Monday, October 31, 2005

No! Not Losing to Marshall too!

I just hated this game last night. I came home from Belmont Park- flush with watching championship-caliber athletes perform at a brilliant level- in a great mood. Tulane played a solid first-half: ran the ball, got decent quarterback play in flashes- and the defense stuffed them again and again. Even put points on the board. They did not play great- but played within themselves and made few mistakes. That is ALL YOU NEED TO DO against a bad Marshall team. (photo credit)

They were justly rewarded with a thirteen point lead.

But this team categorically cannot give you 60 minutes of consistent effort. This stems from two places. First- the special teams are a disaster. They are good for two momentum shifting plays a game. At least two. You can’t play coherent football if twice a game you offer your opponent chances for free points- or take your own points off the board because you can’t/are afraid to kick.

Second, the quarterback- and the managing of the quarterback position- is bush right now. Ricard can’t complete just seven balls, for 96 yards. He just can’t. All those who used to roast me and send me nasty e-mails about pushing Irvin need to think about apologizing.

That being said, one thing Tulane ought to know conclusively is Cannon cannot play I-A. Nice classy kid- but not a quarterback in an offense that requires tons of technical competency. When you lose by only a field goal- those two lost possessions nag and nag. And I think you can kill Scelfo, if you want to, for the two-point conversion play.

That was a tremendously important snap- and if Coach thinks Elliott ought to be taking the tremendously important snaps- then freaking start him! If Coach doesn’t trust Ricard to throw the ball more than seventeen times in a spread offense, then don’t play him!

Yes, Ricard probably is the best quarterback option Tulane has right now. So then let him play. Throw it 35 times. Let him take all snaps when the game is competitive. If they lose, they lose. But at least they lose with their best option- not their second or third best. Those two-points were the difference last night- and the coach did not put his team in the best position to get them.

The defense- well, after playing well all night- particularly against the run- they seemed out of gas late. They threw two scores up there. I guess you can’t give them a great grade. They did allow the clinching score late. And again, they seem to lack the depth to play sixty minutes of I-A. But the Herd is no great shakes on offense… I dunno. It is bitter. And Cowen’s alleged remarks did not make it better.

You can’t blame this one on the hurricane. Right now, this is just a bad football team. Special teams are dreadful. The quarterback is uncompetitive for long stretches. The backs struggle. And those are three big starts to a bad football team.

Friday, October 28, 2005

"Herd" Them To Mobile?

The Thundering Herd “visits” Tulane in Mobile this weekend- as despite the Memphis Commercial Appeal best efforts (see the part entitled "Players for sale or rent" toward the bottom) - Tulane will play football this week. I repeat- will play! The New York Post has the Wave -1 over Marshall- a tepid line for a tepid game in front of a tepid crowd.

I really thought the Wave would come to play last weekend: a comfortable quarterback putting up enough points to support an emotional defensive performance- all centered on saving the season. Instead, Tulane drowned in a sea of turnovers- and the defense played merely sort of okay. The Wave took it on the chin.

In Marshall, you get a team, aside from a nice home win over UAB, that has lost and won when it should. They strike me as being a little like Tulane- a pretty good defense, some pluses on offense. However, they get nothing from Bernard Morris or Jimmy Skinner at the quarterback position (barely 200 yards per game- not much in C-USA). Of course, Tulane counters with quarterback play that literally sucks at your immortal soul.

If you thought Ricard would play well in this spot- you could take the Wave and go home secure. But, last week, the bloom officially came off Ricard in my eyes- now he’s got to show it before I believe UAB/Navy last year weren’t two fluke efforts in what will be one day a 30-start NCAA career. I think we all agree this second-half is now being played almost completely as a referendum on Ricard. Now is the time big guy.

It seems to me most folks have already dismissed this season somewhat- falling into one of two camps. The first group believes the Wave has been whipped by the ‘cane- the second is that Wave is merely sort of bad.

You folks know I have been a firm supporter of the latter position since last spring. But the one advantage of my position is that you can still believe the Wave can rally to salvage something for the season- rather than the “woe-is-the-hurricane-and-its-effect-on-Ricard” crowd. Frankly, to me, saying the kids can’t handle this situation because of displacement and worry and hardship- in a way, sort of, slurs them worse than saying they aren’t very good football players ever could or would.

Consequently, I think the Wave is still capable of playing with verve and fire. Marshall hasn’t played well away from home this year- which makes the game even more of a toss-up. The normal blizzard of Tulane turnovers will be countered by a blizzard from Marshall’s own turnover machines at quarterback. This is a game that figures, in true C-USA style, to be played in the upper-20s. I think Tulane can get there- and Marshall might not. So, for the second time this year, I like Tulane. I’ll give the point- and pray Ricard knows which green jerseys to throw to under duress.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

UCF: Still A Place No One Has Ever Heard of

Clearly the UCF game was the most frustrating loss of the year. It was made worse by the fact Tulane has lost three in a row- but has kind of played a little better each time. Worse, I had the Wave to win five/six games- a winning season, a real achievement in this weird year- and for the first time Tulane lost one of the games I had in the “probable win” bucket.

