Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Rise of Scelfo

All Tulane fans must constantly deal with a gnawing fear- if the Wave wins too many games the architect of our success, the head coach, is always soon gone. A tornado of cash, a few bitter recriminations, and an "Era of Good Feeling"- a reference the Tulane grad can appreciate/understand- is over

I doubt if a win versus Louisville would put Scelfo in the mix for a new job anywhere. That might be aggressive. But I am confident if the Wave has the kind of 8-9 win season they ought to next year, there will be a tangible buzz around him. There was when he won the Hawai’i Bowl last time; I can’t imagine suitors would not come calling again. If 2005 is in fact a Bowl season, then that would be two post-season appearances in four years for Tulane. That is outstanding for a place like Tulane- and will draw interest.

I am actually surprised at how little flack Scelfo gets in New Orleans. Clearly the administration loves him- as Tulane has four goals: find a coach that can get them to a decent bowl game every 4-5 years, play most seasons around 3-7 wins, graduate tons of players, and run a program that causes zero off-field problems and embarrassments. I believe them, I am convinced the athletic dept. believes them, and Scelfo executes to that standard.

I think the part of the Tulane community that has brains and has a lick of understanding how I-A athletics works as a whole appreciates that Tulane is a hard place to win consistently- and thinks the Scelfo regime is doing an altogether commendable job.

With a 2005 8-4 season under his belt, Scelfo would be an attractive hire: literally zero embarrassments, low maintenance, affordable, an exciting offense featuring NFL quarterbacks one after another. Match him with a recruiter and a defensive guy- and why would he not be a good fit at a lot of places? But I-A jobs are rare- and there are always a lot of attractive candidates- so it is hard to project.

But heck, what about say, a place like Pittsburgh. Pitt has not renewed Harris’ contract because they are unhappy with the off-field stuff (40% graduation rate, the player that got drunk and died when he fell through the roof, etc.). That nonsense is okay for, say LSU, but not a place that aspires to academic revelance- and perhaps one day responsible Big Ten status. Harris clearly wants to move to a better job- one where his players can gamble, blow off class and assault people- much like the University of Washington. The Big East is a probable non-BCS league in 2006—and a good Scelfo 2005 campaign would stamp him as a guy with morals who can play entertaining, winning football in a mid-major league. He might be a nice fit there. Or a place like that.

The best part for the Scelfo detractors here at Tulane would be the press conference where the Wave alumni are introduced to Greg Davis Jr.– another guy who the Tulane athletic department loves too. A Louisiana guy and one of the chief recruitershe could slide right in.

Public school grads can learn more about the "Era of Good Feeling" here:


Monday, November 29, 2004

Froggie Stompin'

Well, who’d have thought the Wave would be here? Three wins as a double-digit underdog- in one campaign? One more win, and I might have to start apologizing to those “idiots” that predicted the Wave would get to seven. It is a shame those finks at the New Orleans Bowl couldn’t find it in their heart to screw someone other than Tulane for a change. It is okay though- sets up this Louisville clash as an ipso de facto Bowl game.

Thumping the Horned Frogs was pretty clearly the best win of the season. It confirms that while the Wave is still a clear step behind Memphis and Louisville, Tulane is a pretty solid middle-of-the-road C-USA outfit- with room to improve next year. Yes, Texas Christian may have manifest faults this year. For example, it perhaps says a lot about TCU’s defense when adding Tulane corners to your secondary probably would noticeably help. Nevertheless, TCU is an organized outfit that features, unlike the military academies, I-A players across the board. Subsequently, to whip the Froggies, with a little style and panache, on the road, is outright impressive. Particularly in light of the Frogs betrayal of the shining light in all of our lives: C-USA.

It is hard to find fault with anyone on the offense. Quick: name an offensive line that blocks the pass better than the 2004 version? Are you really sure the 1998 version was better? At tackle maybe, but in the interior? The wide receivers continue to catch the ball, etc. But undoubtedly, this day belonged to Richard Irvin- the greatest living American next to Jim Thome.

Irvin! Those of us boosting this young man since last spring surely had a great afternoon. Other than a huge run by Forte in the clinching drive, Tulane could not run the ball a lick. TCU jammed the box- and dared Irvin to beat them. Ha! The Cardinals probably won’t make that mistake. The redshirt freshman played an excellent road game- and except for a shaky third frame- exhibited the ball control passing this offense demands.

It looks so easy to play quarterback in the spread offense when the quarterback “gets it”. None of the throws are hard; no one is asking a quarterback to throw a deep out. People are seemingly always open- or at least covered man-on-man. But the premium is on a quarterback who can “read it and throw it”- again and again- without a mistake.

Since he showed up in the spring, Irvin has been the best “executor” on this roster. This is what the offense is supposed to look like: 32 minutes time of possession despite an inconsistent rushing attack, 100% execution in the red zone, 11 completion in 12 throws to start the game, five touchdown passes to multiple wide outs. Irvin kept them in the game early, cashed in TCU’s brutal turnover, picked them up down ten points and threw “two” touchdown passes in the clinching 99-yard drive. In his first start!

I have, even after the UAB game, said both that Irvin ought to start but that supporting Ricard’s elevation was not stupid. I don’t imagine we’re ever going to truly settle this question. It sort of depends on your philosophy on quarterbacking. Clearly Ricard has ample physical tools- and is increasingly grabbing the nature of the offense. But equally open, Ricard is never going to be the sort of player who completes a high percentage of passes. In Irvin, you have a quarterback who manages a football game like a senior today- but never is going to throw those gorgeous, gun it in there, downfield balls that Ricard can generate. I don’t think Irvin could have won the UAB game; and I don’t think Ricard can play the kind of measured road effort Irvin exhibited Saturday against a defense say, better than Navy’s. But at least now our quarterback controversy is centered around two guys who can play- as opposed to the spring where the quarterback play alternately was “bad” to “sort-of-mediocre”.

Some folks are throwing props to the defense. I don’t know. The Wave did play well in the second half, but Tulane did allow a ton of points again. TCU did have 500 yards of offense- so our performance was not superior. I also thought TCU did the Wave a favor keeping Gunn on the bench for large stretches. Hassell does not scare me. Gunn does.

