Start Time: 7 p.m. CST
Location: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Rice IMG Sports Network, KNBR 1050 AM
Streaming: Pac-12 Network
Series: Rice 3-1
Point Spread: Stanford by 35 1/2
Over/Under: 51 ½
Aaron Jones of UTEP and Kalif Phillips of Charlotte have combined for nearly 2,300 rushing yards this season, but during the last two weeks Rice’s much-improved run defense largely contained both star running backs.
Rice held Charlotte to 41 yards under its season average and UTEP to 115 under its average. That’s a big reason why the Owls won both games to improve to 3-8 on the season.
“I think it was the finest defensive performance that I’ve seen maybe since I’ve been here,” Rice coach David Bailiff said about the win over UTEP.
Now Rice has to deal with All-America running back Christian McCaffrey, who just so happens to lead the nation with 205.6 all-purpose yards a game.
“We better tackle well this week,” Bailiff said at Monday’s news conference. “He’s an amazing back. We’ve all seen him on TV. He’s not just an amazing back. He catches the ball well. Everything he does he’s incredible at. Kick returns, punt returns; he can do it all. All the accolades he has, he’s deserved every one of them.”
In the past four games, McCaffrey has accounted for 787 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Not coincidentally, Stanford (8-3) has won all four games. The Cardinal have a 15-game home nonconference win streak that dates back to 2007.
Playing in Stanford Stadium against a ranked Cardinal team on a roll may not be the ideal place to give a quarterback his first start, but that will be the case Saturday nonetheless. Rice starting quarterback Tyler Stehling has been ruled out due to a knee injury. That means the senior has played his last snap.
“He’s an amazing young man and this football team will miss his play,” Bailiff said. “But more importantly, we’ll miss his leadership. He’s an inspiration to me on how he handled this season with such dignity. All he did was work. He never complained and it’s a tribute to that young man.”
Bailiff said he expects Jackson Tyner to get the start though J.T. Granato also is getting reps at practice. Tyner was 18 for 25 passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns against UTEP on Saturday after coming into the game following Stehling’s injury.
Stanford has held each of its 11 opponents under their season scoring average. The Owls average 26 points a game. The 44 Rice points scored Saturday against UTEP was the second-highest output of the season.
The Cardinal defense is third in the Pac-12 in sacks and they’ve intercepted 12 passes. Stanford is 33-3 under coach David Shaw when winning the turnover battle, including 13 straight wins when doing so.
“Defensively, they’re as solid as you’re going to see at everything they do,” Bailiff said. “They make you earn every yard.”
This will be the first Rice-Stanford meeting since 1964. Rice won the first three games in the series in 1957, 1958 and 1963 before dropping the 1964 contest. The Owls own a winning record against Pac-12 members going 12-10-2.
The good news is Rice is playing its best football of the season and is much healthier than a month ago. The bad news is Stanford also is playing its best football of the season and has more talent and depth at most positions. There’s a chance the Cardinals aren’t all that engaged because they are playing a 3-8 team, so Rice may be able to pounce early. But McCaffrey and a good defense is more than enough to lift Stanford to victory. Stanford 42-13.