Rice senior linebacker Michael Kutzler has made the most of his opportunity filling in for preseason all-Conference USA selection Cameron Nwosu.
The former walk-on from Fort Worth leads the Owls with 15 tackles and is tied with Christian Covington for the most sacks. Kutzler sacked Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and recorded another one Saturday, taking down Jake Heaps. Kutzler’s also intercepted the Kansas quarterback and took it back for a touchdown on the play.
“The interception really set the tone for the rest of the game for the defense,” Kutzler said. “We have an expectation for a three-and-out or turnover.”
Nwosu missed the first two games recovering from a knee injury, but there’s a chance he could be in the lineup Saturday when the Owls play Houston for the Bayou Bucket. Kickoff is 2 p.m. at Reliant Stadium. The game will be broadcast on FSN.
“I want to thank Cam because he has taught me a lot,” Kutzler said after the Kansas game. “Even though he has been out, he helped me from the sideline giving me a head’s up about things he is seeing. He’s definitely had an influence on us [linebackers].”
For now, Nwosu is not listed on the Rice depth chart for the UH game. While a healthy Nwosu would almost certainly regain his starting spot, Kutzler’s play could earn him more playing time, when it’s available.
Rice coach David Bailiff said Kutzler had an impact on the team last season, even if it wasn’t quite as evident.
“He’s always made plays,” Bailiff said. “He just flew under the radar. He’s always worked hard. He’s always accepted his role, but he’s never been happy with his role. When an opportunity came his way, he’s made the best of it. We’re really thrilled for him.”
Kutzler redshirted in 2009 and saw limited action on kickoff duty in 2010. He was effective in special teams in 2011 where he made four tackles and recovered a fumble and took it 17 yards for a touchdown at Southern Mississippi.
In 2012, he set up Rice’s first touchdown in the Bayou Bucket game by recovering a Houston punt return fumble. He tied for a team-best five special team tackles and recorded two sacks as a reserve linebacker.
Kutzler credited the whole Rice defense with giving him opportunities to succeed this season.
“All around our mental attitude is different,” he said. “We want to win and we’re going to win. That’s our mindset. Defensively everyone is doing their job. The defensive line was bringing pressure. That makes it easier for the linebackers to do our jobs.”
Kutzler said the defense rose to the occasion against Kansas. The Owls gave up 14 points, though one of the scores came out a short field after a Rice turnover. He is happy to be part of it.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” Kutzler said. “I’m excited to be playing right now and hopefully I’ll continue to make plays.”
Free safety Frazier out again
For the second season in a row Rice senior free safety Corey Frazier will miss substantial time with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Bailiff announced the injury Monday. It occurred late in Saturday’s win over Kansas.
Frazier recorded nine tackles in the first two games, tied for fourth most on the team. He also had two pass breakups.
The son of Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has been a starter since 2010. Frazier injured the same knee in the 2012 season opener against UCLA. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a few days later and was back at the Owls’ first fall practice Aug. 5.
Rice junior Julius White filled in for Frazier last season, recording 79 tackles, the third highest total on the team in 2012. White has two tackles this season.