Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Sigh of Relief

If you want to, you could look down your nose and mock Tulane’s 42-32 win over I-AA McNeese State. Certainly, a huge sigh of relief swept certain quarters of New Orleans when the result when final.

But, not here at Frank Helps You Think It All Out. If it would have been catastrophic to lose to the Cowboys, it is not cynical to be very, very relieved at the passing of the trial. How many catastrophic losses in your life have you avoided and not felt more than a little emotional charge? It is human nature- and no victory versus a corresponding real disastrous, humiliating loss should draw a completely cynical response.

And it would have been a real trial to lose. I’m not sure Coach Toledo would have been able to survive it and an associated 1-11 death spiral. And the last thing this program needs right now is another coaching change, another lost recruiting class, another sign of instability. You might laugh and say Tulane avoided rock bottom. True, but rock bottom is a bad place to be institutionally. There is a big cultural difference between hopeless rock bottom and having something to build to on- Anderson and Willaims, say?- even if slight.

So, good job Tulane!

Plus, it was a little better win in retrospect than at first glance. The Wave never was in danger of losing- took the lead in the second quarter for good, had a second half lead of three scores (42-25). McNeese never had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to go ahead- and a cosmetic score made the game look closer than it really was.

Yes, the Tulane defense continued to be shockingly terrible. But the Wave’s top two players- the aforementioned Williams and Anderson- were unstoppable. This is potentially important because with the bad C-USA defenses that litter the remaining schedule, there could be some more wins, or a least non-embarrassing games that feature reasons to go to the Dome (editor’s note: very close to being cynical).

I’m not sure Army presents that much harder of a test. Yes, of course, there is last year’s disaster. But the Wave and Andre Anderson should be able to run the ball here- and another 160 yard rushing day should have them in this? Plus, how dialed in is Army for the Wave here? More on that for Prediction Thursday.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Chiefs Stink

Okay, the Chiefs stink. I wrote last week’s game had an exhibition feel to it, as the Eagles spent the whole second half working on things. This game felt the same way. With Kansas City down multiple scores in the second half, the Chiefs eschewed trying to win for trying to get Larry Johnson started- passively running the ball between the tackles as the Eagles added eighth and ninth defenders into the box. Not a very entertaining or competitive afternoon.

My brother pointed out during pre-game introductions that only one Eagle offensive player was a starter opening day last year: Delaware State's Jamaal Jackson. The Eagles had six starting offensive players out: both guards, the left tackle, one wide out (Curtis) and the entire McNabb/Westbrook axis.

But once again, the Eagles plugged real serviceable, groomed reinforcements into the holes and got a credible offensive day. People who claim Reid can’t coach ought to realize this is pretty standard for Philadelphia the last decade- the consistent play-off appearances are part and parcel of their competence in building out roster spots 24 through 45.

Look at yesterday. Both guards were unnoticeable- which might just be your goal as an NFL guard. Filling in at left tackle, Winston Justice might just being making a leap to serviceable. That is no joke in a League where there might not be 62 serviceable OTs in the entire league. McCoy is a better player right now than the always gimpy Westbrook. And Maclin and Brown caught balls while replacing Kevin Curtis. I think we may be learning why Baskett was let go rather than Brown… because Kevin Curtis is getting real close to being a constant on the de-activated roster. Curtis is looking at an unholy superfecta: younger credible replacements, that cost less, currently contributing and presently not hurt. If your hole is number two wide-out, and not special teams ace, Brown looks better on the roster than Baskett.

And of course, Kevin Kolb continued to improve- that old C-USA training makes him quite willing to throw 35-ish balls and generate big numbers (first quarterback in history to throw for 300 yards plus in his first two starts!). Okay, this was no division road game- but rather a Chiefs outfit that couldn’t score enough to put any pressure on Kolb to match points. Still, while the Chiefs are heading to 3-13- their defense is credible, it is their offense that is a wreck.

In two games, Kolb has proven he can make every throw: outs, screens, over the middle, seam routes, etc. He has hooked up with Jackson three times already in the past two games for touchdowns of over 60+ yards- and all three throws were stone strikes.

In his other sustained action, Kolb has been a turnover machine- but even in the team wide Ravens (last year) and Saints debacles, he always completed a lot of balls in the midst of the interceptions. Some guys never get over the turnover propensity (AJ Feeley?). Hopefully he will. And this turnover free performance is a start.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

PRAYdiction Thursday

A wag over on the nola.com forums is calling this “PRAYdiction Thursday”- as a very shaky Tulane Green Wave stares a solid I-AA program in the eye. In the typical ennui that surrounds Tulane, McNeese State comes into the Louisiana Superdome as the road team, despite a real probability the place will be swarming with more Cowboy fans than the Wave can generate right now?