The game was probably the last real chance for a nice season: a bowl-eligible team, etc. Tulane has four losses now. A winning campaign is probably impossible: this team can’t beat USM away or be consistent enough to sweep the other contests. I also don’t think they can beat Navy away. They’re more prone now to win four than five- let alone six.

Of course, I really thought they were going to win here. Led by a stout emotional defensive effort and a clean offensive performance, a comfortable Ricard would produce Tulane’s most solid effort of the season.

In the end, it was hard to characterize the Wave’s performance. Outside of Ricard. I know what you’re all thinking, Frank is just gonna rip Lester! Just gonna rip’em!

Wait for it.

You can’t throw bouquets at the defense either. When UCF has 34 looking down from the scoreboard at the end of the game, it is hard to say the defensive played well, or did enough to win. I will say C-USA is a weird league- and that against a good League offense 24-28 points allowed is a more-than-credible defensive performance. You can win a lot of games in this League if you defense goes through the season at that level.

But, when your offense hands your opponent five turnovers, is 34 a convincing defensive performance? Probably not- especially when you lose. I don’t know what to say really- except that the defense is sort of a finished product right now. They’re pretty clearly improved over last year- up from terrible against the run to “okay” or “okay-minus” for one thing. But they still can’t carry the team; they need help from the “O” to win. But had the offense not turned it over again and again and again and again and again- maybe you could say the defense did enough to keep us in this.

The offense... You know, I think we all agreed about one thing coming into the season. No matter the perception of individual players and offensive units- whether Forte or the line or the new receivers were a plus/minus- the broad consensus was there was enough here on offense to be successful. If Ricard is successful.

If. Which brings us to the quarterback....

Don’t you get the feeling that the offense might not really be that bad? The offensive line was terrible to begin the year- but since SMU has protected as well as any outfit here in a long time- and the run-blocking is adequate lately. The Jovon & Forte mix isn’t a plus- but they aren’t bad like last year. The wide outs are a solid group- a nice surprise. We don’t normally fumble or take endless penalties. But the quarterback turns it over- again and again and again and again- and can’t complete enough of his throws to make a possession offense based on throwing the ball work.

I'm just, for the first time since Houston last year, down on the quarterback. I can live with either the inability to consistently execute the ball-control passing game or the brutal, will-sapping turnovers- but not both. Put it this way, take away the UAB game (they would have won the 2004 Navy game with me playing quarterback) and there is no way, none, you could say the decision to go with Ricard over Irvin was the right one.

Other than the UAB game again, Tulane would have won every game Ricard "started and won", with Irvin as well: Navy, Army, SMU. But how many games has Tulane left on the table? A chance to switch losses to wins, with consistent, perhaps unspectacular, quarterback play. Both Bulldog games. ECU and Houston last year. And so forth.

They gotta fix the quarterback. The difference last year, this year and next year- between five wins and eight wins is not the coach or the team- but getting Ricard’s gifts in line with his actual performance.

And I want to see Scott some. I know you can’t give up on the season and experiment until that sixth loss. You owe it to your seniors to make every attempt to be bowl eligible. But, I am not sure taking 40 pass attempts away from Ricard will tell us any less about Ricard. But 40-60 pass attempts will tell us a lot more about what we have in the back-up and future starter.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Lesson is Free

There is a lot of cheery enthusiasm in NFC East this morning. Both Giants and Redskins fans are savoring solid starts- realizing after years of denial, that quality quarterback play goes a long way into making a team a decent wild card contender.

Just Wild Card contenders? Well, of course. Because as every NFC denizen knows, Daddy won too- and has officially overcome a so-so start to return to 1st place in NFC East. Any celebrations in DC and New York are tempered. You see, both teams have the dreaded “Philadelphia” and the even more dreaded “at Philadelphia” on their dance cards.

I am not crazy optimistic about the Eagles. I get it. There is no question: this team has regressed from its utter cruel dominance from last year. They have issues at tailback- and the quarterback is pretty badly hurt. They flatly cannot approach 14-2, 13-3 with a hurt, gimpy McNabb struggling. For years, they have been able to count on McNabb simply killing teams both in and out of the pocket- and the Eagles clearly have not yet stumbled upon an offensive approach that both consistently gets the ball out of his hands and still scores points against solid defenses.

But the riddle is still not a bad one: are they a nine/ten win team or an eleven/twelve win team?

People are calling their win yesterday miraculous and stunning- and it sort of was. But the difference between ten and twelve wins is games like that- finding a way to win a game or two on those six Sundays when you deserve to get beat.

Clearly, the Chargers took it to them in the second half. The Philadelphia defense played pretty well- bit you aren’t gonna get me to throw to many platitudes to a unit that blew a two-score second half lead. But you also cannot simply say the Chargers choked.

