Friday, September 16, 2005

Mississississsissippi State? Preview

Tulane finally gets its season underway Saturday at the Independence Bowl. No one knows how to get tickets or anything. But as long as Mississippi State coaches can pilot their Ford Focuses, read their free maps from Mobil, and direct the team buses there, I imagine there will be a spirited game. Tulane will be wearing the special patch to the right- special patches are a traditional rite reserved for America's Team.

Yes, America wants, maybe even needs, a win here from Tulane. The French Quarter is apparently going to open today- and perhaps be ready for some semblance of a victory party. Earlier this week, I identified this game as one of three, Navy and Houston being the other two, where Tulane probably would be a justifiable underdog. But yet a game that felt real steal-able too. If Tulane is to have a “yogwf season”- win eight games- this is probably one the Green Wave has to have.

I really, really want to pick the Wave in this spot- getting two against Mississippi State. Again, I think it is absolutely winnable. It would be a solid win for the program, a semi-interesting national story- and again, give them a huge push toward that golden “yogwf season”.

It is a hard game to figure.

I sheepishly put out there that I am kind of on a roll on here correctly picking Tulane ATS: nine of ten last year, the last five in a row in 2003. Clearly there is a ton of luck there, but I frankly thought picking the Wave last year was a pretty facile exercise. Yeah, I’d write a lot of stuff on here- but basically if I thought Ricard or Irvin would play well, Tulane would customarily score lots of points- and I’d pick the Wave. Otherwise I’d take the points. And Ricard was fortunately the easiest player on the team to deconstruct. In a “perfect” environment- at home, against teams the line could block consistently, games where Ricard was “comfortable” and our awesome wide outs got open a lot- Ricard shined.

Otherwise Ricard was normally pretty bad and turnover prone.

Consequently, although there is a lot of strange, hard to quantify factors going on here, I think you can hang your hat on two reasonable forecasts:

The first is that Mississippi State ought to be able to rush the football for a pretty big number here. I imagine Norwood ought to be well over 100 yards rushing- and the team at 140, 150, maybe more? Which further suggests that State ought to get their points, time of possession (to keep Ricard off the field), and throw it successfully some too.

The second is that big rushing totals and at least 24-28 points are things Tulane's offense obviously is routinely asked to overcome. And this isn’t a great Bulldog defense.

But I just have a bad feeling about this. The Wave is away from the Dome. The offense is demanding. Worse, I imagine practice has been irregular- a real killer with all new wide receiver roles being auditioned. Mississippi State has played twice already- and yet they probably are the fresher team.

And again, this is not going to be a “comfortable” game for the quarterback. Mississippi State will work hard to get the ball out of Ricard’s hands. A bunch of new receivers, not as good as the old ones, trying to figure out a new, complex offense on the fly. Remember last year’s game: a lot of key components to Tulane’s all-important passing offense, seeing the elephant for the first time, and really struggling.

Ricard improved markedly last year- but never consistently elevated his game under duress. Every time he was good/great- it was at home, and when Tulane could also both pass-protect consistently and reasonably expect their wide receivers to be proficient and competent within the offense.

And man, there will be duress Saturday: weirdness, new people, etc. It just feels like the Wave will have good offensive totals but merely okay results, some dropped balls. incorrect routes and two/three brutal turnovers- one of those games where you have 400 yards of offense and 20 points to show for it.

My gut feeling on these games featuring a small spread is to take the team you think is going to win outright- and ignore the dangers of a backdoor cover. I imagine Mississippi Sate will successfully bang on Tulane, wear them down of defense and score enough to hold off a Tulane offense that will be disjointed and make multiple crucial mistakes. So I’ll take the Bulldogs and give the two.