Marshall football: Rice DB likes to face passing offenses
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Bryce Callahan's quick rise to all-Conference USA-level cornerback can be attributed to one thing. Rice
Rice defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond said that when the ball is in the air, his redshirt sophomore stops thinking like a defender.
"Bryce does a deal that you always talk to (defensive backs) about," Thurmond said. "He's got the ability to turn himself from the mindset standpoint into a receiver."
That's allowed him in just 15 college football games to leap into the Owls' all-time top 10 in interceptions. And when the Owls face Marshall at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (CSS/WCHS telecast), there's a very good chance he'll see a ton of footballs in the air. The Thundering Herd (1-2, 0-0) averaged nearly 56 pass attempts per game.
"I hope they keep it up," Callahan said. "Seeing a team like that keeps corners on alert more. Really there are no plays off."
Callahan didn't start for the Owls (1-2, 0-0) until an injury to Phillip Gaines put him with the first team for the fifth game of the season, a win over Memphis.
Yet the 5-foot-10, 180-pound corner made his presence known the game before with two interceptions in a loss to Southern Mississippi.
He finished the season with six interceptions, best in Conference USA and tied for sixth nationally.
He also broke up 14 passes, second best in the league and 14th best in the nation. The accolades began piling up - Scout.com and Sporting News Freshman All-American, C-USA All-Freshman team and all-conference honorable mention.
His six picks tied him with five others for the third-best single-season total in Rice history.
"It was kind of overwhelming at first," Callahan said. "But the more the interceptions came, the more comfortable I got and the more fun it was to play out there.
That comfort zone also allowed Callahan to switch his brain into receiver mode.
"That's something I've always been doing," said Callahan. "I played little receiver in high school, so receiver isn't something that's foreign to me."
There's a big difference between saying you can do it, trying to teach a corner to do it, and actually being able to do it, Thurmond said.
"You tell a lot of guys to do that, but they can't always process it and can't do it," he said.
"When (Callahan) gets to the ball, he has good ball skills and can make the tough catch. He has the ability to turn a lot of plays that would be pass breakups for other people into interceptions."
Conference USA coaches noticed that ability, too, voting Callahan to the preseason all-conference team. He responded with a big game in the Owls' historic win over Kansas. Callahan picked off two passes, including one that set up Rice's game-winning field goal. The Owls hadn't beaten a Big 12 opponent since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.
Those interceptions gave him eight for his career and pulled him into a tie with three other former Owls for 10th all-time.
"I was overwhelmed with excitement to get our team in position to kick a field goal and win that game," he said.
He's also pretty excited to face the Thundering Herd.
Marshall has completed passes to no fewer than 11 receivers in each of its first three games, so Callahan expects to stay pretty busy Saturday.
"It gives us more to do and gives us corners more opportunities to make plays on the ball," he said. "Marshall has a good, solid offense. They like to throw the ball a lot, so I like that."