Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Content Blues

Trying to come up with content during the dog days of summer....

The Tulane Retrospective moved Frank Helps You Think It All Out through a couple of slow summer weeks. No, I am not going to do one for basketball. Two weeks of slotting Jerald Honeycutt’s “achievements” is too much for all involved.

Speaking of exciting basketball, I found this old clip of John Tesh’s NBA “Game of the Week” Theme. I have always thought this theme, and back when Hank Williams Jr. first started kicking off MNF, were two good blood pumping tunes.

The song is actually called “Roundball Rock”.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Joe Savery

Unlike most Phillies fans, I (and many Tulanians) had actually heard of and seen Philadelphia’s 2007 top draft pick. Joe Savery was a star at Rice, he was the dominant left-hander (and a super hitter) of his collegiate time in C-USA.

Unfortunately, he has struggled in the Phillies’ organization this year- demoted back to the bullpen:
With a 1-8 record and 5.21 ERA at triple-A Lehigh Valley, Savery was recently removed from the starting rotation and sent to the IronPigs' bullpen. Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager in charge of player development, said the organization hopes that Savery can regain some confidence and return to the rotation before the end of the season.

"I'm fine with it," Savery said before a Lehigh Valley game earlier this week. "I understand I haven't pitched very well. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself, so maybe going to the bullpen is a chance to stop and kind of start over."

The relief experiment started for the Phillies' 2007 first-round pick Thursday night and it went well. His pitching line, however, looked more like that of a starter than a reliever. In seven innings against Syracuse, Savery allowed just five hits and one run with seven strikeouts and no walks.

That would have qualified as his best start of the season if it had not come in relief of Alex Concepcion, a reliever who pitched just two innings in his first start of the year. Despite the length of his outing, Savery told the Allentown Morning Call that something was different about pitching in relief.

"Coming out of the 'pen, I felt like we went to everything right away and weren't trying to establish the fastball," Savery said. "We came out firing from the get-go with everything. Maybe that's just how I need to pitch."
I really can’t say I knew much about the draft board, and normally I think drafting college pitchers is a good bet, but I wasn’t the greatest fan of this selection at the time. In fact, Joe’s move to the bullpen was largely inevitable.

He had the great change-up at Rice. But the “good for college” 92-mph fastball isn’t super (for the nineteenth overall pick) for pro-ball.... And there are no other plus secondary pitches. Hard to get through a pro line-up as a two-pitch pitcher if you can’t get the velocity separation of a Cole Hamels.

Joe walked guys in college (4 BB/9 his last year).
You can see from his minor league stats his walks are up even from college (4.5BB/9 in AAA), which is unfortunate in and of itself, and symptomatic of pitching to avoid the bat. Guys in AAA can get his change of speeds and simply put the ball in play a lot more than in college. Strikeouts are down by half and via extrapolation, I bet “balls hit real hard” is doubled. Consequently, his WHIP is atrocious. Plus, he is 25 now, the curveball or another 2-3 mph on the fastball just aren’t coming.

But asking Joe to get three outs with a decent fastball and good change seems more do-able. Guys only getting one look at a guy are more vulnerable to the change of speed approach- and his lack of further major league quality secondary pitches won’t matter at all. Even mediocre left-handers are hard to find.

Clearly the Phillies did not intend to get a decent, serviceable LHP with this pick three years ago- but I think Savery is closer to the big leagues now then when he was winning games at AA Reading as a starter.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Looking Up To Temple Part 2

One of my great frustrations about Tulane’s football program is this need to continually re-invent the wheel. Frankly, it is cultural- from leaving the SEC to the hiring of retread Bob Toledo to clamoring for a new football stadium to trying to install a power offense in the most "pass the football" League going.

Any serious student of Tulane, or college football, knows this sort of approach is unlikely to succeed. Only cultural arrogance, "we are smarter than you", leads one to try it... probably another terminal cultural tic at Tulane.

I see some thing like this article, and I just want to put my head down on my desk:
Notre Dame and Temple are in negotiations for a game in South Bend in 2013...

Notre Dame is trying to reestablish some roots in the Northeast. The Irish play Army this November at Yankee Stadium. There is a large recruiting base, especially in North Jersey, that has eroded over the years. When Bergen Catholic superstar Brian Cushing went to USC instead of Notre Dame, the Irish knew that the Blue and Gold of yesteryear has turned into the Gray and Gold.
Jeez- can you think of another university seeking to maintain ties to the Northeast- regularly lining up games with Rutgers, Army, Syracuse?

