game, so the only data set we can use to assess his performance is Rice’s spring game. In that game, he was 3-for-5 passing for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He added five rushes for 83 yards including a 70-yard rushing touchdown. With all of that said, he was going up against a Rice defense that was No. 123 in the country in total defense. He will have a lot of work to do to mold himself into a quality Division I quarterback, but he has plenty of talent. Against one of the nation’s best defenses, though, expectations should be held in check. It will be a difficult stage for a first-time starter.

TSD: In last year’s matchup with Stanford, Rice allowed the Cardinal to run for 373 yards. Even with Christian McCaffrey gone, what adjustments can the Owls make and who could give an inspiring defensive performance to slow down a Cardinal offense that prefers wearing down opponents on the ground?

AG: After last season’s repeated defensive breakdowns, Rice hired former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. He has worked all offseason to install a new 3-4 defensive scheme at Rice. The goal is to overhaul a defense that gave up chunks of rushing yards and was susceptible to big plays in the passing game. The most important player to watch on the defensive side for Rice is senior linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee. Ellerbee was named the Preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 10.7 tackles per game last year. If anyone is going to slow the Cardinal rushing attack, it will likely be him.

TSD: What does a game like this—primetime in a foreign country—mean for Rice’s program and what are the Owls looking to get out of this game?

AG: Rice doesn’t get these kinds of opportunities every day. As a group of five school, Rice has had one nationally televised game each of the past three years. This one is particularly special because it is ESPN’s season-opening game. It’s a chance for the players to showcase their talent in front of a primetime, national television audience and it’s a chance for Rice to show future recruits that it can compete against one of the best teams in the country. In the short term, the quality competition will help Rice learn what it needs to improve upon for the conference season. But in the long term, it is a chance to attract future talent—something group of five schools always struggle to do.

 

Contact Sam Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu and Andrew Grottkau at abg4 ‘at’ rice.edu.

About Samuel Curry

Sam Curry '20 is a sophomore desk editor for The Daily. Most of the time, people can find him cheering for all of the teams they probably hate, like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Sam is a proud native of Big Timber, Montana, where he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and friends.