Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prediction Thursday- SMU

After years of woe (one win in both 2007 and 2008), June Jones now has a real nice program at SMU. They are officially up from rock bottom to second tier League power. If you excise Houston, the Mustangs have lost only one conference game in two years.

That makes this a tough spot for Tulane. First, while I am very accepting of the fact that Tulane is improved, SMU has made a lot of hay beating .500 C-USA teams again and again and again the past two seasons. The Mustangs are a clear step better than even. Secondly, the raw consistentcy of their approach is evident in that 9-1 record ex-Houston. They always pitch the good game; Tulane has consistency issues at running back, return teams, pass coverage. Third, Tulane has had issues dealing with prosperity- falling flat off big wins against Army this year and Marshall last year. Vegas agrees, giving SMU the very tricky hook: Mustangs -7.5 over the Green Wave.

Those consistency issues have specifically chapped me lately- riding a three game losing streak ATS. I deserved the Tulsa miss. But how was I supposed to know which team would essentially hand the game away via turnovers versus Army and UTEP? Ugh.

That being said, there is an undercurrent of something being off with SMU this year. They are 4-4, a little bit of a comedown from last year’s eight win campaign and dismantling of Nevada in the Hawai’i Bowl.

For one thing, the Mustangs don’t score enough. They haven’t cracked 21 in any of their last three (losing the last two): Tulsa, Navy, Houston. QB Kyle Padron is a nice prospect (C-USA all-frosh last year) with very good numbers (21 TDs, 8 Ints.)- but SMU has a little bit of a skill position issue. The top RB Zach Line is pretty good. But the wide out corps is pedestrian- three guys with receiving totals roughly that of Casey Robottom despite a real unwavering commitment to throw (40+ attempts the last three games). WR Darius Johnson has the most catches (50)- but again, fewer receiving yards than Robottom. Like Tulane, they seem to know what they are doing on offense- but don’t have that big receiving weapon.

As a result, SMU hasn’t gotten scoreboard separation a lot- and have split a lot of close games late. Again, they seem to have a tighter, mistake free product than most of their conference brethren, and still have been putting close conference wins in their pile.

I don’t really see why this game ought to be any different. This game screams team that knows how to win close conference games versus team that is figuring it out. Accordingly, it still figures to be close. SMU isn’t going to tag the improving Tulane defense for a big number- and the Green Wave quarterback has taken a step forward. Hard to cover a two score spread, bless you hook, when you are no lock to score 28.

So while it has potential heartbreak written all over it, heartbreak means close. The hook cements the decision: Tulane +7.5 over SMU

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alex Wacha Redux

Last week, Alex Wacha was named to Phil Steele’s interim 1st-team all C-USA at strong safety.

This caught me a little flat-footed. Frankly, as a huge Shakiel Smith fan, I wasn’t even sure Wacha was the best safety on the team- let alone the best safety in C-USA. Not that Wacha was "bad", but I am always a little suspect of what passes for DB play around here. I always thought Wacha could run a little bit. In fact, I always think of him more as a corner. I am almost positive he was Tulane’s top depth and nickel corner at one point. That was sort of the extent of my scouting report. So I went out of my way to watch him this past week at UTEP.

I came away pretty impressed- Wacha is a pretty good tackler. He gets to and around the ball a lot, good pursuer, good angles, got some rabbit. He looks real experienced- both of Tulane’s safeties are high football IQ guys. So I was not surprised to see that he and Smith were second and third in tackles (50 and 48 respectively) on the football team.

A lot of people fuss when presented with good tackle totals from the safeties. You can look “smart” pointing out that so many stops are happening in the second and third defensive level. I’m not one of those people. Good safety play in C-USA is about tackling.

So much of the League’s offensive philosophy is getting the ball out past the first level. The spread is predicated on de-emphasizing line play, shifting emphasis to the perimeter and defensive secondary versus off-tackle and gap rushing plays. C-USA isn’t about whipping the seven guys in the box; it is about getting match-ups on the edges and seams.

Faced with the C-USA quarterback who can successfully throw the ball 65% of the time to said seams and edges, over the heads of the DL, there are plays that need making in the secondary. All game long safeties are challenged by backs, tight ends and z-receivers catching short routes and turning up-field. Somebody has got to track those guys down. 25 short completions means a fifteen tackles that need making by safeties- tackles that cannot be missed.