Look, the Eagles did what good teams do when they struggle. They kept it close. The defense got off the field quickly again and again in the fourth quarter- and refused to let the Chargers powerful rushing attack chew up the clock. They kept the Chargers out of the end zone twice late after turnovers- forbidding the clinching touchdown. They forced a pair of hugely critical fourth quarter turnovers. The first was at 17-10- an interception in Chargers territory. The Eagles could not score the tying TD- but they made sure to get some points, McNabb did not force anything- important points that meant that a Chargers mistake meant they lost the game- rather than playing OT. The second turnover sealed the game.

The emergency kicker made two kicks- including a clutch fourth quarter one. Some teams can’t find one kicker. But the Eagles consistently get contributions from the odd roster spots.

Despite being bottled up offensively, the team kept the game competitive- so that one Charger mistake meant the game- and turned one of those six bad Sundays into one where they survived. It won’t happen every time the Eagles struggle- but a regular key to getting 12 wins is to steal a pair when you deserve to lose.

Maybe the blocked kick was a miracle- but Philadelphia forced the Chargers again and again and again to execute. Execute your running game. Execute your punt coverage. Execute your field goal protection. And by the way, we’ve kept ourselves in a position where if you mess up, just once, under pressure, on the road, in a hostile atmosphere- well, you lose.

So, get on the plane to California chumps. Enjoy your flight. The lesson was free.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Make It Right Sunday

Boy, it has been dark around here lately, no? Another Tulane loss- this time to Central Florida? The sour taste of Southern Cal’s win over the Irish oh-so-lingers. And who can forget Dallas whomping all over the Eagles seemingly weeks ago- and then a bye week to stew over it?

It has been a long time since my teams won a football game. And when things are darkest on this Blog, we remember one thing:

#5 will make it right!

Gonna be hard times for the Chargers tomorrow. Like sixty thousand other Philadelphia denizens, I am already preparing mentally for my journey- up the stairs to Section 204: getting the hate on, drinking tea to relax and soothe my cheering muscles for 1PM tomorrow.

Read this- substitute “Eagles” for “England” and “Westbrook” for “Fleet”- and you begin to feel the anxiety and emotion of game day in Philadelphia:

May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature of the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavors for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.
-Lord Nelson (October 1805, prayer on the eve of Trafalgar)

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Wave Will Swamp The Knights!

Today is Prediction Thursday. The official line of Prediction Thursday, the New York Post, has UCF -5.5 over Tulane- a line I find surprisingly robust.

Over the past two years, I have been kind of on a roll picking the Wave: 3-1 ATS this year, 5-0 outright- and 9-1 ATS last year. I realize that I’ve been lucky- but also I seem to have a handle on when Ricard will play well. And when I do- I grab Tulane without reservation.

I just have a gut feeling, really for the first time this year, that things might break the Wave’s way for a change. For example, after a few weeks where seemingly every intangible has gone against the Wave, this week that tide has changed. UCF faces the short week, the changing schedule, the lack of routine, a physical opponent the week before- plus a Tulane outfit that ought to feature a little desperation.

Tulane has to play a little frantic here, drum up that emotion, right? This is the biggest swing game on the schedule so far- a game that can go either way. Losses to UTEP and Mississippi State were kind of free ones, but this one would hurt- move a winnable game into the loss column.

A Tulane win- and it is hard to see them not getting to six wins. A loss, well, 2-4 is a tough hole to climb out of. Desperate, right? I bet we see a lively Wave defense tonight. They’ve been playing loose already- and pretty well too- all year. Unlike the offense, they frankly seem like their having fun out there. They aren’t pressing. Add a little attitude, a little of that good “fear”- I bet they pitch their best game since Navy last year out there tomorrow night.

And I do think the offense is getting it together- finding the right mix of approach and players. Taking 10-12 snaps a game away from Forte sure didn't hurt. And Tulane really wasn’t bad on offense for most of the game against UTEP. In fact, they were pretty good for 40 minutes. The line isn’t as bad as most people seem to think. Okay, they were a disaster against Mississippi State- but played okay to pretty well against SMU and UTEP. Face it- the book on Ricard is get a hand in his face or he could utterly destroy you. So teams are going to send more guys than we can block consistently or successfully. There is going to be pressure on the quarterback. The onus is on Ricard tomorrow now- to read, react and throw it.

But there were good signs that Ricard was coming around the past two weeks. For large stretches of the UTEP game, Ricard looked a little consistent, a little confident. This UCF defense is more blockable than UTEP’s. Tulane will play an even cleaner and crisper game this time out. Consequently, I have a good feeling Ricard will be even more comfortable this week- and a comfortable Ricard is big trouble.