Tulane is still awful young up front and not too solid covering folks. We needed every one of our 35 points; it’d be nice to absolutely not have to all the time. The trick to getting this team to eight wins next year isn’t going to be the offense; it is going to be getting better, rather bigger, play from our front seven and finding some folks who can cover people.

Lastly, it is pretty obvious that if Scelfo has a free afternoon this week, he might be well-served to park himself on Butler Quad- and grab every single undergrad that goes by and invite them to try their hand at place-kicking. Seriously, maybe LSU has a fifth string PK they don’t need.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tulane @ TCU preview!!!

When the schedule came out, I never thought Tulane would be playing games that counted this late into the season. It is to this collection of young men’s great credit that Tulane is still in the hunt, albeit just barely, for the magic number of six wins. Can you imagine if Tulane can steal this one? There might be some honest to goodness electricity and emotion among the 14,000 in attendance for Louisville.

With whatever creditability I can amass at 7-1 ATS this year; I was kind of surprised at the large spread here: TCU -13 over Tulane. Don’t you kind of sense that Vegas has maybe not quite caught up with the fact that Tulane, particularly the defense, isn’t so dreadful any more? In fact, the Wave might truly be a squarely average and improving C-USA squad? That is not to say Tulane cannot get hammered in this spot- see the substandard Houston effort for example. But are they likely to get crushed? I don’t think so- and consequently getting beat by two scores is a lot of points to lay here.

If TCU’s offense plays like it did last week, this is going to be a hard game for Tulane to win. While the Wave is certainly playing better defense for increasingly large stretches, particularly upfront, I am not sure the Wave can compete physically with TCU play-after-play. USM could not- and I think their line is a lot better than our front. The Horned Frogs had a great push against Southern Miss, and they seemed to have taken a large step in solving their quarterback issue by benching Gunn (sorry Hardball) and playing the ostensibly steadier Hassell. The back Hobbs is a good player- and he’s out, but his back-up gouged the Golden Eagles for 150 yards rushing. I’d be pretty surprised if TCU does not come away with a pretty big number.

But you get 13 points, so I think you can pretty comfortably take the Wave if you can convince yourself of two things: that Tulane is capable of finally playing well on road and that the quarterback Irvin can step up and play.

Let’s look at the latter point first. Tulane is going to get more pressure from TCU’s defensive front than the Academies could bring- but one constant this year has been Tulane’s good to frankly great pass protection- and TCU’s secondary is Tulane-level bad. Plus, Walker, one of their key corners, is out, or at least hurt. We know that Tulane has, for C-USA, a very solid collection of skill position players. So this falls then on Irvin to execute.

Full disclosure: I am an Irvin booster. But it is his first start- and he could struggle. Any chance of upsetting TCU is going to be predicated on possessing the ball through the air- as I doubt Tulane will be able to consistently run it- and frankly that is billed as Irvin’s game. Last spring and summer, Irvin’s quarterbacking awareness and stability are what almost pushed Ricard to the bench. Irvin just seems to get just what is going on out there- and he executes the ball control portion of the offense very well. So I think Irvin will be at least okay-plus. Irvin also has played a little- mostly pretty well- which might address some jitters issues. And I think “okay-plus” and “pretty well” gets it done against TCU’s mess in the defensive backfield. Tulane simply might not lose much playing Irvin this Saturday.

Yes, Irvin might turn it over a couple of times, as I cannot imagine us not putting it up 45 times against this meager collection of defensive backs, but I think Ricard would be turnover prone too in this spot.

Now, the Wave has not played well on the road in league play ever under Scelfo. Maybe they won’t here either. Conversely, the Wave is playing well right now- and has a little momentum. The week off is big this late in the season, particularly from a prep standpoint, getting the back-up QB ready, and getting our endless young players some respite from this grind. Plus, the reprieve might be particularly relevant, as TCU is coming off what was no doubt an emotional, physical win last weekend against Southern Miss. If we are ever going to play well on the road, this is as good a spot as any.

This is a tough game for the Wave to win. Nevertheless, I imagine this game ends north of 28 points each- and since I think the Wave’ll score, take the Wave and grab the points in this spot.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Time to Get Well

To be really honest, the Redskins did not play all that badly. The Washington defense competed for long stretches. Ramsey, the ex-Tulane quarterback who the Washington Post wrote “sparkled” and called “sharp”, executed the ball control part of the offense- completing 60% of his passes for most of the game. The offense did not turn it over and tried mightily to rush the football. They hung around for a half. It is a telling commentary on the state of the Redskins that, despite all that, Washington still got their doors blown off, 28-6.

The Redskins brought some solid ideas and a lot of effort to their defense. After the Eagles scored a touchdown on an efficient initial possession- the Redskins defense strongly committed to two strategies. First, every single play TO moved down field, they rolled a safety, normally Sean Taylor, on top, and cheated a linebacker under. Second, they loaded the line of scrimmage, more at the point of attack than the box, with five guys and challenged the Eagles to block them all. The Eagles struggled with that aggressive front for a quarter-plus- and the extra guy gave Washington an operative pass rush for once.

However, after an abortive initial second half possession that featured the Eagles trying to push the ball to TO despite the pressure and double-coverage, enter Josh Parry. Josh Parry, a fullback with marginal overall NFL skills, is in the League to do one thing. Block people. Whew, did he do that or what? Almost immediately, Donovan had all day to throw, going over the top to Pinkston (5 catches, 105 yards) and down low to Westbrook and the tight ends. Order thus restored in the trenches, the running game got going too- over 100 yards for the day. The Washington defense was then pretty thoroughly punished, run and pass, for a twenty-minute stretch in the second half- and only was spared by the entrance of Detmer and garbage time.

It perhaps says a lot about McNabb now that even on days he struggles some he throws four touchdown passes. In the second half, the ‘skins had no answers for Westbrook or the secondary wideouts at all - and although TO had a quiet day, he had a huge TD catch in a big spot- and drew a key penalty on Taylor- an awful unsportsman-like conduct foul- that flipped the field position- that lead directly to the game clinching score.

