Monday, October 25, 2004

Tulane 59; #24 UAB 55

I kind of throw my hands up at this game, this tremendous 59-55 victory, Saturday. Sure, in my preview, I wrote the offense would wake up after subtle improvements a few weeks in a row. But I was talking 20-24 or so points- enough to cover and maybe not get embarrassed at Homecoming- not this detonation. Wow! Six touchdown passes? 400 yards passing? Crazy.

I am tempted, much like the Memphis game, to declare it a kind of outlier and draw no serious conclusions from it. Look, we’ve all seen a game like this.... it is the third inning and you look up and its already 11-8. And our beloved C-USA, let’s face it, has a tendency to produce cartoon-like numbers on occasion. But it is only a Blog, it isn’t my job on the line if I’m wrong, so let me make a few observations:

Leaving the the quarterback aside for now, the offense is not an altogether bad outfit. The wide receivers are a collection that many BCS schools would not be embarrassed to run out there. Jovon is a solid C-USA back- maybe even above average. The offensive line still cannot block the run consistently, particularly against the league's larger fronts, but the pass protection has been good to superb five games in a row- and that is the most important thing in a spread offense. But until Saturday, the play from the quarterback position has ranged from awful to bad. It was sort of like the key missing piece was put in, allowing the other ten guys to play to a higher level of competence.

One group that needs to be called out on the carpet a little is the UAB coaching staff. I realize the Blazers came into the game with little respect for Ricard- and put a defensive game plan out there that screamed "Beat us Lester!". But at some point in that fourth quarter, you have to admit Lester is kicking your butt, and help your defense a little. When a quarterback is carving you up like that, you must get the ball out of hands. You just have to.

If that means rushing six-seven guys play after play, do it. But change that game from where Ricard sits in the pocket seemingly forever and throws the ball down the field with a kind of impunity. Ricard was “making plays”- so force him to dump it off to the wide-outs and backs- make them “make plays” instead.

Both defenses were clearly shot in the fourth quarter- and both offenses had to play from behind with an eye on the clock possession after possession- a formula for lots of snaps, resultant yardage, and big fourth quarter numbers. I know the “even” time of possession would suggest that the defenses would be sort of fresh- but all afternoon both teams threw so much and produced so many first downs, the clock ostensibly never ran. Consequently, both teams ran a large number of plays.

I am not crazy optimistic about the rest of the season- still feels like 3-4 wins to me. I was always thought they would win one of the Houston, Army and Navy games- and have the potential to steal another. And I still imagine that is true- except you can move TCU into the steal-able catagory now as well. Our defense seems incapable of stopping people from scoring 40 points, so it is still hard to pick us to win in most spots. That’s a pretty demanding game plan for Scelfo, right? “Score seven touchdowns and you’ll probably be in it.” How does Scelfo sleep at night? You’d like to think if you score nine times at home you might not need a desperate effort to win.

Whither Ricard? Well, he was soooo much better than he’s ever been. If he had played anywhere, and I mean anywhere, near this level for a sustained period in the spring or summer, there would be no question as to who would start. Again, maybe he’s put enough of the offense together in his head that he can take advantage of the fact that the protections are first-rate, opposing teams really overplay the run against the Wave, and the wide outs both can get open and will catch it if you get it near them.

I am not ashamed to admit I don’t know the answer. While I feel confident that Ricard is not going to throw six touchdowns again this year, perhaps you can argue this was a turning point of sorts. If nothing else, it’ll get those safeties out of the box and give Jovon some room to rush again.

I imagine Ricard will still be up and down. For one thing, Ricard will never again see that passive UAB-look on defense with single coverage all day on the WRs. Houston will be coming at him- trying to turn him back into that turnover machine. That second safety is coming out of the box on first down. Can Ricard handle that- down after down of punishing defenses on check-downs and such, picking himself up off the ground again and again?

I still think they need to get Irvin a chance to play. It won’t be a popular opinion today- but the guy manages the offense real well- and deserves a longer look than he’s been getting. If anything, Ricard’s success gives them a kind of better opportunity to play Irvin should Ricard struggle; it won’t affect Ricard’s status as the number one guy.