So- tremble- for the first time this year I like the Wave. They are going to score 24-28 in this spot- maybe even more. And I think our defense will keep the Knights’ total manageable. And I get 5.5 too? Put me on that train. I’ll take those points- in fact, Tulane wins outright- and ride the Wave.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Such a Quiet Week

Such a quiet week. With no pro-football in Philadelphia last weekend, and yet another in an endless supply of uninspiring Tulane efforts, this blog seemingly is out of things to say.

So some housekeeping then- and tomorrow I'll put the Tulane preview up. The BlogPoll is out- and you can see it here. And this is my ballot.

I did vote for Notre Dame in the Top 10- mainly because I am shamelessly devoted to Our Lady of Victory. Tulane is clearly America's team right now- but normally when not ravaged by hurricanes, Tulane must defer to the Irish. And of course, Rudy probably could have started on our defensive front in 2004.

But in all honesty, we cannot all keep complaining about power teams scheduling cream-puffs, refusing to go on the road out-of-conference, etc.- unless we are willing to reward, perhaps disproportionately, teams that do. Plus, the Irish- two losses aside- probably are in the elite of college football this year.

There is some more good stuff on the Irish here. The boys at Blue-Gray sky have a particularly insightful look on how the Notre Dame fan's perspective has changed in two short months- look for the list of questions under What the Typical Notre Dame Fan Worries About...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Bad Weekend

This has been a tough weekend so far at Frank Helps You Think It All Out. The Irish were oh-so-agoninzing close to getting it done. Penn State costs itself a great chance at a Rose Bowl by spitting the bit late like four times. Fortunately for my heart, Tulane merely got blasted late.

Look, UTEP is better than Tulane. That team has a good chance to win the League, has flirted with the Top 25- and is plenty good enough to go on the road and spank a mediocre C-USA team late.

Obviously, there was a lot working against Tulane here- the short week particularly. Accordingly, throw out the last quarter. The only “effort” ding is right before the end of the first half. Tulane scores to pull within three- the defense forces a brisk stop- and Tulane promptly rolls out three of the most disheartening minutes in awhile. You cannot fight all half long- and then play three minutes where:

- you promptly give UTEP the opportunity to go back up ten by fumbling a punt- setting them up to move thirty or so yards to score, which they promptly do, in ten seconds.

- then your quarterback (photos right) immediately commits his umpteenth brutal turnover in the red zone. Ricard doesn’t really commit that many turnovers considering how much he is asked to handle the ball- but is it me or does every single one suck at the soul? Every turnover is a killer with this guy- he might be the unluckiest guy playing QB in I-A.

Tulane did not lose the game there- as Ricard played, by far, his best game of the season. Ricard picked them right up off the deck to start the second half- after the defense provided them with another good stop to begin play. But the Wave ran out of gas at the near the end of three quarters. The turnovers were why they lost, but I’m pretty sure the short-week/off-week combination was the reason it got away from them at the end.

But, you know, I thought Tulane played their best “team-wide” 40-minutes of the season last night.

Okay, that is sort of ridiculous: “40 minutes Frank?” But the defense was pretty good again- particularly the front seven. Yes, UTEP hung a pretty good number on them- but only half of those points were not the result of field position inside the Tulane 40, garbage time, or a turnover resulting instantly to a direct score. This is C-USA, where good offenses operating efficiently or with good field position can score four-five times even on a pretty good defense- see Tulane last year on numerous occasions: TCU, Navy, UAB.

But to me, the play of Ricard and the offense was heartening. For the first time really- Tulane looked coherent for stretches and drives- as opposed to a bunch of strangers. Okay, maybe not all the time or for a whole game. The turnovers and blah tailbacks mean Tulane will always struggle to both be consistent & generate the number of points they “deserve” from their offensive totals.

But it is hard to dispute that for the first 40 minutes, the line protected well, receivers got open, then caught the ball and generated big YAC, the crowd was polite, the environment unthreatening- and maybe, just maybe, Ricard saw the Yellow Submarine.

Are there more stirring words to the Tulane fan? The Yellow Submarine! We know Ricard puts up big numbers when comfortable and getting help. Period. If I was coaching at Central Florida- I’d be nervous. Tulane will be playing to save its season- so you can anticipate a big, huge effort from the defense. And if the offense really is showing signs of life. Be honest, there was a smattering of okay against Houston and a real pulse last night….

Let’s put it this way, if the Tulane community is gloomy and frustrated- and I am the one who can’t wait to play the next game- UCF is in big trouble. This UTEP game was free one. Even if you had Tulane winning seven, eight or nine- this was one you thought they’d probably lose, right?