I wrote about this last December- arguing the recent success at Temple, a somewhat good comparable, means Tulane needs to watch that program like a hawk for ideas:
Temple is not an exactly ideal comparison for Tulane. It is enormous, has tons of local alums, the administration was horrified by the program’s competitiveness level rather than oddly complacent. But on field, it works better: no one goes, an urban orientation with a popular NFL and college team sucking interest, playing in the NFL stadium, a bad League, minimal facilities, losing forever.

Temple seems to have figured some of this stuff out- get the right coach, recruit an overlooked star- and in two years, due their League being pretty bad- their problems seem a whole lot less terminal.

NONE of their solutions were big dollar or admin related.
It certainly appears that Temple is potentially stealing another march here. Why can’t Tulane be in this mix? If I were the AD, I’d be on the phone reminding Notre Dame right now that Tulane stinks worse, Temple could actually beat them, Tulane could play for mere expenses, mention my donation to the Brooklyn Archdiocese Annual Appeal- and further mention Tulane can prove they can move several thousand tickets, to the exact same Tulane alums who trek up to West Point.

Like Temple, our poor home attendance has one advantage- the utter freedom to give up a home date to do something neat: play Navy in Ireland, go to Hawaii to play UCLA, any thing. Yet, name one neat thing the AD and Toledo have done with this conundrum.

I wish I could point at a concerted effort by Tulane to copy winners around them- to do stuff that is in the realm of possibility. Temple did not hire a coach who couldn't win enough at a program with infinite more resources. SMU found the sort of retread coach that does work. Rice found a quarterback that could elevate the whole program without any change in the overall team talent level- maybe Tulane needs to have many more candidates in scholarship, reach for qbs rather than the DTs the green Wave never produces? How does Navy source players?

Know who I would hire when Toledo fails this year? The guy at the interview with the three ring binder with tabs labeled: Rice, SMU, Temple, Navy.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Retrospective (#1)

#1 Tulane 41; BYU 27 (December 31, 1998)
Liberty Bowl

A crowning achievement of a century-plus of Tulane Green Wave football- the Perfect Season.

Not since 1931 had Tulane finished the regular season undefeated. Then, they were beaten in the Rose Bowl by Southern Cal. Here, they had a date with BYU- the WAC runner-up.

Sporting a 9-4 mark, BYU was a disappointing match-up. Only their fifth ranked defense, extremely annoying future Eagle Reno Mahe playing for benched tailback Ronny Jenkins and some Tulane ennui figured to allow the Cougars to hang around. But after a shaky start by both teams, Michael Jordan returned a late first quarter interception 79 yards to get the initial separation on the scoreboard (10-6). From there, Tulane blew their doors off. Shaun King was outstanding, repeatedly gouging the slow BYU perimeter players: 23-of-38 for 276 yards and rushing 16 times for 109 yards. Buried 34-6 through three quarters, BYU was thoroughly routed. Tulane could have scored fifty.

By then, Tommy Bowden was gone- but his bold remake of C-USA power found vindication that afternoon. We forget what a bold, counterintuitive series of moves he made. In 1997, C-USA was a power League. Southern Miss dominated by being bigger up front, big tight ends and fullbacks, pro-style pocket passers, rushing the football, win the box and point of attack defense- a real vanilla power team, stronger than the other guys.

Bowden changed it all. King was anything but a pure passer, anything but vanilla. Bowden realized the League’s weakness was an utter dearth of speed on defense edge players: DBs, OLBs, big safeties asked first to stop the run. He spread those slower run-oriented guys out- and took this heady quarterback, trusted him to make decisions- and scored and scored. Until ECU won the League this year, no “defense first” team has won a league title in a long time.

This win anchored a pretty darn good six year stretch for Tulane (1997-2002): four winning seasons, two Bowl championships, much good fun. Six years is not an insignificant stretch, particularly at Tulane. It fortified the pro-athletic community during the Review. It changed the BCS. Without Tulane running the table against not a great, but a legit collection of I-A teams (not a Sunbelt schedule), the BCS mid-majors breakers of the past few years are perhaps pushed back another cycle.

But, in the end, it is what we at Tulane hang our hat on- it is our institutional story, our “remember when?”, the banner proudly flying the Dome somewhere up there with the 2010 Super Bowl. In 2023, when Coach Bowden slowly ambles out for the 25th anniversary salute, all will be forgiven. That is the power of it, right? No matter what Tommy probably does, his bio starts “coached, of all places, Tulane, can you believe it, to undefeated season, ranked seventh overall”.