I’ll get it out there upfront; I think Tulane wins this game. Yes, obviously, they better. But, really, nothing we’ve seen from the Wave should move you off any three-four win forecast; blowouts were preordained againt Tulsa and BYU. But even a three-win Tulane team should win here.

As one of those fellows in that specific prognostication bucket, I opine that Tulane will win 3-4 of its last eight-ish competitive games because the troika of Jeremy, Robottom and Anderson are credible skill players in this League. Further interesting, they are all Scelfo recruits- still not ONE positive skill player, in a skill player League, from the “bestest recruiter” ever!

So, Andre Anderson is a good C-USA player. Give him the ball, run it down their throats, give him every chance to have a 160 yard rushing day. If Andre doesn’t have 35 touches, the game plan is stupid. Seriously, that simple test should be applied to whatever comes out of the office this week as a “plan”. Use that pounding to open up spots for easy pitch and catch touches for the two talented wideouts.

Of course, with Coach Toledo one never knows.

My game plan is not a ringing endorsement of Anderson. Conversely, it is more that I know they can generate the touches (just hand Andre the ball), the quarterback needs help right now and if we can’t move these guys up front, who can we block?

Tulane has two big intangtibles here too. Tulane is coming off a bye week and the Green Wave figures to be desperate- this is a season saving effort Saturday. While it is a shame we can’t even schedule I-AA opponents to get rent-a-wins- the Toledo improvement continues!- I am pretty confident Tulane will handle these guys via rushing for a big number.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BlogPoll: Ranking the SEC

Time for this week's CBS Sports BlogPoll, where I finally allow my deep seated biases shine through like a lighthouse on Christmas.

Frankly, after having my poll torn apart by losses by non-cotton state powers USC and Oklahoma, I'm letting go and stocking my poll with the one League I know features teams that do not choke (and yes USC, you choke a lot). Yes, the SEC. Particularly note the bottom, where I welcome marginal outfits such as Auburn and Kentucky. Hey, they haven't lost yet- and I'm not sure North Carolina is walking into either two venues and winning.

The Miami Hurricanes were my surprise pick this year- and I think they'll get by Tech this weekend- and everyone will soon be joining me in voting for the 'canes in the top five. They are sort of an honorary SEC outfit anyway: fast, minimal schooling, some felonies.

And, unfortunately, Tulsa's loss to the Sooners returns C-USA back to one (from two!) legit member of the poll:

3Miami (Florida) 6
4Mississippi 1
5Texas 2
6Boise State 2
7Penn State
8LSU 2
9California 3
10Houston 3
11Southern Cal 7
12Ohio State 3
13Georgia 1
14Oklahoma 3
15North Carolina 1
16Virginia Tech 5
17Oregon 2
18Oklahoma State 2
19Florida State
20Kansas 2
21Brigham Young 15
22Michigan 2
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Utah (#11), Georgia Tech (#18), Tulsa (#23), Pittsburgh (#25).


Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh When the Saints.... Score and Score and Score

At least it was a nice day.

It was a hypnagogic day at the Linc- a vexing vibe. On the surface, it was a tale of two halves. How many times have the Eagles gotten blown out, yet exited the field at the half to a rousing ovation? The young back-up quarterback, after gustily navigating the first thirty minutes, had marched his team right down the field in the two-minute drill for a late field goal- cutting the margin to a mere four points. Then the second half: Ellis Hobbs’ fumbles the second half kick-off, and a survivable one score game became a tricky two score game. The defense took the opportunity to promptly fold its cards- making us all miss the Brian Dawkins’ iron will for the official first time.

But it also had this weird, exhibition-style game feel to it. In 2007 and 2008, the Eagles began to have this early season “protect the roster for the haul” approach- as if the season doesn’t begin until after the bye week. Worse, since Philadelphia resolutely doesn’t do or show anything in the pre-season games, a lot of prep work and experimentation bleeds over to the first month. So, as in the past two years’ September tilts, right before game time, the Eagles scratched or de-activated a bunch of players. Then the unknowable back-up quarterback played; Westbrook’s touches were managed. After the game was well over competitively, Kolb and the first unit were out there pitching and catching, as if this was all was an excuse to get this o-line some work and Kolb some seasoning.