Don’t quit. The Wave is getting it together on offense and the defense competes. Tulane is gonna win six and could get seven with a break at Navy. And remember, you heard it hear first amid the groaning.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Watch Out Miners

In the New York Post this morning, the Miners are -7 over the Wave (so far I am 4-0 outright and 2-1 ATS). I must admit I thought the line would exceed that one score margin. But the Miners backers can't be too greedy! The Wave defense has shown up more often than not, UTEP is a little up-and-down too, and the “Ricard goes nuts and throws for four scores” factor hangs over everything Tulane does. (photo credit)

That Ricard factor is a big thing when picking these games against the points. The Tulane defense is a nice surprise so far- a frankly competent C-USA outfit. If Ricard dumps 28 to 49 points on anyone in the League, which we've all seen him do, Tulane ought to be in any League game they play.

I know it is a television game- and Tulane had to take what was offered. But this short week has to impact a harried club like Tulane- particularly in light of UTEP’s week off.

The Wave defense might do all right in this spot. If you like what Ricard brings, you’ll love Jordan Palmer- capable of anything on any snap: a big play, a brutal turnover, lots of balls sprayed everywhere, but mixed with some "did he just hang 150 yards passing and two scores on us this quarter?"

Much like Tulane, UTEP gets less than it should out if its yards and game plan. If Tulane gets a decent game out of the offense, and the defense is not asked to do an awful lot on this short week, they’ll compete well. I worry about Tulane late on both sides of the ball. I hate short weeks- remember Ne La.?

And for all the howls about the Tulane offense, there were some positive things in the Houston game. They ran the ball pretty well- and the offensive line looked a little better. I’m not killing them like everyone else. Okay, they were bad against Mississippi State- just couldn’t handle that size and the SEC athlete. But they were all right, even good, against SMU, and then blocked the run well- outside of short yardage, which frankly they’ll never do- against Houston. Even the protection wasn’t too bad- if the team you are playing commits to sending people to get the quarterback, they’re going to get there.

In short, I think they’ll be a little better on offense this week. Consequently, between possessing the ball a little more and scoring some more points- the defense will accordingly have a fighting chance.

I tend to believe Tulane will be in this until the fourth quarter. But UTEP is probably better, although not by a ridiculous amount, and that off week is a big deal. I imagine it will be a tired Tulane club by the end. UTEP scores some extra late- so I’ll take the Miners and give the points- but the Wave should play better in this spot than most think. Hard to see them winning though: again, UTEP is somewhat better, short week and the Tulane special teams are a real, serious problem that gives UTEP a probable field position advantage all night long, if not an outright cheap score.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ed Wade's Head is Brought to Me

It had been an agitating sports weekend. Tulane bombed. The Eagles bombed. I had a restless night Sunday and an agitated Monday- snapping at people, looking at Harriet for a small slice of joy. My only other happiness was catching a bit of the Capitals matinee yesterday- wondering just how the NHL allows them to claim that there were more than six thousand people there?

But around four in the afternoon, my Christmas wish was granted three months early- and Phillies’ General Manager Ed Wade was shown the door.

This is a coup for the little people. The people who buy the tickets, who care about the club personally- as opposed to those who have a "financial interest" in the club, the “sportsmen” who are "involved" with the club- are triumphant. The Phillies would have been glad to call another 87 or so win season a success- and have you get those ticket renewal forms in right away- for the umpteen the year in a row.

But the common folks demanded his removal: voting with their feet and dollars, the disdainful blogs, the letters to the team and papers.

Somewhere during the awful fake process that led to the hiring of Manuel over roughly one thousand qualified guys, this ball club jumped a new chasm concerning authority in the minds of the fans. This disconnect- between the integrity and sincereity of the Phillies' message and actual action- was a manifestation that the Phillies were a team driven by an agenda rather than winning. Manuel proved the Phillies were going to win only on their own terms. It was as if style points or “being right” counted. If the managment couldn't win without being right or lauded for odd flashes of genius- then they'd just as soon not win. They wanted Manuel- and darn it, you were getting Manuel.

An organization can do this- run a franchise on the basis of personal agendas and a degree of cronyism. But you better win. Or at least not go eight years without making the play-offs.

Did Ed do a bad job? Like all things in life, the answer is mixed. Many good things were done here. Ed did a good job re-creating a talented nucleus of young position players: Rollins, Utley, Howard, Abreu, Pat the Bat. That is pretty darn good collection of young or barely veteran players- for the most part locked into sensible deals. See, oh say, Leiberthal or Randy Wolf- for how that can get missed up to the tune of eight-figures.

But, as I have argued all year long, there are two reasons that make his dismissal necessary.

First, the Phillies are an organization infected by an incredible sense of ennui. By that I mean, almost all organizations benefit from a leadership change after awhile. Ed Wade has been here eight years- if Ed could fix it, it would be fixed right? The stuff that is left is stuff that Ed can’t or won’t address- so get someone else in to try.

Second, in this particular off-season, the Phillies are faced with two things Ed Wade categorically cannot do: fine tune a ball club and make decisions concerning pitching.

The Phillies have identified and locked up a core of players- one challenge is to now surround them with the secondary and role-like players. Avoid the David Bells. Decide at what level of playing Victorino, 50, 100 or 150-games, does he help or hurt the team? What about Lofton? Find someone off the bench who scares people. I have zero confidence in Wade’s ability to evaluate second level major league talent.