I must admit I increasingly don’t understand the Redskin’s offensive approach at all. In fact, not to be obstinate, but I think their whole offensive method and attitude is silly- and a lot of the blame lies with Gibbs. What head coach is doing a worse job in the NFL right now? These are Gibbs' players, this is Gibbs' philosophy- and frankly the latter stinks and the other is under-achieving. This ball-control via the run worked in the 80’s because Gibbs both routinely had four Pro-Bowlers blocking and the passing game lacked the absolute importance it holds today.

For example, the best part of the skins’ offense yesterday, and the only part that worked at all, was Ramsey’s competent execution of the ball control passing game. And yet, time and time again, the Linc faithful was treated to Portis’ ineffective rushing and worse, Betts. Seriously, Betts might be the worst player in the NFL that plays somewhat regularly. Why is it so mightily important that he get 11 touches yesterday- almost all in non-garbage time? Was the mighty franchise back tired of running into Trotter? And boy, hasn’t Trotter been just awesome lately?

Okay, you devote 25 snaps, and a lot on first down, while the game is competitive to this stupid, ineffective rushing attack- and a lot of it to Betts. What is the plan past that? Where was the play-action? The throwing on first down? The counter-action on a reverse, etc.? The max-protect and throw it deep against our cheating safeties?

The answer: this whole plan is idiotic. The skins have trouble executing on offense- largely due to bad quarterbacking and a bad offensive line- plus, you know what, they don’t run it that great either. The one thing they are doing well, ball control via the air, they move away from again and again- sometimes apparently to give Betts "key" carries? They enter the Linc and play an offensive scheme that does what- puts a premium on competently executing a dozen or so offensive plays in order to score? The one thing the Redskins categorically cannot do? I mean, this team is off-sides every nine snaps- seriously, they were- and Gibbs wants them to execute consistently? Stupid.

Realistically, Gibbs has to get a big play or two out of this offense in order to score. Washington just isn’t capable of executing a dozen plays, at even a mediocre level, all in a row. So you must game plan to not have to do that. Instead, the ‘skins have a 1st-and-Goal from the Eagles Ten and manage to turn it into a missed 48-yard field goal. They can’t sneak a 4th and inches. Stop game-planning like you’re an efficient offensive machine. Throw on first down, take a shot or two deep, do something tricky, etc. Frankly, the ‘skins are very easy to play against. They do nothing, nothing, on offensive that causes a defense to wonder or think- which is fortunate when you have Trotter playing middle linebacker.

As a result, the Eagles just sort of acted passively on defense. They sat back, did not blitz much, stayed in the base, maybe cheated the safeties up on the run a little. In response, the ‘skins courageously ran that passive slop into their maw, and committed literally seemingly endless false-start penalties. Gibbs blamed the crowd. What a wimp. You’re 3-7; bench someone for being stupid. Or am I the only one that thinks this offensive mob desperately needs someone who cares, or pretends to, to teach them to act like practiced football players?

Throw that all in with the ’skins characteristic and distinctive special teams follies: missed field goals, kicking-off out of bounds, big returns- and Washington could not even look to the kicking game to generate a cheap score or win the field position battle. I can’t see how the ‘skins thought their attack plan had any chance to get them to even 14 points. Consequently, the professional football team whacked this semi-professional one.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Tulane Basketball from Pete Rasche

Pete Rasche, who played tough in the trenches all along the front court for a pair of Tulane NCAA Tournament teams (1992-93), contributes his thoughts on the upcoming Tulane basketball season:

In my opinion, it gets tougher to predict college hoops every year, because I think there is more and more parity- due in large part to the increasing amount of NBA defections. This year is no exception - I think it is really tough to call. While the "elite" teams will always stay strong (borderline defection players will be more likely to stay because there is a chance at a championship), the rest of the pack gets more and more even. There will always be the teams that get carried to the title by a stud (from Danny Manning in ‘88 to Carmelo Anthony in ‘03), or teams that come from nowhere to be really strong for a season due to one or two outstanding players (i.e., St. Joe's last year), but in general, everyone's getting more equal....or, some may say, more bland.

Applying that opinion to C-USA, I just don't see many regular season C-USA games as being "gimmes" on paper. I think that, with the exception of Memphis, UL and UC, everyone else in C-USA classifies as "rest of the pack". Sure, you may have your Marquettes and your Charlottes who seem to consistently be near the top, but even they always seem to end up with several conference losses each year. It seems that their recent "success" is more based on the fact that the rest of the teams are so inconsistent or so bad that they all end up under .500 in the league.

So, in other words, I really don't know how Tulane will do. A lot of it will be determined by intangibles, like how well they play as a team, their confidence level (being able to shake off losses, etc.), whether they stay healthy, and, as I have spouted about here before, what stuff is happening off the court in their personal lives. Casual fans always seem to forget that these are kids, who are taking classes, living in dorms with other non-athletes, etc. - their lives are not 100% focused on playing ball.

If the other factors work out and confidence becomes a key, then this team should be in good shape. Looking at the non-conference schedule, admittedly full of creampuffs, I can see them going into conference play 9-2 or 10-1. Opening with LSU will be huge. An upset win or even a close loss, and they very well should win at least the next 7, maybe more. A blowout loss, and shattered confidence, and they might lose a few of those "in state" games, and that would spell real trouble for Finney. If they play as well as they did against Vasda, the only teams that should give them trouble are LSU and Princeton (always a tough mental challenge, more than anything). Princeton is always winnable if you are disciplined, and LSU is possible, simply because the toughest part of that game is not getting rattled, and we certainly have experienced depth.

One quick thought about experience and confidence: in 1991-92 we admittedly played a total creampuff pre-conference schedule. But it got our confidence up - and when you have a deep team with lots of experience, as we did, that makes a world of difference. By the time we went to Freedom Hall in January, we didn't think we could lose - so we just didn't. We started that season 13-0, and got to 19-2, and decry the creampuffs all you want, it was our attitude that played a large part in our success that year. Again, not wanting to compare this year's team to that team, but this year's team does have a lot of minutes played. If they rattle off a bunch of wins pre-conference, things could get interesting.

