As the Rice University football team wrapped up their spring football practices, the annual Blue-Gray Spring Game took place at Rice Stadium. The game, essentially a scrimmage, featured the offense in blue uniforms and the defense in gray uniforms.
The defense dominated the game and ran away with a 40-16 victory using a specialized scoring system. In addition to traditional points, the offense gained a point for runs of more than 12 yards, passes of more than 16 yards and completions of three consecutive first downs. The defense gained a point for forcing three-and-outs and tackles for loss, earned two points for sacks, three points for blocking kicks and four points for turnovers or stopping the offense when they started past the 35-yard line.
In addition to the football, the game featured the experience and fanfare of Rice University football with halftime games and speeches, cheerleaders on the sidelines and a kid’s zone with inflatables. In addition to the non-traditional scoring system, the game also featured the novelty of having guest coaches call the team’s plays in the first half of the game. The guest coaches featured were restaurateur Johnny Carrabba, Director of Student Athlete Development Lauren Cavallaro, former NFL player and Rice great Jarett Dillard, Rice alum Bobby Dixon, Associate Director of Academic Advising for Athletics Julie Griswold, caterer Frankie Mandola, and former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
With the guest coaches calling their favorite plays, the game got off to a fast start with the first drive ending with a 54-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tyler Stehling to junior wide receiver Zach Wright. After the first drive, the offense was marred with penalties and struggled to get the ball down the field.
The spring game provided underclassmen an opportunity to showcase their abilities and prove their ability to replace graduating seniors. With many players held out of the spring due to injury, the game provided a chance for coaches to solidify the depth chart.
At quarterback, the team will look to rising senior starter Driphus Jackson to once again lead the offense. However, he was held out of the game as a precaution as he finishes recovering from his shoulder surgery. This allowed Stehling and redshirt sophomore Nate German to run the offense. Stehling led all passers, going 7 for 18 for 103 yards with one touchdown and one interception. German exhibited good rushing abilities despite the non-contact rule on the quarterback in the game. However, he struggled passing the ball, completing four of his 11 passes and getting sacked three times. Both quarterbacks look to solidify their place in the depth chart and compete for the backup position next year with incoming freshman J.T. Granato.
At wide receiver, the Owls will attempt to replace graduating starters Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull. The task of replacing Jordan Taylor will not be easy for the team, who now looks to rising senior Dennis Parks, sophomore Temi Alaka and Wright to get large amounts of playing time at receiver. Wright led the team during the spring game with three receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, Head Coach David Bailiff and the coaching staff are now tasked with replacing a heavily depleted defensive line. At defensive end, last year’s starters Zach Patt and Brian Nordstrom, a first team all-conference selection, need to be replaced as Patt graduates and Nordstrom forgoes his final year of eligibility for a job in the energy sector. Redshirt freshman Brady Wright and redshirt sophomore Brian Womac, who recorded a sack and three tackles, will look to fill the positions. Redshirt sophomore Graysen Schantz also looks to join the defensive line rotation in the fall after returning from injury.
At the defensive tackle position, there is a large gap to fill with Dylan Klare graduating and Christian Covington declaring for the NFL draft. Seniors Ross Winship, Grant Peterson, redshirt freshman Preston Gordon and redshirt junior Cody Henessee will make up the core of the defensive front rotation. Injuries and the addition of freshman signees such as Zach Abercrumbia leave the defensive line in a state of fluctuation.
The safety position is also subject to much transition with Malcolm Hill, Julius White and Jaylon Finner all finishing their four years of eligibility. Sophomores Destri White and Cole Thomas and senior Garrett Fuhrman helped lead the defense to victory in Friday’s game at the safety position and go into the fall looking to get much of the playing time at the position. White and redshirt freshman safety J.P Thompson led the secondary with one
With spring practice wrapping up, the Owls look to continue the momentum from their Hawaii Bowl victory until next season’s Sep. 5 opening game against Wagner College.