The unorthodox game plan was fun- but again, it also smacked both of a lack of belief the Eagles could score 21 straight up and a vague desire to get some use from McNabb’s absence “to work on things” (i.e. the “Wildcat”). The lack of confidence seemed to hang out there- Bill Bergey on the post game said it didn’t feel like the offense came to play NFL-style football. As a C-USA observers, we know about this. We see it when Tulane plays second tier BCS teams- a desire to score by being unusual to prepare for and getting a gimmick or two to break the right way. This hopeful approach- try to trick our way to three TDs and play to zero mistakes- unraveled when the special teams began to make brutal mistakes. Fortuna- you capricious sprite! And the horrid six minute return mid-game meltdown (penalties and turnovers) became an excuse to for the defense to just go home.

So, the loss stinks. Fortunately, Kolb did enough in his first start to warrant not playing Garcia next week (thus not wasting precious development time under center- the Eagles gain nothing from playing Garcia except surviving another week, playing Kolb turns those snaps into concrete evaluation and hopefully, improvements). I’m not going crazy- those gaudy yardage was piled up late- but not cynical either (two interceptions were in garbage time forcing balls Kolb would never throw in a real game). Bottom line: he completed a ton of balls, looked like he could belong. I want to see him again.

Look, it was a bad scene- no denying that. But right now, New Orleans is genuine good- and their “A”- game is gonna wreak havoc on a lot of teams having a bad day, trying to break in a new quarterback, unable to match their firepower. Long way to January: we know the Eagles seemingly can mange season after season to get there, we’ll see about the Saints.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cheap Toledo Tricks

What to make of this:
"Tulane football coach Bob Toledo kicked his team out of practice Wednesday because he was displeased with its performance.Tulane football coach Bob Toledo is doing about everything he can to get the attention of his under-performing team and its 0-2 season start. The latest -- just minutes ago, he tossed the team out of practice because he was unhappy with the Green Wave's effort and performance.

"They didn't want to be out there and they weren't performing so I had to do something," Toledo said. "Actually what I was going to do is I was going to start practice over, I was so mad, but all my coaches were leaving and going recruiting. So the next best thing was to get them off the field. If they don't want to practice, get them off the field."
It all feels pretty calculated to me. Not exactly disingenuous- I mean, we are dealing with kids who might really believe coach is real mad.

First, Tulane could be hanging its head a bit after being blown out twice in a row largely through no fault of its own: Tulsa and BYU being three, four TDs better no matter how well Tulane played. The Wave has a bye week this Saturday- so the practice time isn’t particularly precious. If you wanted to get their attention while maybe getting them away from football for a day or two, this is about as good a time and place as any.

Second, you want a stunt like this to result in a win- and while it is by no means a lock, if there is a winnable game on the schedule it has to be this tilt with McNeese following a week off to get ready, right?

It is a card you can play once or twice every four years- seems to be as good a time as any. And since I tend to think they will beat McNeese, if this helps them build a little momentum, fine.

It is also worth a shot because traditional coaching things: developing quarterbacks, picking coaches, playing the right guys from day one (a line-up shake-up seem to be in the works)- just don't seem to be working for Toledo for three years now.

I doubt these sort of emotional stunts work that often- but you never know: collective punishment followed by group success has been used to build men for a long time.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Week 2 BlogPoll

Well, I am back down out of the White Mountain National Forest- just in time to cast this week's vote for the BlogPoll:

2Alabama 1
3Texas 1
4Southern Cal
6Brigham Young
7Penn State
8Boise State
9Miami (Florida)
10LSU 1
11Utah 1
12California 4
15Ohio State
16North Carolina 3
18Georgia Tech 1
19Oregon 1
20Oklahoma State 10
21Virginia Tech
22Kansas 2
23Tulsa 2
25Pittsburgh 3
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Notre Dame (#20), East Carolina (#23).

How nice to be able to put two C-USA teams in the poll- and not have either be a charity vote. You might quibble with Houston at 13- but like BYU, their resume right now is as good as anyone's in the country. I kinda want to move USC up into the top 2- but I know an SEC team will be in the BCS Championship game; I don't know about the Trojans yet.

Miami of Florida continues to be my pick as this year's top ten surprise- and since I had'em over FSU as a stone lock- I'm entitled to vote them as the future ACC Champion. And I don't see how you can keep Michigan off after their big home win.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

2009 Eagles Preview

Currently, I am unavailable- camping in the mountains of New Hampshire. So, if you are reading this, I have properly utilized the scheduling option and consequently, here is my prediction for the Philadelphia Eagles!

