Thursday, September 22, 2005

SMU Preview

Putting the Wave up as a road fave confirms what a lot of rational folks think- the Wave is a pretty okay outfit- but do not be fooled. While respecting the football team, Vegas continues to show its contempt for the Tulane fan this weekend. Last week, despite endless Tulane fans opining both how great the Wave was (eight wins at least!) and how simply horrible the Mississippi State outfit noticeably appeared, Vegas insisted- insisted!- on putting the Bulldogs two over the Wave. Oh the people howled: after all, the Bulldogs didn’t dress a Forte. Or a Ricard.

Now this week, Vegas has put the Wave up four! Four! How dare they favor Tulane? Haven’t they heard the new consensus this week? The endless excuses emanating from the Tulane community?- fervently defending the “no doubt about nine-win team’s” loss to an "inferior" SEC outfit: the team had to live in Ruston, the fans didn’t come out, our offensive linemen didn’t have enough gloves (my favorite).

What a lot of nonsense. Tulane did not lose the game- Mississippi State won it. Their kids stuffed our rushing attack, Ricard and the new wide-outs made mistakes, MSU ran it when they had to (after the fumbled punt and to move the clock late) and played special teams like they weren’t introduced to it that morning. Our kids played hard, but made some blunders and played with first game jitters. And since, yes, they are a six-win team rather than an eight win team- they got beat. Admittedly, the Bulldogs probably had more linemen gloves.

Tulane is probably better than SMU- and deserves to be a pretty solid favorite- despite being on the road. But this game makes me a little nervous- it feels a little like last year’s ECU game. Two fraught teams squaring off- mistakes, turnovers, the mundane made hard. Difficult to imagine the one or the other beating the other decisively.

On paper, Tulane’s offense ought to do better this week. SMU is no great shakes on defense- and the Wave ought to be able to both run-block and pass-protect competently here. A game under everyone’s belt within the system helps. Scelfo has identified one “new” receiver who seems to be able to really play. The running game mix will be more intelligent- hand it to Jovon a little more and Forte a little less, throw it to Forte more (get those legs out into the flat), let’s get Ducre a look please. This is the sort of defense that Forte did show some flashes against last year- a squad without I-A level talent across the front-seven. I doubt Tulane is organized yet to throw thirty points up there- but I’d be shocked if they don’t look better, more controlled and prepared.

And of course, the defense played pretty well. Norwood is a good SEC player- and the Wave played pretty perspicaciously. Of course, Tulane was able to play like a thousand guys in the box, cheat the safeties like crazy- and the Bulldog quarterback was hopeless- completely unable to punish Tulane for consistently overloading the run.

SMU will probably be able to throw a little more balance at the Wave. I imagine DeMyron Martin is no Norwood- but he was competent against TCU. And the Mustang QB is a crafty dude. No monster numbers but he seems to get playing quarterback in a C-USA style league. Teams that can do both a little run and pass give the Wave trouble- as opposed to more one dimensional outfits (Navy last year?).

But clearly the Wave wins both “offense vs. defense” match-ups here. The wild card is Ricard. If I game-planned the offense for Tulane, the whole meeting would be entitled “Preparing Ricard for the Yellow Submarine”- you know, a place where he’d be totally comfy, relaxed, secure.

Well, Ricard didn’t look like he had a ticket on the sub last week. I guess he didn’t play bad really. Tulane asks a lot from the kid- so they have to be willing to accept a brutal turnover a game, a few series where he sprays the ball around, and still win. But to win eight games, they need Ricard to elevate the team in an environment where his peers are still learning, the offensive line struggled, the team can’t run it much and guys are dropping balls. (Ricard picture credit)

Ricard has been great- when the team is firing around him. But he has as many good road starts as the Tulane quarterback as I do: none. This offense doesn’t appear A-1, all systems go yet- and I imagine they’ll struggle at times Saturday- again like ECU last year. There will be duress Saturday- and Ricard just doesn’t do duress well yet.

That aside, I think Tulane ultimately possesses the talent edge- and SMU doesn’t get much themselves from playing at home. But the Wave ought to be inconsistent enough on offense to allow SMU to hang around. I’d say there is a one third chance the Wave wins by a score or more, a one-third chance they win narrowly, and a one-third chance they lose narrowly. So while I think Tulane wins, SMU probably pushes them- so I’ll try to run my mark to 2-0 ATS (and a whopping 17 out of the last 18) by taking SMU and getting four.