Last season was a bit of a let down for Rice. With highly regarded quarterback Driphus Jackson returning for his senior season, expectations for the Owls' offense were high. Unfortunately Jackson's senior season was a strange one as he showed uncharacteristic difficulties, leading to an underwhelming 5-7 finish for the Owls.
Head coach David Bailiff is set to roll out a new leader for the Owls' offense following Jackson's graduation. Anticipated starter Tyler Stehling will be a new name to Conference USA fans but the 6'6", 210 pound quarterback is a familiar face for the Rice faithful. The redshirt senior is entering his fifth year on campus, having seen action in five games in 2015 as well as five games in the 2014 season.
Stehling made the most of his debut at Rice, filling fans with lofty expectations that may have been unfair. On the road at Notre Dame, Stehling found James Mayden open deep down the seam, connecting for a 53-yard touchdown on his first pass attempt in the blue and white.
While Stehling performed solidly in his limited opportunities he was never able to pry away the QB1 slot from Driphus Jackson over the past two seasons despite Jackson's apparent struggles. For his career Stehling has completed nearly 54% of his pass attempts for 479 yards with a 2 - 2 TD/INT ratio.
Now that Stehling is in the driver's seat to start under center for Rice it's important that we get a good grasp of his abilities.
Stehling is a bit unorthodox as a quarterback given his lanky 6'6" frame. While he's consistently packed on muscle throughout his college career, Stehling still looks pretty thin on tape. His long arms cause him to have a long wind up and delivery which gives defenses a chance to read his eyes and break on the ball before it's thrown.
Being 6'6" has its weaknesses but it certainly has its strengths as well. Stehling has a strong arm and is able to see down field very, very well thanks to his height. If given time to sit in a clean pocket Stehling can do some real damage against a secondary.
We can see Stehling's strengths and weaknesses on display in this drive against UT last season.
On the first play of the series Stehling hits his tight end over the middle by lifting his pass over the outstretched palm of a linebacker. A shorter quarterback would have been able to make this same throw but they likely would have had to take some gas off of it to hit the receiver in stride.
Following the first down Stehling goes to his wide out on a play action bubble screen. While the receiver picks up five yards as designed, Stehling takes way too long to fake the hand off, step back, cross his body, and release the pass to his receiver. This delay gives the strong safety time to come down field and meet the ball carrier near the line of scrimmage. Had the safety ran full speed to the receiver he likely could have tackled the receiver for no gain on the play.
If Stehling gets through his motion quicker then this issue is avoided and the receiver has a greater opportunity to create yards after the catch. These split seconds all too often create the difference between third and five and third and one scenarios, putting undue pressure on the offense and play caller.
Ultimately, Rice has a capable quarterback in Tyler Stehling. His unique skill set presents a game planning challenge for opponents. He may not boast the accuracy of Nick Mullens at Southern Miss or the buttery-smooth mechanics of Chase Litton at Marshall but he also likely won't make or break Rice's season. If the Owls can buy Stehling time in the pocket and Bailiff can place some deep threat receivers around him then Rice could generate enough big plays to compete for the Conference USA West title.