I was watching ESPN last weekend- where they had a series of talking heads come on and pick the Philadelphia Eagles’ to win "more" than ten games. As a result, I feel like the resident crazy person- because I just don’t get all the optimism.

For the better part of a decade now, the Eagles have built a pretty good record of success on three main ideas. First, the McNabb/Westbrook axis has been as good a production versus cap dollars axis as there has been in the NFC. Second, the refusal to allocate cap dollars to thirtysomething loyal roster players and free agents has freed up monies to keep a very talented group of third, fourth year players in the second half of the roster to provide both depth and groomed prospects. Third, in a high turnover, capped League, the Eagles constancy of approach at quarterback, the offensive lines, defensive secondary and coaching staff have played great dividends- consistency of approach is the greatest intangible in a League where upheaval is common.

So, I’m worried. I don’t believe in the McNabb/Westbrook axis anymore. McNabb hasn’t been a Pro-Bowl level player since the Super Bowl (four years ago!) and, while I don’t know what they will get from Westbrook, I doubt it will be "eleven high quality games" worth. In the decade Runyan and Thomas acted as well above average OTs here, the regime unfortunately failed to develop adequate replacements- short of moving Andrews outside and thus creating yet another OL gap. So they’ve taken the Washington Redskins’ approach- pay money and first day draft picks for tackles and start moving people around. Both new OTs (or OT and OG) acquired this way are hurt already.

And contrary to league-wide opinion, I think they punked the draft- at least for this year. For a team that is all about now, I don’t see how Maclin contributes fifty catches. And as for McCoy, he slipped to the second round because of doubts about his blocking- and we all know how much RBs play in Philadelphia if they cannot block (see Ryan Moats). There is no third round pick. So no first day draft picks figure to start and contribute immediately- which is frankly dumb if your goal is Super Bowl and not a giant development project.

My view on Vick is also sort of “bleah”. In the pre-season he was as inclined to fall down over his own feet or throw an interception as he was to do something positive. And if he has to play quarterback in a pinch for real- well, I’m not encouraged. Hard to see him moving the win total much. Maybe he can rush for some third and shorts- cause culturally that seems to be a real issue for Philadelphia for like a decade.

I’m not down on the Eagles per se. I just don’t think they are much better than the crew that managed to win nine games last year: same troubled/hobbled McNabb and Westbrook show, no immediate reinforcements from the draft- and add in a serious blow to the stable offensive line. If they get the same kind of favorable play-off draw, they could move forward- but equally, they are a clear step behind the AFC powers.

I think they’ll get back to the play-offs though. The Giants still are troubled on offense- the Eagles exposed their passing game woes big time late last year and I don’t think you can win eleven games if you can’t throw effectively. Dallas seems to have a lot of key actors who have failed repeatedly in big spots being asked to try again. Honesly, only Washington seems marginally better- and with a little luck and leap forward from Campbell could be this year’s surprise, come from nowhere, division champion.

A fair over/under for the Eagles is right where last year’s team finished up: 9.5 wins. There is just a whole lot of status quo back from last year’s 9.5 win effort- and whatever improvements made are offset by the mess the offensive line figures to be for large patches of the season.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Needs Improvement

Well, I don’t exactly know what to make of that 37-13 loss versus Tulsa- other than curious, forced throw by Banks got me my cover. Tulane never was in the game (bad)- but had some chances to get into said game (good)- but never did (bad). But the Wave was a single tipped interception from a one score game in the first half… and Tulsa is one of the three problematic games on their schedule. Toledo can be zapped for coaching for a good loss against clearly superior outfit (say the decision to kick a field goal down 20)- but he did in fact get his good loss and got the first of two problematic games in a row off the schedule. It would churlish to say it wasn't closer than the socreboard indicated.

Clearly, Tulane was better, more entertaining, than the slop they rolled out there the second half of last season. The skill position axis of Williams, Robottom and Anderson has promise. The defense allowed three TDs- but one was the result of a turnover in their own red zone, the other strictly garbage time.

Frankly, that is better than last year- smatterings of competence on both offense and defense are going to be enough to beat some sub. 500 conference outfits. The Wave is both going to win more than the last year and simply just be in more games. I assure you: more wins this year! I'm not going too crazy: week-to-week improvement and strong second halves of seasons have not been the Toledo trademark here.

Bullet thoughts:

For the 25th game of this regime, the quarterback play was again shaky. That is the number one priority in a quarterback League- and this regime just can’t get that position “ready”. Very unfortunate- particularly since this a League where second tier physical specimens can play (Irvin and Elliot).

