Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mostly Okay

I have to admit, I’m encouraged by the play of the Tulane Green Wave. Frankly, I have no idea what CBS Sportsline is thinking ranking them fourth from the bottom: how can the Wave be behind Akron? No offense, but the landscape is littered with teams that lost their FCS tune up or couldn’t play within four TDs of Ole Miss and their nifty quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. This squad has an outright pulse. In fact, while I’m not moving off my pick of three-four wins, the preponderance of evidence increasingly suggests something potentially north of there.

Anecdotally- like, real high level soft thinking- if you put three "above average", a few outright "average", and another few "below average" C-USA defenders out there, you probably net out to something like an average C-USA defense.

Well, don’t look now, but after a generation of futility, the Wave is sort of edging to that average territory. They have outright three above average defensive players: Ponce de Leon, Mackey, Smith. A few of the linemen look pretty darn servicable. Good health too.

Ole Miss is better than all but maybe one or two teams on our schedule- and the Wave kept them to sane numbers, even controlled them for long stretches in the second half. I mean, try this on for size: Mississippi could not run it a lick. They really, really tried- and could not do it. That is two weeks a row of serviceable, middle of the road C-USA style defensive competence… rather than the not normal, yet seemingly routine 500 yards and 42 points. Tulane is simply better over there than last year…. and increasingly, dare I say it, average?

And I thought Ryan Griffin played well again too. What do the detractors want? 21-for-30, 203 yards. A 70% completion percentage is FANTASTIC. It is also necessary in an offense where you eschew the run frequently, thus giving up the traditional device for consistently creating favorable down and distance situations. Plus, one pick in 56 attempts! That is no fluke either, his career number is seven picks in 278 attempts.

People grumble. He does fumble too much- and yes, Tulane isn’t getting enough of the big, 25-yard pass play. Going forward, they need to flip field position and score some cheap ones. But the big pass play in this offense is generated via hitting the receivers in stride, or in the seam, or on the double move- not gunning a deep out. I do not possess any insights about whether he is throwing to the right guys in stride. But I suspect the totals will pick up when Griffin starts seeing some more suspect defensive secondaries with DB problems, ie. most of C-USA plus Army. Hooray!

I will also point out this red shirt sophomore is doing this all without a single serious candidate for even third team all C-USA on offense.

The red zone issues are harder to solve. I’m not sure they are part and parcel of the quarterback really. Tulane really doesn’t have the talent to rush the football when they opponent knows it is coming- particularly in the increasingly cramped box as the offense approaches the goal. Also, who is the big, in traffic receiver- the pro-set style tight end? Tulane doesn’t really recruit that spot- and it shows when our tight ends can’t get open or block the red zone offense. The biggest on-field failure of this regime is the inability to recruit and develop top skill players- and it hurts when they need a guy to win a one on one assignment to get a sliver of space to score (thus the goal line trickery).

But, Coach Toledo has done a good job this year. No one dogged the coach more than this blog. But man, he has shut his mouth. No more complaints about the lack of support at parking lot parades, no more speeches about teaching us how to win, thus no more built in player excuses.

His run/pass mix was 29 rushes/36 passes- better and better. He is learning. His game plans showed an eye toward the conference schedule- some of the more vanilla plays and looks were designed situationally: see if any of the o-line could push the pile third and one, give some young skill players more touches than warranted to figure out exactly what you have. The quarterback is secure, not looking over his shoulder and developing nicely for the thirty-plus starts he has left in his career here.

Bottom line- the defense increasingly strikes me as an outfit that can keep a good C-USA offense between 28-35, unlike the 40+ disasters of previous years. And I think the offense can score 20+ consistently- which means not only are the days of horrific blow outs potentially over, but also some games with mediocre C-USA teams might be in play. An average offense plus an average defense means a chance to run at .500 in the League.

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