Since that 1998 campaign, only eleven I-A schools have run the gamut. This Retrospective spans some 25 years. In the next 25, Ole Miss won’t run the table. Boston College won’t. Washington can’t. Taking twelve straight against your class is near high impossible. But for one season, that perfection came to New Orleans.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Retrospective (#2)

#2 Tulane 36; Hawai’i 28 (December 25, 2002)
Hawai’i Bowl

The 2002 team got off to a rough start- which had emptied the Dome and moved this good Green Wave team off the alumni and student radar. However, a late season surge (5-2) coupled with a smashing home win over USM (see #3), rekindled fan interest and set up a rare Bowl tilt with a fun Hawai’i team.

June Jones’ Warriors were no joke either. The Warriors were 10-3. The three losses were to Alabama, BYU and Boise State. Charismatic Timmy Chang was prepping for a CFL career by putting up explosive numbers: completed 1,388 of 2,436 passes (57.0 percent) for 17,072 yards, breaking the records for completions, attempts (both held by Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech) and 15,031 yards (Ty Detmer, BYU).

So we all pushed away from our Christmas dinners as two TD underdog, watched the Wave recover an opening on-side kick, then "seemingly" do nothing for a half. Until this:

Then, it turned out they had not seemingly done nothing in the first half. Committed to keeping Chang chained to the bench, the Wave committed to running the football- eventually winning the TOP battle with this super Warrior offense. Tulane didn’t run it well, but 44 carries for 144 yards show an uncharacteristic determination to stick with it.

And eventually Hawai’i, on both sides of the ball, broke under the physical demands. The running game gave JP Losman time and room to throw, Mwelde Moore ripped off a 25 yard scoring run- and the Wave generated the necessary points. The defense was fresh for once. Helped by two key injuries on the Hawaii o-line, Tulane shut down the run and really got after the quarterback. Chang was knocked out of the game. Then add in Tulane’s best special teams’ effort probably ever: two big Elpheage returns leading to scores, the punter (Brad Hill?) had a great game, recovering the on-side kick (taking an early possession away from Chang).

Losing, faced with a rolling clock, and a back-up quarterback… Hawai’i could not overcome- and the 2002 Hawai’i Bowl goes into Tulane lore as the program’s biggest Bowl upset.

It was Chris Scelfo’s crowning achievement: his players, his system, etc. The Bowden hangover was gone- and there was not insignificant buzz about him leaving to go to Marshall (#23 in the country in 2002) or being groomed for the future Georgia job. As a season’s body of work, particularly with the late horrid home Army loss, no one could justify the Wave as a top 25 candidate. But they were probably just short of receiving votes. I mean, Hawai’i did in the final AP poll. Tulane was a real top 40 national team with NFL level talent littering the offense and defense.

Further, this win arguably really helped save the program during the ignominious university review to kill the program. Certainly the Hawai'i Bowl was in the “for football category”. The victory, so soon before the review, meant no one could argue that football was a hopeless on-field endeavor- and even casual alumni struggled to understand the imperative to shut down something that seemed to work. Tulane was coming off a six year period now where it had won more than it had lost- and had two glittering Bowl trophies to show for its dollars and efforts. I don’t think the program was ever as close to being shut down as popular opinion suggests- but without the Hawai’i Bowl it would have been a lot nearer thing. To make this list, games had to be entertaining, of relevance and of future impact. This game had all three.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Retrospective (#5-#3)

#5 Tulane 28; Louisville 22 (October 17, 1998)

The undefeated 1998 Green Wave makes its second appearance on my list- and this game represents surely the most competitive, scary contest of the Perfect Season.

Tulane came in ranked for the first time since 1974. Accordingly, this game had “trap” written all over it: coming off an off-week, handling prosperity (an emotional win over Southern Miss), simply respecting a Louisville team they had throttled 64-33 the year before.

Things had however changed in Lousiville for the better. John L. Smith had taken over, Bobby Petrino was the OC, and Louisville was en route to the Motor City Bowl championship. Louisville was well along the path the Cardinals would take as Tulane's immediate successor as C-USA’s top, intriguing power. To that end, the great C-USA contemporary of Shaun King had taken over at quarterback full time. Chris Redman was well on his way to establishing Conference USA and Louisville season records for attempts (473), completions (309), yards (4,042) and touchdowns (29).

So when Brad Palazzo missed a 46-yard field goal with 1:06 remaining that would have given the Green Wave a nine-point lead, who wasn’t panicked? Redman was 41-of-55 passes for 477 yards as he took the final game snap from center at the Tulane 3 yard line. Fortunately, Tim Carter broke up that last pass.

