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.