I have to admit, the conference schedule is nice. At Memphis and at Cincinnati (on their Senior day) are tough spots, but if you can't get up for those games (and on TV, no less), then you shouldn't be playing. Otherwise, we seem to have all the other "stronger" teams at home. Heck, we've hung with ranked teams in the New Orleans Arena a few times, even in years where we shouldn't have.

I just liked a lot of what I saw with the young guys last year who got a lot of run - and apparently the freshmen are pretty good. I am honestly very curious to see how Finney handles his wealth of experience and "apparent" talent (freshmen). Chemistry has not exactly been our strength in the Finney era, or at least consistent chemistry.

The other point that I return to is the fact that I think the "rest of the pack" teams in C-USA are not, and have not, really been that good, it's just that the teams consistently behind them (Tulane, USM, TCU, Houston, etc.) have really been bad for a while. If we get a good thing going with chemistry, using our depth (which is a huge factor if we are to play the "Kentucky style" that Finney was supposedly bringing) to wear people down, I can see us jumping up to the front of the "rest of the pack" teams.

Just making a blind stab (I really have not researched the other teams in C-USA much), I am thinking that we could legitimately pull off a 10-6 conference record. Of course, we could just as easily go in the tank and end up like 4-12. If everything clicks, and all those returning minutes really do matter (we lead C-USA in returning minutes, I read that somewhere), heck, we could even stretch to 12-4 or 13-3. And if we did, we'd be pushing Top 25 status, and Finney could kick back and relax for at least another year or two.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

J-1 Dies

Sadly, our favorite giant Octopus has left us. J-1 passed recently- but not before his beloved Aurora laid her clutch of eggs. According to the article, J-1 left this life "parasite-free" internally- which sounds like a good thing- and the Alaska SeaLife Center was able to salvage some "interesting tissue"- which does not sound good at all- including "the radula- a rasp like tongue".


J-1 originally appeared on my Blog here.


However, in more upbeat news, Aurora is happily brooding and defending her clutch- having dropped a large rock deliberately on a Mottled Sea Star.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

#5 + T.O. 4EVER!!!!!

Well, that was scary impressive, wasn’t it?

Okay, Dallas isn’t very good, but they were at home and they were just a few plays from 5-3. But that is sort of where the Eagles are right now. When Philadelphia plays even fairly well, and I don’t think that was exactly their A-game last night, the Eagles are simply three-four scores better than anyone in their division. And obviously, Donovan’s 14-second run to glory will probably be played at my funeral. Can’t go wrong, obviously, going to First Down Freddie when the chips are down.

After endless week after week of a bizarre offensive ennui, the Eagles got back to caring last night- and bang! Donovan and the boys go for 49, on the road, in a division game. In a perfect, irony-free world, without judgments, TO and Donovan could get married. Philadelphia’s offensive excellence, when they try, sort of lulls you to their achievements; you forget how impressive scoring 49 on the road is in this league.

You find yourself being frustrated, perhaps thwarted, by the strangest things. For example, I was disappointed TO ran out of touchdown celebrations (three scores). The last seemed contrived- although I liked the “Star Dance Redux” and his mock argument with #5. Or I must admit I am not exactly sure just how healthy this offense approach is long term- you know, most NFL championships aren’t really won with a game plan that seemingly calls for every other play to be a successful fifty yard strike downfield. Yes, I realize the book is, if you get a receiver covered one-on-one down the field, you have to take the shot- but with TO on the field, that situation exists every time you have three wideouts on the field. So I guess we have to sit back and be amazed. Poor Fred Smoot- just how is he sleeping this week? TO is coming for ya Fred! TO!

By the way, what genius called for TO to be covered by a 'backer on his first touchdown grab? Pathetic.

The Eagles seemed to recover almost completely on defense, despite idiotic prophecies that the kind of “beating” Pittsburgh handed down cannot be come back from. To begin with, Dallas could not run it a lick- although that was admittedly part and parcel of playing from seemingly behind by about a thousand all night long. The Cowboys did have a few drives, but you cannot in the NFL ask your defense to bring zealous intensity when up 21-28 points all night long. I am not sure if the Eagles had only scored 24, that Dallas could have gotten to 13.

Aren’t the young corners maturing nicely and playing extremely well- just like the two guys they replaced, whose names escape me? John Clayon wrote this week Lito Sheppard is the co-best corner in the NFC- the link is at the bottom. Now that might be a bit much- but, coming off being NFL Player on the Month, Sheppard was bulletproof again last night and scored a 101- yard touchdown. Like Clayton says, Lito is a lock to go to the Pro Bowl. And Sheldon Brown has to be one of the season’s nice surprises league wide.

Now Washington is coming in here- probably the worst team in this weak division- and not by a little bit. That fink Gibbs is denying the loyal faithful the pleasure of Brunell’s company. I really, really wanted to see the “genius” HoF coach’s $10 million a year pride and joy run for his fool life in front of the nation’s favorite drunken mob. Poor Ramsey. He will not be able to run from the Freak. The Freak will get him and eat him. Perhaps Ramsey could do something that could get him benched for Sunday? It’d probably have to an actual murder or something damn serious- as apparently drinking, driving and almost killing someone aren’t enough to even get you fined in DC.

However, I do think the Redskins will try and close ranks around the young quarterback. Fortunately for the Eagles, this Washington team defines vapid and stupid, week after week, and I think they are going to get ripped. I guarantee one Redskins TD will be called back due to some sort of formation penalty.

This is sort of an oddly important game for both franchises. This is probably Washington’s last real chance to salvage anything practical from this season- particularly with three of the next four against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Otherwise it is a grim march to, at best, five wins. If their defense plays well, Ramsey shows flashes of competence and Portis has a decent game- the building blocks are arguably there for Washington to improve to something next year- particularly in a weak division. If McNabb goes for four scores, TO for another three, the skins’ offense is again pathetic, and they get their doors blown off- then the skins’ season is over- with increasingly little prospect for getting competitive next year. You can’t project ten wins if your quarterbacks cannot play.

