Back from injury, redshirt junior DL
Graysen Schantz has been all over the place during August drills;
'we're ready to get after them,' he said (Rice SID photo)
HOUSTON (Aug. 21) – The Rice
Owls closed out their August training camp regimen this weekend in
anticipation of a return to schoolday scheduling with the
commencement of fall classes on Monday.
Camp was broken amid a uniform spirit of
optimism, and with a sense that several key weaknesses emanating
from last year's disappointing 5-7 campaign have been addressed
during the (semi) two-a-days of August -- if not completely. It's a
palpable sensation, said the usually sanguine running back, Jowan
"I like the feeling we have this year,"
the Sealy senior noted. "It's so much different than last year. Even
when we are not at practice, everybody is together, laughing and
joking around. We had some of that last year, but this year feels
like everybody is on the same page. It's not just one group that is
leading. You see a lot of the younger guys coaching each other up."
The fact that this Rice team is now
training out of a state-of-the-art, $32 million end zone facility
has put some spring in the step, players and coaches alike observed.
"You come popping in here and you can't
wait to get to work," Rice head coach David Bailiff said at the
commencment of drills. "It shows Rice is committed to getting it
But the sixty-four-dollar question lies in
whether such brief Era of Good Feeling can be followed up with a
corresponding – and immediate – improvement in results on the
field., given the lack of an experienced quarterback and the
roadblock posed by three tough games to open the season in
First comes WKU, then Army,
The Flock kicks off on national television
the night of Thursday, Sept. 1, against defending league champion
Western Kentucky at their house. The Red Towels won twelve games
last year en route to a Top-25 national ranking.
But they've lost their playmaker in
prolific passing quarterback Brandon Doughty, who as a senior last
season picked apart the Owls in a 49-10 blowout at Rice Stadium. Doughty has moved on to NFL pastures and the Kentuckians in August
have been auditioning four would-be replacements during summer
Still, WKU coach Jeff Brohm returns seven
offensive starters and thinks he should be able to run the ball
against porous C-USA defenses this season, Rice's included. "We're
not going to be near as good," Coach Brohm said. "But I like the
nucleus of this team."
With fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler
Stehling making the first start of his career on the road against
the ‘Tops, and David Bailiff-coached teams' proclivity for starting
of the season in low gear, it's not easy to envision an Owl win in
Then, nine days later comes another road
trip, this time to West Point to face the Black Knights of Army, a
team the Owls squeezed by last year in Rice Stadium on a last-minute
The Cadets have taken their lumps in
recent seasons, including four straight losses to the Owls, yet have
high hopes of breaking their 15-year slump against the Naval Academy
lads and possibly earning a bowl bid.
But if they want to achieve post-season
eligibility they're pretty much going to have to get that cranked up
with a win over the Owls.
Enthusiasm dampened at the Point early
last week when it was announced that presumptive starting
quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw had declined his five-year service
commitment at the eleventh hour and thereby separated himself from
the Corps. But after a couple of days of drama, the junior from
Chicago once again appeared back at practice and the Army brass
responded with a "move along, there's nothing to see here" retort to
Bradshaw was dinged and played only a few
downs in last year's loss to the Owls, a game that saw the locals
surge to a quick, 14-0 lead only to be outplayed the rest of the
game, insuring the victory with a last-minute ruptured duck
touchdown pass, Driphus Jackson to Zach Wright as the rain poured
Without an experienced starter, the Cadets
would likely be teeing it up with the Owls on equal terms. But with
Bradshaw back safely in the fold, the Black Knights would appear to
have an edge at home.
In the event, win or lose the week before
at Temple, Army's game against Rice looms to be a season-definer for
Coach Jeff Monken's team.
And then the Owls finally get to play a
home game six days later against, of all people, Baylor.
We'll resist the obvious temptation to lay
on the insulting puns against this team from the Baptist State
Penitentiary. Suffice it to say that, with the talent the Bears are
returning, even with the off-season departure of run'-em-up coach
Art Briles, all the the Sheriff's Mounted Posse and all the Police
Chief's men shouldn't prove backup enough for the Owls to keep this
one from winding up another uninteresting Rice Stadium loss.
Or maybe not. At least the Bruins won't
have former university president Kenneth Starr leading them onto the
field this time around. He's ousted, too.
