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.