If the ‘skins cannot be competitive nest year, this two-year window Gibbs’ experiment is officially a disaster. There is no Gibbs 2006 plan here- it is 2005 or bust. Increasingly, it is hard to argue that Gibbs has done anything but a bad job so far: the quarterback situation is the worst in the NFC, zero young talent on offense, “whither Portis and Cole?”, a defense that is soft in big spots, and a team worse than last year. I thought when Spurrier left, there was talent here- but this team is disorganized and plays soft a lot. How can you be down seventeen, at home, in the biggest game of the year, to Cincinnati?? That reflects the head coach.

Accordingly, if the Eagles get them 35-10 or so, which I think is very possible, the wheels could come off real quick- and put this franchise off as an issue in NFC East through 2007.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Celebrate- the Blog goes over 5,000 hits

To everyone who felt America did not need a Blog focusing on Philadelphia and Tulane football- you were wrong! The Blog has gone over 5000 visitors- which means many of us have little to do.

Some pictures from the celebration featuring your host:



Thank you for your support!

ARMY!! Worse, if possible, than Navy?

Our kicking games woes aside, this was a pretty complete effort by the Wave- a solid performance. A key part about learning to get good is kicking bad teams, like the Washington Huskies, down early with a snarl- and whoo- the Wave did some kicking. Don't you sense that something good happened to the Wave at the half of the Houston debacle? You have to admit- over the last ten quarters, the defense has gotten after people.

I think this game confirms what we know about the Tulane. First, it is a very good offensive team if two conditions are met: the quarterback has time to pass and the opponent lacks athletes to cover our wideouts. Second, the defensive front seven is getting better. Try writing that sort of summary about, say, the Saints.

Ricard was very good. Despite the Tulane’s total gaudy rushing number, the Wave did not rush the ball all that well the entire first half against Army’s pitiful rush defense. But Ricard took advantage of the outstanding pass protection, picked apart Army’s hapless secondary and stayed away from the killer turnover- probably the only way Army could beat them. Again, the defense was great against the run all day- and Army’s back Jones is a player. They lost a little focus late, but so did I after Dome victory libations.

Ricard’s season ending injury is disappointing- just as those who supported him were beginning to be rewarded for persevering through his brutal initiation. Lord, remember the Mississippi State game? Shudder. Who was that guy?

Could be worse though. The number one goal this season was to solve the quarterback situation through 2006- and well, Scelfo has taken a huge step in that direction, right? One more four touchdown performance- and our LSU friends were going to be sick over Ricard all off-season.

Plus, I am convinced the team would be well-served by a long-look at Irvin- who is a good quarterback in his own right. In the next two games, Tulane is going to get pressured by the opposition’s defensive front- and every single game Ricard has seen persistent pressure he’s been bad (i.e. Houston and Memphis). Any chance of upsetting TCU or Louisville is going to be predicated on possessing the ball through the air- as I doubt Tulane will be able to consistently run it- and frankly that is Irvin’s game, not Ricard’s. Every time I look at Irvin, he just seems to get just what is going on out there- and he executes the ball control portion of the offense very well. Ricard has posted some great completion percentages lately- but the kind of pressure, say, Lousiville is going to put on our receivers and line is not the sort the service academies’ bring.

To beat Louisville and TCU we probably have to play a game in the 30s. To keep the Cardinals near that number means we need to move the chains a lot- and that means a quarterback going 28-38, 300 yards, minimal turnovers, a key throw or two in tight confines in the red zone. I think Irvin has as good a chance, if not better, than Ricard to do that under pressure.

Now, Mr. Forte did have a very solid game- filling in admirably- particularly in light of the fact he’s a freshman. But no, he is not yet a good college player. Okay, he rushed for 216 yards- but c’mon, this is Army! Don’t you read the program? Or at least my blog? Houston went for 369 on the ground (282 by Edwards). Air Force went for 345 and four touchdowns. USF set a school record- 367 yards- including Andre going 19-for-200 yards. Lousiville went for 270 and six touchdowns. UConn went for over 200. And so forth. Everybody goes for a big number against Army: bad backs, good backs, me. Seriously, everyone. Even Boudreaux broke a tackle!

Forte certainly can catch the ball, doesn’t fumble, knows the plays- and has filled in okay at times, and frankly very well on Saturday. But six TBs in C-USA will get votes for all-conference; he ain’t close to being one of them. He probably could not start for a single team in C-USA- maybe one. Outside of A&M and Army- a I-AA defense and an ipso de facto I-AA defense- he’s probably looking at what year end: 350 yards rushing and 18 catches in nine games? That is not good for a second tailback who does get to play and start some. At this point in his young career, he’s a fill-in player- a well below-average C-USA back- and C-USA is a bad league- who fattened up his stats- but candidly probably not as much as most other teams have.

Plus, just look at Forte play. You can tell why he didn't attract interest from anyone other than Tulane and a few scattered I-AA programs. The kid is a tweener. He's not strong on his feet at all- so he's not a true power back. He's not particularly fast- so he's not a scat-style back. He can catch it- and frankly Tulane has no one else. So he gets to play. But does anyone really believe that right now a key to success against TCU is insuring Forte gets 25 touches? Please.

Bottom line- to their tremendous credit, the Wave is still playing games that matter. They look loose and seem to be having fun. Most importantly, they still have a very narrow opportunity to get to six- which I never, ever thought would happen. They have an okay chance, particularly with the prep week, versus TCU (because they’ll score even if pressured, unlike in Houston, with Irvin in there) and a puncher’s chance (say +18 in Vegas) if Louisville comes in looking ahead. At the very least, Tulane will be the more desperate, focused and loose outfit. C’mon, admit it, if the Wave beats TCU, some people at Tulane might actually go to the game.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Tulane versus Army- Preview

Ah.... New Orleans! Is there anything like the Crescent City, crackling with excitement at the prospect of a Tulane home game? Even the Skull seems "white-er" today.

Anyway, the New York Post, the official guide to Prediction Thursday, has Tulane -6 over the Cadets. That is the first time the Wave has been favored this year against an I-A opponent- a sobering thought to anyone who thinks our kids are underachieving at three wins so far. However, at 6-1 ATS, I am certainly overachieving.

Army is, by far, the worst I-A team the Wave has faced this year- perhaps evidenced by the fact the Wave is 8.5 points better in Vegas here than they were versus the Pirates (+2.5 versus -6) - who were pretty awful too. That is a big difference.

Army features an admittedly outstanding back, Jones, who averages somewhere north of 130 yards per game and is headed for certain all C-USA selection. Those of you who think Forte is a “strong runner” ought to check this guy out carefully- and see what a "strong runner" looks like. Unfortunately for the cadets, there is hardly anything else. Army does have a talented wide out or two, and while I am convinced our secondary couldn’t cover, say, Frank Scelfo, the Cadets get absolutely nothing out of the quarterback position. None of the three they have tried can rush or pass- an astonishing trifecta of incompetence. If Nick Cannon had ever considered a career serving his country, here is one place where he’d start tomorrow.

Tulane will attack them much like the Wave did Navy- and everyone did to Tulane in September. Our re-invigorated front seven will stack the box; I bet we don’t play nickel at all on second down tomorrow. And I bet Army’s quarterbacking cannot take advantage.

Even better, Army is horrific on defense- just horrendous- and worse on the road. For once, the other coach is faced with Scelfo’s traditional dilemma: how do my kids score the 40 points I need- just to be in this contest? The Cadets cannot stop either the run or pass- and have only held one opponent under 28 all year (none under 35 on the road). Ricard will be able to stand back there forever and throw to receivers Army has literally no hope of covering. The Cadets are brutal against the run too- but I am not sure Scelfo wants to give Forte a 25-carry kind of day yet. So I imagine Tulane will put it up all day. Roydell, seriously, might go for somewhere near 150 yards. The only way Army can keep us to a manageable total is if Ricard turns it over a bunch of times- which is also probably the only way Tulane can lose here.

As you can guess, I simply love the Wave tomorrow. Again, short of a bunch of turnovers, I don’t think Army is really even in this. They probably can't score the requisite 28 points they need to be in this thing. I was a little surprised at the line too- I am not sure if observers have caught up with two facts. One, Tulane’s offense is increasingly capable of huge point totals when the quarterback plays well, particularly against teams that cannot cover our receivers. Two, the front seven on defense has shown more than a little life two weeks in a row.

Of course, the events of this weekend pale in comparison to the real fight taking place overseas. God bless our Marines, Soldiers and Airmen. My pick: I love the Marines, on the road, over the Fallujah thugs. And bravo to the Cadets on the field this Saturday who will be moving on to much more important things shortly.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

National Tragedy in Pittsburgh

The Eagles were pretty thoroughly spanked Sunday. It happens.

Look, this had all the omens for a bad spot for Philadelphia. Pittsburgh is unmistakably a very good football team. They were at home, a tough environment- and playing just about as well as the Steelers can. Philadelphia has been lackadaisical for about a month- almost effortlessly winning all its games by around two scores. They were not going to go undefeated. Even teams that go 13-3 have to lose a pair of road games. In short, the tenor of this loss is a lot different than say, the whipping the Patriots put on them early last year.

A lot went wrong Sunday all at once. For example, Pittsburgh can flat out run the football. Now, I do not think running the football means much in and of itself in the NFL. For example, the Eagles can’t stop the run- yet they are the best in points allowed in the NFC and second in the NFL. The Eagles don’t rush the football dependably either- nevertheless they score lots and lots of points. Pittsburgh obviously can run the football- but the Steelers were pretty bad on offense- until they got a quarterback who could exploit the running game.

However, running the football does help a team with a safe lead- and that is two scores plus in the NFL- in order to move the clock. Pittsburgh built a quick 21-0 lead and the started exclusively pounding the football at Philadelphia. They didn’t score any more touchdowns- as rushing the football means you aren’t going to score much- but ran the clock and the game out on Philadelphia.

Then, up three scores, the solid Pittsburgh defense was able to dictate to Philadelphia. And for the past four weeks, competent consistent execution in the face of pressure has not exactly been Philadelphia’s strongpoint. Down early, forced to throw, they only ran the ball nine times- part and parcel of being down so much so early. And Pittsburgh realistically is too good a defense to throw on constantly- if you are forced to pass.

I think that is why there is not a sense of panic here- as opposed again to last year’s awful Patriots loss. Everything went right for the Steelers early. They got a perfect game for them to play, and they executed skillfully. I don’t care what you think of the Eagles, they are not going to play many games down 20 points from the outset. Add that to the fact Pittsburgh is plainly very good and face it- very hot. The Steelers almost certainly have locked up a bye and a home playoff game- so you can pencil them into one of the two AFC Championship spots.

For Philadelphia, this game was the last of three in a row, two on the road, against the best of the AFC Central, with clearly little to no motivation factor. Any sane observer looking at that stretch prior to playing it would have taken two of three.

The hard part of the schedule is over. I don’t believe there is a game left where Philly won’t be at least a field goal favorite- and in five they ought to be a touchdown or so. Even better, five of the next six are against division opponents- and let’s face it- the Eagles are two scores better than everyone in NFC East. Washington and Dallas are where the NFL goes to get well right now. And the Giants have taken some real blows on the injury front.

Ultimately, this entire season is about one night- January 23rd. Today, there are only 60,000 people in America with rock-solid plans for that night, right? So why complain?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Tulane vs. Navy Recap

Obviously, this was the most complete effort from the Wave this year. However, I am not altogether sure that if you break it down, the results are, while surprising, perhaps not unusual. Let's start with three points.

First, to me, the singular fact of the Tulane season so far is that our offense is pretty damn good when the quarterback is not an overwhelming minus. For example, I love the “professionalism” of Jovon- the guy clearly has holes in his game- for one thing he plays in a spread offense and the coach won’t throw him the ball- but Jovon gets every single ounce of production out of his ability. Our wideouts would not be embarrassed at major SEC programs. The offensive line pass protects well and run blocks adequately- particularly in light of the fact that until two weeks ago teams stuffed the run against Tulane like crazy. Scelfo might disappoint you in many ways- but no one can seriously doubt the guy can coach offensive “x’s & o’s”. Outside of the quarterback, Tulane’s skill players simply do not turn it over much. Every single time Ricard isn’t crippling bad, Tulane has hung up a pretty impressive number.