Owls need to grab a win or two
So let's hypothesize that the first three
games of the season follow the form charts, and despite the Owls'
most strenuous efforts, they come out of the September starting
We flunked out of Math 100, but we can
count well enough to figger it would take the Feathered Flock's
going 6-3 the rest of the season to even sniff at a bottom-rung
post-season bowl engagement. That, as Mayor Giuliani would say, is
the reality of the situation.
But there's no gloom-and-doom amid
the corridors of the spanking new Brian Patterson Sports Performance
Center. "As far as the season and the team go; I'm really excited,"
Coach Bailiff has insisted. Why? "We've got 16, really almost 17
starters back when you include Graysen Schantz, who was starting for
us early in the year at defensive end before he got hurt."
The team has learned a hard lesson from
last year's disappointments. "After going to three straight bowls,
all of a sudden we don't go to a bowl game.," DB observed. "As hard
that was on us, there is power in failure. It forced us to focus. It
forced us to analyze. It forced me to analyze everything we were
doing in this program, from offense, defense and special teams."
"It forced this football team to really
look in the mirror and see that they are willing to recommit and
dedicate themselves to living to the expectations that we expect. We
expect to compete for conference championships. We expect to get a
bowl game slot. After doing it for three straight years and you're
sitting at home in December; bowl season is not fun when you're not
"Those are the goals for this year."
Still, the Owls quite easily could have
gone 7-5 or even 8-4 in 2015, had just a bare handful of plays gone
the other way. Rice was playing with a wounded quarterback in senior
Driphus Jackson, whose throwing shoulder was in bad shape but who gamely
played hurt all season with it.
"The guys did well last year with what
they had," the aforementioned, returning defensive end Graysen
Schantz said. "They didn't have much experience. But now that
everybody has a year under their belt. We're ready to get after them
this year and really start putting the pressure on."
Coach Bailiff elaborated. "To have Darrion
Pollard back, to have Lance Wright back, to have Connor Patterson in
the O line back, to have Brandon Dawkins back in the O line... We
missed those guys last year, which led to a lot of those true
freshmen, which will hopefully pay dividends this year from the
growing pains last year."
2016 schedule front- and
back-loaded, but not killer
And truth be told, the overall 2016
schedule should prove to demonstrate no greater degree of difficulty
than did last year's card. True, a middling Texas team was replaced
on the schdule by a season-ending bout at Stanford, a pre-season
consensus Top-Ten selection. But the three league teams that so
embarrassed the Owls by rendering them one-side home losses in 2015
– WKU, LA Tech and Southern Miss – are all at least somewhat
shallower in the overall talent pool due to graduation – er, make
"I have really liked the work ethic and
the way they've come out here," Coach Bailiff said of his charges
last week. " They've come out here with a great mental attitude.
They're crisp. They're sharp. They're focused. What I really like is
how our seniors are encouraging the young guys. You see them
coaching the guys, trying to accelerate they're learning out here.
I'm pleased with the ball security. I'm pleased with how hard the
defense is chasing the football."
Restored-to-health senior Connor Patterson
was philosophically analytical, as is so often our Institute Boys'
"After three bowl games, I honestly think
we got complacent," he said. "We thought it was just going to be
given to us because we were the new version of Rice Football. Last
year we kind of fell off. So now understand that we've had those
highs and we've had the lows. Going into the year the goal is to
focus on the highs and eliminate the lows."
as to on-field prospects are mirrored by gratifying results in the
business office, Rice coaches and officials reported Wednesday at
HOUSTON (Aug. 24) – Rice
Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard and Head Football Coach David
Bailiff shared the emcee duties at Wednesday evening’s annual Rice
Football Reception at St. Arnold’s Brewery.
A slightly smaller than usual crowd –
about 125 were in attendance – belied the real progress that it
seems has been going down at the Rice Athletics business office.
According the AD Karlgaard, football
season ticket sales thus far this season have hit a high for recent
years. “I can’t tell you yet exactly how many season tickets we’ve
sold,” Joe K. told the studio audience. “But I do know that, since I
first got here in 2013, in any given year we’ve haven’t sold as many
season tickets for football, baseball and basketball, combined, as
we’ve sold for football only thus far this season. And we’re still
The Rice AD lauded the work of Shu
Muthyala, Rice’s GM for Ticket Sales and Service, who was in
attendance at the event and busy at work handing out season ticket
packets to attendees.
