Stanford Cardinal Head Down Under For Season Opener Against Rice

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Keller Chryst
PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Keller Chryst /

The Stanford Cardinal kick off the unofficial start of the college football season in Sydney, Australia.

Saturday’s “week zero” opener pits the Stanford Cardinal against a Rice team they defeated last year to conclude the regular season.

Allianz Stadium plays host to multiple sporting events such as soccer and rugby. With Sydney as the backdrop, the stadium will host an entirely different event – college football. Picked to finish second in the Pac-12 North, the Stanford Cardinal take on the Rice Owls in a nonconference matchup.

Unlike most teams preparing for the season, both Stanford and Rice had to get down to business immediately since both lose about a week of camp. The loss of time in camp is due to an early start of the season for both teams.

Two critical questions immediately surrounded the Cardinal upon the conclusion of last season.

The first was replacing the dynamic tailback, Christian McCaffrey, who left school early for the NFL.

McCaffrey missed time with an injury last season, which in part affected the Cardinal offensive strategy and led to their demise. Bryce Love had little success in place of McCaffrey thanks in part, to the struggling offensive line and injuries.

Love did have success towards the end of last season and will now look to step up as the featured running back this season. Since the days of Jim Harbaugh, Stanford has relied on the ground game on offense.

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The “smash-mouth” style of football has worn down opponents late in the game which helped the Cardinal prevail. For Love, he may not be the every-down tailback, though he will have to be physical on the ground attack.

The second question came after Solomon Thomas declared early for the NFL Draft and was chosen third overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

The first-team All-Pac-12 Conference selection was the leader of a Cardinal defense that was second in the conference in points allowed.

Expect Harrison Phillips, Dylan Jackson, and Eric Cotton to carry the majority of the burden on the defensive line. With a young group of linebackers waiting to go in, Lance Anderson will hope his defensive line can make up for the void left by the departed Thomas.

Anderson is not likely concerned in the Cardinal secondary which could be one of the best in the country with returners Justin Reid, Alijah Holder, and Quenton Meeks. He will look for ways to pressure a Rice offensive line that allowed 33 sacks season.

Now in his eleventh season as Rice’s head coach, David Bailiff is under pressure to win some games. The Owls finished 3-9 last season with a defense allowing about 38 points per game. Bailiff turned the program around since taking over in 2007, with Rice making four bowl appearances. In recent seasons though, the Owls have been a bit less successful.

Bailiff is not in a complete rebuild. On the offense, five starters on the line are back, along with a couple of other returning players who’ve gotten snaps on the field.

Production will be a concern with redshirt freshman Sam Glaesmann at quarterback. He has not taken a live snap since playing in high school although had an impressive camp to win the job.

Targets for Glaesmann might prove difficult to come by, given that last year’s starters at wide receiver, and tight end have left. The ground game will likely be the focal point for Glaesmann as the team seeks to gain confidence in running back Samuel Stewart.

An ACL injury prevented Stewart from playing in the final games of the season and he hopes to be healthy enough to carry the load.

On the defensive side, the Owls have eight players returning. Led by linebacker, Emmanuel Ellerbee, Rice is hoping to have better success on that side of the ball. The team finished last defensively in Conference USA and near the bottom nationally.

Stanford Cardinal Football
Stanford Cardinal Football /

Stanford Cardinal Football

Brian Stewart in the new defensive coordinator at Rice and implemented a 3-4 defense during the offseason. A new defensive scheme will sure to have growing pains which should benefit the Cardinal offense.

The status of quarterback Keller Chryst was unclear after he left the Sun Bowl with a knee injury last season. Chryst is healthy and has been announced as the starter against Rice.

Head coach David Shaw will likely keep his playbook concealed and the Stanford offense should find no problem in scoring.

The air attack was a problem last season as the tight ends and the receivers did not factor into the equation.

Injuries to the offensive line and poor play from then-quarterback, Ryan Burns, made the passing game virtually non-existent.

Stanford hopes that they will be able to change their fortunes to start this season.

The Cardinal check in at No. 14 in the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Polls. Last season at the Farm, Stanford defeated Rice 41-17.

Next: Big Holes to Fill As Stanford Prepares For Season

Stanford will use the game in Australia as a tune-up and make corrections with a two-week break ahead. A trip to Los Angeles will be on hand as Stanford will face USC in both teams’ Pac-12 opener.

Rice is the focus currently though, as Stanford cannot afford to look ahead or they will surely find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard.