Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Tulane 2004 Preview

It is funny how this year has such a different feel to it than last year. You had a sense coming into 2003 that the Wave might be able to make a bit of a push- if just simply due to its offensive firepower- until it largely fell apart due to massive numbers of injuries- to the defensive front and star tailback mainly. They salvaged some of the season with a nice three game push at the end- when they surely could have quit on themselves- and built a little optimism for this year.

The “resurgence” late last year was fueled by improved play from the offensive line and a spirited Jovon Jackson, some candidly solid quarterback play, and a defense that seemed to bluntly play more loose and aggressively- as well as a schedule that was maybe easier than it appeared.

While I don’t think this year will be a disaster, there are manifest problems.

Let’s start with the defense. Just two weeks ago, it was easy to talk about this group with a wee bit of confidence- as they had made strides upfront- and had a trio of potential real good players in Cannon, Lucas and Boger to anchor their respective units. But the defensive front evidently is back top being a real problem again. Players from the offense being moved over, lots of freshman having to play a lot, etc. We couldn’t stop the run- and aside from Harrison- could as a rule not rush the passer. I suppose the Wave won’t this year either. The back-seven has the guys mentioned above, but are any of the other six-seven guys who figure to play out there really even “average C-USA” players. I don’t think so. And I don’t want to even think about people getting hurt here too.

Last year, the resultant need to consistently have to game plan to score four-five touchdowns, just to be in it, was mollified by the fact that sometimes the quarterback could do just that. And this year there is clearly talent at the skill positions: the wide outs are very good, I trust Javon Johnson to be a solid college football player. If the offensive lines improves off the last three games from last year- and I can’t see why they won’t- that unit should be “okay-plus” too.

But let’s face it, we really, really need production from the QB position. Take a pretend over/under for the first six games on interceptions: say ten total- and three that are completely crippling. You confident taking that under? Even though I am totally okay with the idea of Ricard at quarterback- it is hard to imagine he comes in right away and is very good. Like most sophomore quarterbacks, I imagine his first few games will be a struggle at times- with better things following later in the season. Nothing wrong with that- but frankly the Green Wave isn’t good enough to camouflage struggling quarterbacks and win consistently.

One plus that I guarantee will get us a few chances at some cheap scores is our return game.

College football is ultimately a product of three items: players, coaching and schedule. I think the reason there is really a lot of disparity on the merits of Scelfo is because it is hard to characterize Scelfo as a good coach or a bad coach- he sort of does what could be expected. Every year the team had won about as many games that ought to have been expected. It is hard to recruit at Tulane, and accordingly he doesn't get many good players.

The schedule is awkward- but it is easier than last year. There are fortunately a lot of seemingly bad teams on it. Florida A&M, @ ECU and Army all figure to be a real nice mix of beat-able and horrible. We’ll probably be favored in all three- but I am not sure we can sweep that mini-slate. I am not sure, right now, we can seriously entertain defeating TCU and Memphis on the road or Louisville (maybe USM too) in the Dome.

But in every other game, we’ll probably be a dog- but no more than a touchdown or a little more- so that is five games we can steal. Why can’t they get two of those- particularly since one of those five teams figures to underachieve (this is C-USA after all)? Or win one and sweep the three games above? With a few games under his belt, why can’t Ricard and the Wave whip UAB again? We beat MSU last year. This is a young team that should frankly some real guts late last year- so you figure they won’t quit on themselves at 2-5.

So I have them at five, maybe six if they sweep Florida A&M, @ ECU and Army . Those three games are important; they sweep that bunch and steal a pair elsewhere- they set themselves up for both an optimistic off-season and maybe a longshot run at six in the TCU game.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Tulane Final Fall Scrimmage

The Blog rocks lately. There is just so, so much fury. May I gently recommend a prayer I say daily before all Tulane football games? Pan down to the “Victory Litany”; it gives me great comfort:


I thought the scrimmage was a pretty tight affair in spite of less than ideal conditions. And yes, that was me hollering afterwards- offering $100 from anyone with valid quarterbacking credentials. I left a little more optimistic about the season than when I arrived.

For one thing, they are a whole lot more healthy than last year- when everyone on the defense got hurt seemingly simultaneously. At one point, didn’t we have a wide-out playing DE? The front seven played remarkably well in both scrimmages, there is more depth on the defensive line, and Cannon must really have been nursing some hurts last year- because he is just super at linebacker right now. He smacks people. You might be able to run right at him a little, but if he gets those feet moving side to side, I recommend getting out of bounds. He’s also the sort of linebacker that you can leave on the field 2nd and long, 3rd and long. If you were a student of the Wave defense last year, you remember how teams used run on us in our nickel like crazy. Not that we were in the nickel that much due to out total inability to stop the run on first down- but you get the point. Anyway, last year we had both the worst linebacking and front seven in C-USA outside of Army and maybe ECU- they ought to be better here- say up from “really horrible” to “might stop people for a half.”

The offensive line was mixed at best. They pass-protected pretty well, but it is not like we run many plays that require our QBs to take deep drops and stay there. I don’t think there was a true sack. The run blocking is a problem, but this is a line that is never going to move people. We need to throw the ball effectively to back those safeties up. But you take away the one big run, mix it with our less than distinguished backfield- and there is a potential for problems. Particularly since:

- the two super athletes we feature at QB couldn’t run a lick again (Irvin, that $!#&^* slowpoke, STILL has the longest run from scrimmage)

- more importantly, I cannot remember Jovon catching a single ball?

That might be wrong- but I really wonder about that part of his game. Tuyo had a nice run and a nice catch. They threw the ball to Forte twice- and he caught it both times. Okay, we all know I think he’s not an answer, today, as a rusher- but in an offense where I think a dirty secret is that the coach’s think the top back cannot catch the football- it might get him on the field some. Anyway, our OL is largely the same collection of guys from last year, and there is no doubt they competed pretty well the last three games last year. If they are healthy, they’ll be more than okay.

I don’t really know what to say about the QBs. I like Irvin- not because he’s demonstrably better in any sense- but the fact he’s largely “even” with his peers despite considerably less experience. It suggests to me you have got to give him a the first chance to grow into the job. He was the only QB to make multiple throws down the field successfully- and had a couple of balls dropped. Take away Cannon and Ricard’s best throw- and their passing yards were largely a collection of pretty easy throws for a QB in Scelfo’s offense. I was talking to some guy (Stan??) I’d seen at some of the practices- and he opined that Ricard has been the best since camp started- but Irvin has been the best over the past three-four days. I am inclined to agree with that assessment.

Scelfo says he’s going to drop one of the three shortly. It is not going to be Ricard- if you look at playing time yesterday, he seems the favorite to emerge. I think you could drop Irvin- as he will be easier to re-introduce into the mix later should conditions warrant. Like I posted earlier, I think the mix for QB today is a toss up- but if you want to introduce a new QB in Game Eight for whatever reason, it has to be Irvin.

I just think if you drop Cannon- it means his career here could be over, right? And I can’t believe Scelfo wants to do that yet with a young man who by all accounts seems super- and has talent.

Last thing- that Fred Smith is the greatest thing ever. Period. Watching him settle under punts (okay after he catches it), you feel your heart soar. If he played at LSU, he’d be their returner tomorrow.