Shaun King was a pedestrian 16-of-29 for 273 yards, but managed three TDs. JaJuan Dawson had 9 catches for 141 yards and a TD. But John L. Smith found a way to defend them- he has always been a sound coach. Hey, if Tulane needs a new coach, how about Coach Smith?

This game moved the regular season’s toughest opponent into the win column- and talk began in earnest for an undefeated campaign and possible Sugar Bowl bid.

1974: a 5-0 start followed by six straight losses. The first loss, at Georgia Tech, dropped the #18 Green Wave from most national rankings.

#4 Tulane 31; SMU 10 (September 24, 2005)

You could substitute any number of games in here- and still capture the deep humility the Tulane fan feels about this collection of kids whom kept trying to play despite their homes being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps the first game after the ‘cane at Mississippi State? Or the first home game back in the Dome in 1996?

I had a good feeling about the 2005 team pre-season. I wrote:
They ought to be better than the five I-A teams left on the schedule- but again home games at neutral sites, a bad defense and potentially inconsistent quarterback situation probably means they lose one here. That squares the mark at 5-5, they crush SE Louisiana, and that gets’em to 6-5. And that is where I will hang my hat.
I wanted to play the games despite the destruction. I wrote:
But there is no shame in playing the games somewhere, trying to play them in Louisiana, striving to make them a small event in the restoration of the city. After 9/11 in New York, the tribulation of the Mets and the Yankees, the Giants and the Jets, were completely unimportant. New York was not exactly glad to have them back- but maybe we also wanted the games again. Honestly. Try and play them.
But coming in to this game, so soon after the despicable "shut it down" athletic review, there was Doubt.

The game was no great shakes
- a fortunately quick game on a brutal hot day. SMU was terrible: a "-4" underdog to the literally washed out Wave, managed 127 yards of offense. Tulane punished them physically (nine sacks!), kept the ball for 40 minutes. Lester Ricard was 22 of 34 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Forte, Jovon Jackson and Ray Boudreaux rushed for 150-ish yards. It was an impressive chastisement given by a Tulane team that probably could have flirted with .500 given any luck or home games.

But the idea, the fact of the victory, was important. The “shut football down” forces still exist- but they fortunately probably reached their apex about two minutes before kick-off.

This game was covered on the blog here.

#3 Tulane 21; Southern Mississippi 7 (October 3, 1998)

Some wins are just pure relief- and this tops that kind of list. As entry number five above alludes, the Tommy Bowden years were a brief interlude between the reigns of Southern Miss and Louisville.

But 1997, and the great start to 1998, had the Tulane fan itching for a showdown with perennial tormentor Jeff Bower. We at Tulane believed in Bower- and for good reason, he ran a very good, play-anyone program. We also believed we owed him a whipping. Then Shaun King went and broke his left wrist the week prior versus Navy.

Shaun did play (as did back-up Jeff Curtis)- but the offense struggled all day to move the bigger, physical, always well-coached Southern Miss defense. So it really was Tulane’s defensive backfield (and defense in general) that won this game. Tim Carter forced one time annoying Philadelphia Eagle Todd Pinkston to fumble at the goal line. Alphonso Roundtree then returned a pick for the key first score- allowing the Wave to play from ahead and protect King. It also helped that really underrated USM quarterback Lee Roberts probably had his worst day as a collegian (four interceptions).

There is no perfect season without this big win over the early League’s best program. USM was our ever growing League rival- and there was and is a satisfaction that the early C-USA signature season campaign will always be Tulane and not our big brother conference rival.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

July 4th


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Retrospective (#10-#6)

#10 Tulane 64; Louisville 33 (October 11, 1997)

The underrated PJ Franklin had seven catches for 106 yards-and Brad Palazzo had the best day ever for a Tulane kicker (5FGs, 7XPs). Add that up, Tulane scored an astonishing twelve times.

Some might slide the previous week’s 41-0 Dome humiliation of Army in here. I don’t know- both Army and Louisville were pretty bad in 1997. School was still definitely out on the Bowden experiment, even after the good Syracuse effort (see Retrospective Two), Tulane needed the Army win to square the mark at 2-2. There were maybe 8-9K at that Army game too- so folks were not yet sold.

But this game sold a lot of us. After this second successive week of extreme scoring, the rise of cartoon number C-USA football can be traced right here, right to this pair of C-USA games. Again, the Wave scored twelve times! Twelve!

The new C-USA was born on this day, given birth by the first true read-and-react quarterback (Shaun King) and Tommy Bowden- a guy who figured out the way to circumvent the USM style of brawn was to go after the weakest spot on the field in C-USA: defensive backs.

