The Rice Football defense was much improved in 2019, but the Owls could be one of the fiercest units in the nation in 2020.
On paper, the 2020 Rice football defense looks as formidable as it’s been in a long time. When Mike Bloomgren arrived at South Main, he spoke of Intellectual Brutality, of hitting so hard that others knew what was coming and shrank away.
Rice made a jump in 2019, elevating themselves from near the bottom of C-USA to No. 6 in scoring defense. At the same, they got stingier. The Owls finished fifth in the conference in three-and-out percentage and 57th in the nation in stop rate, better than Oklahoma, Texas, Stanford and Houston, among others.
We knew that defense was coming back, almost in its entirety. This week, Bill Connelly of ESPN put that into greater clarity. Not only will Rice have plenty of returning playmakers on defense next season, they’ll have the most returning production in the nation.
2020 RETURNING PRODUCTION (preliminary):
Top 10: GT, Okla St, Houston, USC, NWern, Indiana, Purdue, Rice, ECU, UAB
Bottom 10: Air Force, Bama, Utah, EMU, NMSU, UTEP, FIU, WMU, La Tech, FAU
Top 5 Os: Buffalo, UNC, NWern, Cal, Akron
Top 5 Ds: Rice, Vandy, GT, USC, Houston
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) January 25, 2020
The only departing starter who played significant snaps for Rice last season was defensive tackle Myles Adams. Rice will replace him with De’Braylon Carroll, a rising star who was named to the Pro Football Focus all-freshman team as a rotation player behind Adams.
Anthony Ekpe will be missed as well, but injuries kept him off the field for much of 2019. In his place, guys like Kenneth Orji and other younger players got valuable reps.
Experience isn’t everything. Returning bad defensive players leads to bad defenses more often than not. But Rice has a host of talented defenders, with more help on the way. The 2020 Rice defense is going to be good and is already starting ahead of the game. For now, it’s one more reason to be optimistic about what the Owls can achieve next fall.