Further, other than throwing money at the closer and Leiber- what else has Wade done to build a quality approach to pitching around here? I am not going to extensively document the Phillies pitching follies here- other than to say, for example, "Joe Kerrigan". But the Phillies have tough decisions to make on a ton of guys: Wolf, Padilla, Lidle, Wagner, etc.- and evaluations of some young starters who came up and earned another look in 2006. Who in the Phillies think-tank do you trust to make those decisions- and just what is the methodology and philosophy?

Bottom line- I have not exactly lost trust in Ed Wade. But both a combination of “a time for a change” and the nature of the decisions facing the club suggest that a fresh look and novel perspective are needed. I never had trust in Manuel or his staff- so a re-evaluation of that crowd is a plus too.

If took an insurrection from the common folks to re-orient our beloved franchise from its treadmill to "mediocrity-plus"- than so be it. The Phillies are not a democracy- so sometimes a revolution to depose the comfortable is indispensable.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Wait til next year Houston!

Have you ever noticed that so much of life comes full circle? Sorting through the rubble of Saturday’s game Tulane game with Houston and the Eagles debacle in Dallas, I was struck by this in the morning papers (excepted below):

The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes. The short but chilling film is the work of Unicef and is to be broadcast on national television next week as a campaign advertisement.

Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the 25-second film earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. The reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.

The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky. Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

Speaking of prone little people, if you are truly an observer of the nature and capacity of Tulane football, it was pretty clear this game with the Cougars had real potential to be trouble.

Houston is a team that can competently run and pass the football- with a quarterback that really fits in well with the C-USA concept & style of offense. Isn’t Kolb a nice polished college player? He doesn’t have the physical gifts of Ricard- but he gets how to play quarterback in our league- and so he’s a plus more Saturdays than not.

Now Tulane’s defense has played well this year- but those efforts have solely been against teams that didn’t have any real chance of consistently hurting the Wave throwing the ball. Forced to play more honestly up front yesterday, in particular required to abandon the “stack the line of scrimmage” look they had employed successfully so far, Tulane was hurt. Not killed- they played all right, seven first half points allowed, until they just got exposed a little too much in the second half. Still, Houston definitely got the better of them.

Again, it didn’t help matters much that the offense couldn’t stay on the field. Ricard was, as normal, ineffective outside of a utopian playing environment. I still don’t understand the tailback mix- but they ran it okay- even well. But, you simply can’t win games with a spread offense if your quarterback performs in a sporadic fashion- and has entire halves where he is immature- refusing or incapable of valuing each snap and every throw. To be successful, this offense requires a quarterback to read, react, and complete 60% or so of his passes. That isn’t Ricard right now. (photo credit)

Seriously, I know some of you think he’s a serious pro-prospect. He’s got the body and arm- I agree. But I have been following Tulane since 1987, and no Tulane quarterback in that time threw a worse screen pass. It is like watching a middle-schooler learning to square dance; you can see his lips move as he counts the required cadence. No rhythm, no joy in his touch throws.

Still, I’m absolutely not down on the team. This is still the forecasted six-win team- that has got two wins down in the plus column & still has four very winnable ones left. They’re still a “Ricard goes totally crazy and throws five touchdowns” afternoon away from an upset over Navy, UTEP or USM- and a corresponding shot at seven. No way can you quit on the season.

For whatever reason(s), Houston has recently been a bad match-up for Tulane. They seem to have deconstructed Ricard- and their offense seems to be able to get the four/five scores or so to make it look bad. But they smacked Tulane similarly last year- and the Wave rebounded. Have a little faith: Stout Hearts!

The kids are still on path to have a winning season despite some tough off-field challenges.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


In the tradition of J-1, I now offer Harriet:

Harriet rocks!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pretty Cougars?

Bluntly, who doesn't like C-USA style football? This game has C-USA style and grace written all over it. Both teams have the capacity to produce what good C-USA teams do: fun & good quarterback play, big points and intelligent offensive game plans- all in front of snoozing crowds numbering 15,000 or so. When done righteous, our league is offense-first. Tulane and Houston are poster-children for that movement.

Last year, the Cougars rolled the Wave in this spot- as I wrote earlier this week, I have a bad, bad feeling. Houston does not stink: huge effort at UTEP, Tulsa was a big win (Tulsa was playing well), they led ranked Oregon into the third quarter. I worry.

Yes, the Tulane defense has played well this year, but honestly, they haven’t been forced to defend a team that can pass and run proficiently. Accordingly, this is the second serious test the Wave faces on defense this year.

The first test was Mississippi State- a team that was going to force the Wave to stop the run- and commit to pound it until Tulane did. This was a test the defense mostly passed. The Wave attacked relentlessly with the front-seven: the line competed, the secondary cruelly cheated and stacked the line. Scelfo dared the Bulldogs: hurt Tulane consistently throwing the football or I’m stacking you until you do. And the Bulldogs never could.