Some more good news in the fiscal
department, this regarding the new Brian Patterson EZF.....”We wound
up putting in right at $33 million on the project,” Joe K said. “But
we actually had it overfunded, so we came in right on budget.”
It’s clear that the television broadcast
situation is going to be a bit complex and potentially confusing for
Owl fans, JK added. “If you have Apple TV or anything similar, you
should be able to get all of the games on your big screen,” he said.
“For the most part, there’ll be opportunities to backtrack or get
the game videos after they’v e been archived.”
“If you can’t get the game on your TV you
still will be able to watch it online.”
Yet, each production source will have a
slightly different set of viewing complexities, so the AD said he’d
make sure and get Owl fans written instructions and guidelines for
viewing. Broadcast sources for the Southern Miss game in Hattiesburg
are yet to be determined, he noted. The homecoming game with Prairie
View may wind up being produced in-department only; and the regular
season-ending Stanford game is not yet scheduled, but, as the Trees
are projected as a Top Ten team, it’s virtually certain the game
will be picked up, quite probably nationally.
Thus were the main points of the business
department concluded; meanwhile, Coach Bailiff also came on to do a
bit of tub-thumping for ticket sales. “How many season tickets have
you bought?” he quizzed several of the attendees personally. When
the answer came back, his response in each case was, “well, you need
to get two more.”
And the thing is, as the attendees filed
out afterwards, several Owl fans were waiting to sign up for more
season tickets. Shu pointed out that extra season tickets can
be bought, and then contributed for distribution to youth groups;
the ticket office is handling that production as well.
Clearly, with the potential realignment
looming, a huge issue to be addressed lay in "B.I.T.S." --
rear ends in the seats -- and the new crew is tackling the matter
head on with a gratiftying degree of success.
The first thing Coach Bailiff did when it was his turn at the mike
was to deliver a dose of his usual, pre-season enthusiasm.
“It’s very humbling to be a head coach at Rice,” he said, mainly in
reference to the considerable measure of success exhibited by recent
Rice football grads who have come back to visit the program during
DB labeled the just-completed fall camp as “unbelievable.” The Rice
head coach, now in his tenth year, cited particular satisfaction
with the August performances emanating from several sources. First,
defense generally: “With the players returning, and the experience
picked up by some of the guys we just had to get out there last year
as freshman, we’re now faster, stronger. We run to the ball better,
we tackle in space better.
He also expressed enthusiasm over the kicking game. Looks like the
staff has Jack Fox lined up to do the punting, and Hayden Tobola for
the place kicking. Both looked good in drills, he said, waxing
particularly positive over Fox's punting improvement.
Somebody needs to run over to West to pick up some of grandma’s
kolaches, because a few of those little yeast rolls would appear to
be all the sophomore place kicker needs to get his place kicks
elevated over outstretched enemy defenders. Kolache Factory
won’t cut it, though – those are bogus.
During question time, queries inevitably arose about the quarterback
position. Coach Edmondson expressed satisfaction over the
performance of Tyler Sterling, who he said matured considerably, and
in a hurry, once it became clear he was tapped out for the starting
job. His play calling, checks and other quick-decision,
line-of-scrimmage moves were most impressive, Coach Edmondson said.
A back bencher asked Coach Bailiff about quarterback depth, and
received a cheerful response. He noted that quarterback turned
flanker/wideout Nate German had seen limited snaps at the QB
position during August due to a finger injury, affecting his ability
to throw the ball, but apparently not to catch it. So he’ll be
down on the depth chart, it seems, with Jackson Tyner and John
Granato prepared to come on in relief, probably in that order. Both
fared well during two a days, DB said.
Then there was true freshman Sam Glaesman. “Sam is uncanny out
there,” Coach Bailiff said. It was as if he was more mature, more
experienced than you’d expect a true freshman, especially when it
comes to understanding the offense.
Rice's new Man Mountain of a DL Coach, Frank
Okam, had high praise for returning sophs Blaine Padgett and Zach
Abercrumbia. Apparently the techniques the new DL coach is using are
more like those employed in the NFL – and the cerebral Rice players
are fulling capable of grasping it. DL will be a strength this
season, Coach Okam said, adding “And that’s where it all starts on