Second, it is hard to argue against the proposition that our front seven on defense has found another gear in the last seven quarters of play. It got largely ignored amidst the kind of bad loss atmosphere post-Houston, but the defensive line and linebackers now have seven straight quarters of not just “average”, but “pretty darn good”. Our secondary has under-achieved this year, but Navy does not throw the ball often or well enough to hurt teams there- unless they can run the ball effectively.

Plus, was it my imagination, or did Tulane get after people Saturday? Was the Wave bringing wood or what? Again, "nasty" and "mean" were words that came to mind while watching. Frankly, this Navy team went large stretches where it simply did not compete physically. Particularly the Navy offense was clearly down on itself- as it became increasingly obvious Tulane had their number- and turtled a bit. In fact, was I the Navy coach, I think I might have to call the team captain’s out?

Seriously, was anyone impressed at all with Navy’s physical effort? How can you let a two touchdown 'dog literally push you around? Play chippy to the whistle? And act nasty after it? I loved it. And I thought, frankly, Navy's effort was a little embarrassing. That is what defensive physical play does for you- it takes the "want to" out of the other team- and replaces it with "start the bus". And about twenty minutes in, Navy had a huge case of “start the bus” Saturday. I wouldn't want to be at Navy's practices this week. If I am right, it will be ugly- courage through punishment.

Third, Navy is the sort of team that can get in real trouble if it either falls behind or cannot play ball control. Their offense is efficient, not explosive. Taking away Navy’s offensive efficiency or forcing the Midshipmen to score lots of points playing catch up is problematic for them. Do both- as Tulane did- and it is potentially disastrous. This game was partly Tulane blowing Navy out- and Navy putting itself in a position to get blown out.

Friday, November 05, 2004


Much like the Tulane fan, J-1 never gave up!


J-1 has suckers and a girl- what more can he want or need?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Tulane-US Naval Academy Preview

Well, since Mr. Bush won the election, it appears our nation is still going to have a Navy. So it looks as if the Midshipmen will in fact show up in New Orleans Saturday. The official line of “Prediction Thursday”, the New York Post, has put Navy -12.5 over Tulane.

Last week I took my first tumble, dropping the ATS record to 5-1. Damn me for picking the Wave.

Now, this week. Okay, for a moment pretend you are the head football coach at the United States Naval Academy. You peer around at the awesome collection of naval antiquities that litter your office, the pungent odor of sweaty socks drifts in through the door. What are you worried about here? Well, for one thing, that the Wave offense gets hot again and goes for forty-plus in our climate-controlled, artificial turf Dome- and that your methodical offensive approach struggles to keep up.

Navy frankly doesn’t score a lot of points; they have not reached 30 yet this year against I-A opposition (ed.- I have been assured they did crack it against defensive stalwart I-AA Delaware). And I don’t think they are particularly interested in coming in here and reaching for those gaudy offensive numbers that C-USA teams shoot for. They want to possess the ball and possess the ball- and not give Ricard multiple chances to suddenly find himself and then go for 300 yards passing and 35 points. Navy would consider their day a success if, entering the fourth quarter, they have 24 points and have held the ball for 26-28 out of 45 minutes via their imposing rushing/ball control attack.

So, Tulane must, must score the ball early to have any chance. If our defense is out there for those 27 minutes- that means bad trouble and multiple Navy scores late against our “prone-to get-worn-down” front. But if Tulane can score, get fourteen or so first half points, they have an excellent chance to cover this spread.

First, it will mean Tulane is protecting the defense- which frankly will really need support against a Navy outfit that, let’s face it, is going to just kill us rushing the football. Second, Navy is probably not scoring 35-40 points if they don’t have the ball a lot. While the Midshipmen are very good on offense- but the nature of that offensive attack is not quick-strike. They need raw possessions and resultant time of possession to pile up big point totals. And to cover a 12.5 spread, you normally need to score at least 28.

So that is the question, can the Wave score this week? Since I think the Wave individual offensive components- Jovon, the offensive line, the wide outs- range from “okay-plus” to “pretty good”, the actual execution of the offense falls squarely on the quarterback: Ricard.

Ricard. Ricard. Ricard.

If Ricard can makes some throws, coupled with the fact that if Tulane commits to handing the ball to Jovon and pals 25 times they’ll get 100 yards rushing, I can see us getting to 20 or so here. And then you have to take the Wave, right? Navy is just not scoring five touchdowns here if they only have the ball 30-32 minutes. Can Ricard contribute that much?

I don’t know the answer. If you take away the three turnovers, Ricard did not really throw the ball all that badly against Houston. But you can’t forget them- constantly turning the ball over is the central fact of the Ricard experiment- and I imagine Ricard will very likely turn it over a bunch of times again. The only thing I can add here, is that if Ricard makes some horrid plays- like he did early against Houston- I think this might be the first time Scelfo might be tempted to play Irvin for sustained action.

As a result, I am leaning toward the perception that either Ricard plays adequately or Scelfo gives us a second fighting chance toward adequacy by playing Irvin. Accordingly, I think the Wave scores some here and Navy won’t score an utterly insane amount. So I am taking our kids for the third time this year and grabbing +12.5 for the ultimate backdoor cover. I sense I’ll need every single point though.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Tulane @ Houston recap...

This loss was, in my opinion, the most frustrating of the year. I really thought they would hang in there against the Cougars in that desultory environment Houston calls Homecoming. Boy- and we think Tulane has “student interest and alumni engagement” issues, right?

After the first ten or so minutes, the Wave defense did not play all that badly. In fact, it might have been the best three quarters they’ve played in succession this season. Once the Wave defenders got industrious, albeit ten minutes too late, they did a pretty credible job controlling a pretty good quarterback. Yes, the Cougars had 450 yards- and Tulane cannot allow teams to rush for 180 yards against not matter how much they are behind. But Houston had the ball a lot, because our offense just could not possess the ball. All the same, I never got the sense we could not “compete” with Houston’s offense, like say Memphis or USM. And I think you can argue that Tulane’s young front seven played their best game of the season, particularly after the first quarter.