Clearly, coach got more than enough to win the game on that side of the football. We saw in the Navy game last year that the Wave’s proficiency on defense (normally bad to “sort of okay” in 2004) went up exponentially- if the defense could singularly squeeze the run.

That probably won’t work against Houston. It is a balanced, talented offense. The quarterback Kolb can really play- and they are rushing the football as well as anyone in the league (over 200+ yards a game). Worse, they’ve put up big points three times in a row- and hung 24 on a pretty good Oregon team. The Cougars reliably turn yards and offense into points. This Cougars’ team is probably going to be able to run and throw well enough to hurt the Wave- and score more than anyone has all year.

The Wave will have to play more honestly here- something they haven’t had to do yet this year. Doesn’t mean they’ll automatically struggle- but I do think for the first time this year Ricard is going to need to score the ball. Put it this way: can you guarantee Tulane wins Saturday if they get to mid-20s? UTEP and Tulsa couldn’t.

Accordingly, for the first time this year there is real pressure on the Wave offense: score four or more touchdowns, no dumbness/turnovers. Unlike Houston, it is hard to argue the Wave offense has, so far, been more than the sum of the parts. It has a rich porridge of issues, a tapestry of woes: being developmentally behind opponents (fewer games played and more distractions), the glib dismissal of the impact of losing two NFL-quality wide-outs, inconsistency, etc.

The offense hasn’t really been bad. It is sort of hard to describe, right? You watch the defense- they’re having fun! The offense is distraught, speculative- like they’ve been presented with a list of excuses and are trying to figure out whether it is worth lying down or standing up each and every possession.

I hate picking against Tulane’s offense- because you know one of these Saturday’s Ricard is going to wake up, throw five touchdowns and be amazing.

And this is certainly one of those Saturdays, where probably to win, the Wave needs a 2004 UAB, Navy or Army style start from Ricard. I just can’t forecast it. As each game, each start rolls away- it looks like he is only capable of that kind of big effort here and there- more often “acceptable” than “wow”. At this point in his career, Ricard is typically on okay-plus performer- with some diversions into “wow”. Tulane probably can’t win this unless he’s really good- and history now shows you got a 3-in-12 or so shot.

I’m not down on the Wave- still think they’ll ultimately win more than they lose- but this week is trouble. Houston is going to score consistently and play smart. Tulane is going to score not-as-consistently, produce a few dreadful special-teams plays and a brutal turnover. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tulane loses by a couple of scores here- so I’ll take the Cougars and give the one.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Wave Unfortunately Struggles

Look- a win is a win is a win. Even if it awful and with no style. Even if you deserve to lose. The off-shore joints had Tulane around -18 in this spot- so they were close to the consensus- until the final seconds. They never trailed; they led by two scores for a lot of the fourth quarter. So let’s not get too crazy punking our boys. The defense did okay- and SE Louisiana has a rep to be pretty okay on offense.

Still, it was a bad day for the eight-win crowd. An inconsistent quarterback, plus a collection of tailbacks that cannot generate the cartoon numbers needed in C-USA to be successful, is troubling for all but the most fanatic.

I didn’t see the game. That being said- the offense apparently played poorly enough, or at least inconsistent enough, to make this a real adventure. And the Lions were clearly geeked for this contest. Still, it was nice to prove a Louisiana team could, in fact, not only protect a late lead, but win a game, in Death Valley.

This game is clearly a blow to the “Ricard for the Unitas Award” crowd and the group that is convinced our tailback situation is a plus.

I’m awful hard on Ricard. I know that. But the guy, well, he has to be better- more mature, more consistent, more quarterback-ish. He clearly has all the physical tools. But the only way the Lions were going to be in this was if Tulane fed them bad turnovers- and Ricard, bless him, is a turnover machine- particularly in either red zone.

I don’t know what to say at this point really. The wide-outs produce the required numbers. The offensive line played pretty well in most spots last year- and is largely intact. I find it hard to believe they have suddenly forgotten how to play. So what is up?

I’m hard on the quarterback because he can play! See UAB last year. See Navy. But he has to start treating every snap, every throw, like it is important. He just doesn’t. And to win even six games, they need eight solid starts this year from him. So far, the Wave has gotten one. Kind of.

The tailback situation...well, even the most devout Forte fans have got to admit they are now hanging their hopes on one Army game- an outfit that allowed 240+ rushing per I-A game last year- and a good half against Navy. Jovon is Jovon- an average C-USA back when he’s playing well (admittedly most of the time). Maybe the line didn’t block people today- but they had to block extremely poorly to get that kind of performance from the rushing attack today. Plus, Scelfo voted with his play-calling, right? Pass after pass after pass- even protecting a lead late. Be honest, what has Forte shown this year, in three games, to show he deserves sixteen carries at the expense of Ducre or Jovon? Anything?