#9 Tulane 31; Southern Mississippi 10 (November 23, 2002)

We are pretty late in this list to finally be including a win by the nifty 2002 Hawai’i Bowl Champions. Perhaps indicative of the entire Tulane community, a clutch that has never really embraced this group as much as other winning Tulane teams.

This outfit really rounded out in the second half of the season- a four game winning streak mid-season turned the campaign around. Unfortunately, a 2-3 start (including a horrid beat down at Texas) had already emptied the Dome, and the team never rekindled a real in-season interest. A bad late home loss to Army did not help much. So a smallish (12-15K?) crowd filed in to see the finale to see the typical Jeff Bower’s quality 6-4, play anyone anywhere, Southern Miss squad.

After the bad Army loss, the Wave was playing for its post-season life in front of a low confidence, mixed fan base crowd- and responded impressively. Tulane routed Southern Miss. Losman had a quite day. Lynaris Elpheage scored a touchdown (on offense!) and had a key interception the Wave turned into points. And the old reliable Mwelde Moore had just under 200 yards of offense. Bottom line, Tulane ran it down their throats (52 attempts-226 yards) and possessed the ball forever. Just how often have we seen Tulane just physically whip another outfit?

And it got this team a Bowl bid to a fun game versus a fun opponent- not to be counted lightly.

#8 Tulane 56; Southwestern Louisiana 0 (November 1, 1997)

This might be a surprise entry to some, but anyone who lived through this era of Tulane football knows this game was a huge, huge deal.

One of the utter aggravations, and there were many, about the Teevins era (and the end of the Davis term), were the persistent home losses (some real ugly) to USL: 48-6 (1990), 36-15 (1993), 32-28 (1995).

The Tommy Bowden experiment was increasingly validated. Sure, the Wave was a nice 4-3, a welcome change from the routine Teevins’ debacles. And yes, 1997 was a down year for a Nelson Stokely team that had played .500 overall the past two seasons (plus a win over Texas A&M in 1997). But again, USL was the real tangible symbol of the depths that Tulane had fallen. When we complained in the parking lots before the game, it was the utter lack of success vis-à-vis USL that stung the most. The Tulane fan had not yet come to expect to absolutely crush second tier programs- and here, going on the road...

And yet, the crushing began. Just a brutal whipping: better athletes, better coaching- and further left no doubt that this Tulane team was a huge jump ahead of the past witlessness. It was here the talk, the buzz, began in earnest. A real nice, but mostly overlooked Tulane RB, Jamaican Dartez ran for like a zillion yards (18-167)- one of seven 100+ yard rushing days in his career.

#7 LSU 41; Tulane 36 (November 21, 1987)

If you “believe” in college football, this game has to belong on the list.

Mike Archer brought a super LSU team into the Dome- only a loss to Alabama kept them from a national championship. And Mack Brown had completed his turnaround, had a roster full of I-A talent peaking emotionally here. The result was an utter college football classic. The Wave fought them hammer and tongs- taking the lead late, then losing in the final minute after LSU converted two outrageous fourth downs. Terrence Jones played his best game as a Tulanian: 27-of-40, 316 yards, 3 TD.

It was just a wonderful college experience. There is an axiom in sports that occasionally no one deserves to lose- and this was just such an affair. It also felt like a game you see on television from the Swamp or Happy Valley or South Bend. The Dome was full (70K plus) and loud and electric with a goodly contingent of fans from both schools- like the Red River shootout sort of vibe. The only time in my two decades plus following Tulane football did it feel complete, unadulterated big time: fans, level of play, juice, a true rivalry game that lived up to its name.

In my experience, only Perry Clark and Mack Brown have achieved the total game day experience. I miss that.

Last time I ever felt I was at a Tulane big-time football game like you see on television.

#6 Tulane 63; Louisiana Tech 30 (November 26, 1998)

Some might have this game higher- the completion of the 1998 undefeated regular season. Very fair.

But I kept it out of the top five (which will obviously still be littered with 1998 games I feel of more competitive merit) because, while it was a great celebration in front of a great crowd, the game stunk.

Heck, the Wave did not punt. Tony Converse, bless his heart, went for 24 rushes, 182 yards, four TDs. The four TDs might still be a record. Shaun King hammered home another three TDs passing (19 for 26, 330 yards), targeting Kerwin Cook (9 receptions-171 yards, 2 TDs).

Really, it was like an exhibition. Louisiana Tech mounted no serious opposition, the Tulane defense was a little bored, the fans just acted grateful. Probably the night I saw the most Tulane fans (maybe 35K) in the Dome, rather than attendance pumped up by the visiting draw.