Okay, Houston isn’t very good- but they can score a little. If I had told you that Tulane would only allow 17 points on defense and none on specials, you might credibly have said “Tulane can win”. And that is just it, the defense played, probably for the second time this year, well enough to win on that side of the ball.

Which brings us to the offense…. Breathe in, Frank, breathe out.

Full disclosure: I think the wrong quarterback is playing and have said so since the spring. Regardless, I have supported pretty wholeheartedly the decision to start Ricard- mainly because it was not that obvious Irvin was better and it was hard to ignore Ricard’s raw ability.

That said, I'm just, for the first time this year, really down on the quarterback. I can live with either the total inability to execute the ball-control passing game or the brutal, will-sapping turnovers- but not both. Put it this way, take away the UAB game and there is no way, none, you could justify Ricard getting another first team snap this year, right?

Until Saturday, teams loaded up the box, and dared Ricard to take his shots and beat them. Well, he finally did against UAB. The Cougars responded by taking the safety out of the box (one of the reason we had almost five yards per rush with the 3rd tailback in the first half for once). However, that safety is now back in coverage. This allowed Houston to blitz and bring sustained pressure via extra people.

Okay, Tulane blocked their base pass rush well- but obviously if you blitz a spread offense you'll get pressure. It isn't like Tulane unswervingly puts a TE/FB on the field to help out with protection. That puts a premium on a QB coolly making the right reads and the right throws. Say what you want about our offense, but Tulane has four/five competent guys running patterns out there against six defensive backs- someone has got to be open. But decision-making and accuracy are clearly just not Ricard's "strengths" right now.

You know what is worse…. Don’t you get the feeling that the offense might not really be that bad outside of the QB? The offensive line protects as well as any outfit here in a long time- and the run-blocking is “adequate-plus” (90 yards on 22 carries Saturday is pretty good). Jovon defines competence. The wide outs are a solid group. We don’t fumble or take endless penalties. But the quarterback turns it over, can’t complete 50% of his throws, misses the easy ones consistently….

Plus, what were the two best plays Tulane ran all day- the most coherent looking? Why yes, the two plays Irvin was in there. Boom, Tulane moves the ball forty yards through the air, and then Ricard returns… very frustrating.

Once Scelfo pointed to Ricard, there went with that a kind of commitment to start him until the team lost its sixth game- as you owe your seniors every chance for post-season play. So I suppose the Wave must start him next week. But, at some point, doesn’t Irvin deserve a sustained look? Even the coach said they were close all spring/fall. Does anyone, at this point, doubt that Tulane knows exactly what we have in Ricard: maddeningly raw yet talented? I want to know what Tulane has in Irvin too- and before the season ends please.

From here on out, I am not sure taking 100 pass attempts away from Ricard will tell us any less about Ricard. But 100 pass attempts will tell us a lot more about Irvin.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Victorious! Yet sleepy!

The dream is always the same….. feeling the heat from “The Freak” rampaging through the ‘skins’ backfield, Brunell rolls out- fleeing for his very existence. Cruelly, Mark never sees Trotter- who mercilessly brings his mighty hammer down- separating both the ball and senses from the hapless Brunell. The Washington quarterback just lies there, mewling pitifully, and only partially hearing the appreciative roar from 65,000 drunken partisans partying at the Linc. Mind you now, there is a sort of mixed emotion from the Redskin’s sideline. The coaches and sympathetic teammates implore Brunell, as if he’s a shot boxer who has taken one too many head shots, to stay down, simply stay down. Ramsey, on the other hand, implores him to get up- and thus spare him taking snaps, down four scores & forced to throw, “protected” behind the redskins’ offensive “line”. Yes, it is “offensive” all right.

You could have fallen asleep and dreamed such dreams at the Linc yesterday, although the Eagles did, admittedly, take care of business yet again- in the most desultory fashion imaginable. Looking at the 15-10 score, one might have thought the Eagles’ banged up offense managed to score just enough against the Raven’s stout defense- and that was Philadelphia was helped along by the indifferent, inconsistent nature of the Ravens offense.

I suppose that is all true- but it would belay the sense of soporific ennui that over hung proceedings. I realize this season is all about the game at the Linc scheduled for Sunday, January 23rd- (ed. seriously- we might as well start printing tickets, right?)- but this is ridiculous. Thank God for TO- his “Ray Lewis Celebratory Dance” was marvelous theater.

The Eagles just seem sort of indolent right now- particularly on offense. As my brother adroitly pointed out, we don’t really game plan to drive the football anymore. We run a couple plays, take a deep shot & hope for a big catch or penalty, and kick a resultant field goal. Or TO makes an amazing play- his TD catch yesterday for instance. Because of this offensive style, we don’t possess the ball at all - is it me or every game we have the football for 25 or so minutes? I swear I really think the rash of crazy trick plays the Eagles run lately are Reid’s attempt to keep his team engaged- when game after game they are two-three scores better than the teams they are playing.

The Eagles won because, on a day where they were missing a key source of consistent offense (Westbrook) and the quarterback was not his usual MVP-self, they generated enough offense via TO and maintained their stubborn refusal to turn the ball over- only marred by a straightforwardly terrible McNabb fumble. Turnover ratio is particularly important against the opportunistic Raven’s defense that must protect their bad offense. By not forcing turnovers, coupled with Philadelphia’s habitual outstanding special teams, the Ravens never got good field position- a probable must for their offense to score. The best starting point Baltimore had all day was their own 29! As a result, the Eagles “suspect” defense for the umpteenth time only allowed one late score- and that set up by a freak bomb.

In short, the Eagles remain the class of the NFC. I cannot imagine any team coming into the Linc for a play-off game better than a 10-point ‘dog. This week’s game at Pittsburgh- followed by at Dallas- is nervy though. Pittsburgh is very good, clearly hot and paying attention. The Eagles are plainly dis-interested and probably vulnerable to the monster rushing number Pittsburgh is sure to put up next week. And then a desperate Dallas outfit. I must admit I would be pleasantly surprised if the Eagles return to the Linc for the annual humiliation of the Redskins still undefeated.