Still, they won the game- and still are on pace to have a winning season. But the quarterback has to give more- and they need to re-think how to attack teams on the ground.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Shame of Arrowhead

After watching Tulane wobble all over the place Saturday, it was comforting to settle down and watch the Philadelphia Eagles inflict about twenty minutes of utter hell on the now thoroughly broken Kansas City Chiefs. Outside of Washington, how often do you see the home fans literally bail out on their football team with ten minutes left? These Arrowhead folks are the “best fans” in football? Anyone who wrote that needs to screw his courage to the sticking place- and come sit with me in Section 204 for a little bit.

The glorious Jeffrey Lurie pulled no punches- as this Les Bown article indicates.

The red sea of fans parted. They had howled and chanted and rocked Arrowhead Stadium while their team ran up leads of 17-0 and 24-6. Now they were quietly heading for the parking lots. Big splotches of orange - the color most of the seats are painted - bloomed on the steep red canyon walls surrounding the field.

That was the part that astounded Lurie, after he got over being astonished by the comeback. "Philadelphia, Boston, New York - that would never happen in an East Coast city,'' Lurie said.

Churlishly, one might note an east-coast city Lurie pointedly left out.

Yesterday was an example of a great team having a bad quarter. The Chiefs also came out motivated- as teams tend to do back at home after having been embarrassed the week before. The Eagles took about a quarter to figure out the Kansas City offense- and the Chiefs didn’t get even close to a sniff until garbage time. Killer problems for most clubs: fumbling kick-offs, kick-offs returned for scores, missing an extra point and a blocked field goal- just got swept under the rug. (Editor’s Note: the kicker rallied nicely- made three big kicks, on the road, in the second half. But the Eagles really do need to look at the return situation- these current guys simple won’t do in the realm of excellence Reid demands.)

Down 24-6, the defense picked them off the deck- “the Freak” forced a key turnover. And then the celebrated Donovan and TO show began.

Magnificent Donovan! Splendid TO!

Stupidly, the Eagles are getting roasted for not running the ball. That is to say, no one is complaining they can’t run it, but rather they simply don’t. They are the football equivliant of Democrats: Philadelphia is pro-choice when it comes to rushing- and they candidly choose not to.

I understand all this stuff about establishing balance and protecting the quarterback. It is not nonsense. But for three games in a row, the Eagles offense is literally throwing at will. #5 was the NFC Player of the Month- and followed that up yesterday with 33-for-48, 369 yards, 3 TDs and a meaningless pick. TO had 11 grabs for 171 and a score.

So, other than the health issue- which is significant- just how do you justify transferring snaps out of McNabb’s hands right now? From a pure football standpoint, does anyone think reinstating ten-twelve more rushes, versus passes, would equal more points? And you know, at this point of the season, you got to game plan to win Sunday- not preserve and protect the force. Last year was aberration, the Eagles right now ain’t four games up and cruising.

They might be in November- the Giants exposed, the Cowboys crushed, the Redskins exposed & crushed- but that is just the point. The best way to protect the veterans, the wounded, and the potentially fragile- McNabb, TO, Kearse, Akers, Westbrook- is to render the last game or two of the season meaningless rather than desperate. That means win now.

The brutal part of the schedule is these first seven games. The last nine feature division games (where they’ll win four of five) and non-divisional teams that won’t make the play-offs. They’ll be time then to run it- when the weather gets chancy, the division is more secure.

Also, quietly- the offense line has played, well, pretty outstanding three weeks in a row. It isn't like the Atlanta game- where Donovan was getting blasted snap after snap. The two tackles have rediscovered their pride. I know I am gushing- but inserting Andrews in the middle, now that he is in shape, with two training camps under his belt, has been wonderous. Seriously, he might make the pro-Bowl. What other young guard- soon to be tackle- is in his league?

Plus, wasn’t it just a month ago we were all screaming “get the ball out of Westbrook’s hands and preserve him for December”. It is an ill-wind that doesn’t blow some good, right? Westbrook is going to have to earn his carries at the expense of McNabb’s golden arm.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Gutless SEC

In 2006, the Liberty Bowl will feature a SEC v. C-USA match-up. I think we all know this. But the SEC has gutlessly insisted on an anti-competition measure- which we probably all knew, or at least anticipated, as well.

Get this, the deal "prohibits intrastate matchups or repeats of regular season matchups". So no Ole Miss-USM. Or Vandy-Memphis. The valiant SEC tradition of ducking motivated outfits operating on a tenth of their budget continues. Great day for them and the BCS peers. Yeah, I think you can call them "gutless" to their face- and realize probably everyone agrees with you.

The Executive Director of the Liberty Bowl suggests that it was a mixture of "animosity or reluctance" on the part of the SEC to play their in-state brethren. You think?

Cowardice. Shame. Is this what college sports is about?

You can see the article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Or information