First five offensive snaps: two timeouts, sack, one off-side penalties.

If Tulsa’s returner is “the greatest special teams player” in the League: why are we kicking to him- particularly with our coverage units?

Coach Toledo lost weight- looks better. I always thought it was a valid criticism of Scelfo when he got enormous- how can you preach fitness, etc. and look like you can only be moved when the tide is right?

#19 is a tough guy. Robottom is a football player.

The inside LB (#55) can make plays in front of him- but if he has to turn his shoulders and chase guys upfield… forget it.

How can Banks look slow on kick returns (multiple guys making contact before the 18) and so elusive running the “Pelican”. Maybe he is more agile than quick? If so, perhaps miscast as a KR.
On Tulane’s first red zone possession, Banks playing QB for two huge snaps in a row says a lot about the level of confidence Toledo has in the routine quarterback preparation .

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Brace Youself For A Golden Hurricane

Time to kick-off the seventh year of Prediction Thursday! ATS record: 42-20 (plus one push and one scratch).

For our first Prediction Thursday of the year, the New York Post puts our Green Wave +13.5 over Tulsa- suggesting an improved Wave! I’m sympathetic to that. Like just about everyone, I think Tulane will be better than last year’s 2-10 disaster. And that improvement goes beyond a churlish “it almost has to be”.

That being said, even if you have the Wave at over .500 for the season, this is a game you have to be carrying in your “trouble bucket”. Even an 8-4 Tulane team probably loses this game, right?

I read a lot of analysis here and other chat boards about how Tulane can take advantage of this or that Tulsa change or flaw. It is probably all correct. My problem is getting past the more basic questions: can we block these guys? can our defensive front seven hang with these guys?

Frankly, Tulsa is in a different class than the Wave. The Golden Hurricane came in here last year and dumped an obscene 489 yards rushing on the Wave (although Tarrion Adams is gone). With their myriad of skill position changes, I doubt the 'canes will match that total again. But they scored 56 without really throwing the ball at all- what if that changes and they roll out the whole attack? With our defensive line/linebacker issues, I can’t see how Tulsa doesn’t hang a crazy number on our Wave again.

Let’s put it this way- if I asked you one thing the Wave should be able to do tomorrow, I think we’d all agree rushing the football is at the top of the list (Anderson is a legit C-USA cartoon number contributor). But, if I were to follow up that question with which outfit will rush for more yards... well, that is a problem.

I think the improvement Tulane will show this year will come from three areas: roster spots 23-44 (special teams now and some depth in November), improving quarterback, a healthy tailback. Unfortunately, two of those three don’t help here: this isn’t a game about squeezing out a score or play on specials, too early for depth to matter much, and an arguably season-long improving quarterback will be at his “least improved” in game one. Anderson will help of course.

Worse, the one area that didn’t improve- the defense- is going to be front and center.

The Wave did show early last year that their intact roster can play at a level well above the crew that finished the season. But unlike Alabama and East Carolina, the Wave is not going to catch a team just trying to move past the game intact. Tulsa will be loaded for bear- working out the offensive kinks, intent on putting on a show for the television. If this were week eight, with the Tulane quarterback well into an improvement mode, complementing Anderson and a Tulsa team merely facing a routine game test, I’d be inclined to say Tulane can score 28 here, so take the points and root for the clock.

But I can’t shake the impression this a bad time to catch Tulsa- so I’ll take Tulsa and give the Wave 13.5

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Great White Whale

Coach Rich Rodriguez will always be the great white whale to a generation of Tulane fans- sitting in the lobby in his green blazer, unaware that his then dream job was being handed to Chris Scelfo. This wiki entry will let you know how that turned out.

But as the Free Press points out, Coach Rod is in trouble yet again. So, funny how things work out. Maybe the Wave caught a break? The sanctification of Coach Rod is one our fave obsessions....
"But these accusations cut to the core of the NCAA’s biggest hypocrisy — the idyllic illusion of the student-athlete, at least as it pertains to football. And that should be Michigan’s greatest worry at the onset of the any inquisition.

The NCAA might have no alternative but to stain the sainted image of Michigan football if it means protecting the greater fallacy of major college football as a part-time academic diversion.

Football is a full-time job at Michigan. It’s a full-time job at Michigan State."
-->Me again. It is a full-time job at those Big Ten schools- but Tulane does try to provide a sort of balance past lip service- at least more than the BCS powers. If Coach Rod is messing up the rules already, maybe the Wave was right to pass?

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