Wacha and Smith did that Saturday. The raw season numbers, 100 tackles, suggest these guys are getting the perimeter attackers down. Safety might be the best position grouping on the team.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BlogPoll Week 9

I think it is pretty clear that Auburn and Oregon have the best body of work among the unbeatens. I give Auburn the nod because their League is better.

I'm shocked Alabama is ranked ahead of LSU in the major polls. Alabama lost to South Carolina- LSU lost to undefeated Auburn. And the Tide's win over Penn State doesn't look so impressive in hindsight.

If you have two losses- and one is a home loss to James Madison- you are not the 21st best team in the country: Virginia Tech. That is ridiculous on the surface.

I don't think Utah could beat anyone ahead of them six times in ten, let alone go 5-3 in the SEC.


Monday, October 25, 2010

So Close To Relevance

There was a lot of rubble to sort through this weekend: Phillies eliminated, Eagles embarrassed, Saints routed.

But how about that Tulane Green Wave? Their second upset of a double digit favorite while playing on the road. The case for improvement, an outside chance for Bowl eligibility, is still in play.

That being said, unlike the Rutgers’ upset, a little humility is called for here. I was quick to minimize the Army loss as an atypical game: clustered turnovers and some bad karma undid the touchdown favorite.

But I can’t write that a month ago- and then not acknowledge that this victory was sort of the same thing here. If Army proved that three turnovers in a half plus some shaky coaching choices are enough to overturn a decent home favorite, then this game was a further, similar lesson. I’m not sure there is all that much separation between the Miners and the Green Wave. UTEP is clearly a mediocre C-USA outfit, and that sort of collective can’t survive repeatedly giving the football away. The point is, I did not really mark Tulane down much after Army, and I ain’t marking them up much here. In an entire season, karma largely sorts itself out- and this win just sort of restores the status quo.

After lauding Mike Price in this space last weekend, I was a little embarrassed by his approach. Ryan Griffin and the Tulane offense are a maturing group. Opponents cannot sit passively back. Tulane is an increasingly decent C-USA outfit, decent C-USA outfits can score thirty points- and consequently, rivals need to try to score five, six touchdowns.

Yet, Price was so passive. Obviously, Trevor Vittitoe was having a tough go- but it is hard to engineer a 40 point, six touchdown night (which is frankly what UTEP needed to achieve to win) with 21 attempts, 102 passing yards.

This was the sort of game that sorts a “real” C-USA fan from a casual college football observer. If you were cackling at home, labeling Mike Price’s game plan “suspect”, for calling for 60% runs, 31 carries for 206 yards, you get the League. On paper it looks great- all that rushing!

But the real C-USA fan knows that sort of run-pass ratio, particularly on a night where you only get 60 snaps, is sentencing you to a performance of 20-ish points. Even if you play well, have success, you are merely at 24 points. Frankly, Price created an attack designed to keep Tulane in the game (ed. note- We’ve seen it. Matt Forte. He would crush teams for 200+ yards, but the Wave would be stuck in the ‘teens, and lose.)

It is not enough firepower to consistently win in the League. You can’t overlay NFL success metrics on to this League. The decent-to-good C-USA team is still normally a potential monster on offense: near 500 yards, five/six TDs… an you cannot generate those cartoon numbers primarily rushing the football. You have to give yourself dozens of chances to generate field position flipping plays on first down- not set up 2nd and five.

I don’t mean to ding the Wave this morning- but if you want to know why Tulane was unable to turn a really great day on offense (461 yards), with three bonus good field position possessions off turnovers, into more than four TDs (really, not an acceptable number in the League given all those turnovers), you might look at a similar excess propensity to run the football too.

The Wave had that unreal great day rushing (281 yards)- but an inadequate number of scores. Many outside observers would say “Wow!”; a C-USA fan would say “not enough points”. My chief tactical problem with Coach Toledo is that culturally he is unable to recognize that running the football in our League is only situationally important: a change of pace, short yardage, or red zone applications.

I’m telling you, had the Wave not gotten all those turnovers, and then lost this game 27-24 in OT, that run/pass mix is where I would be pointing the finger this morning. As the fourth quarter ground on, Tulane was in real danger of losing because they were running the football too much. There is a real danger in C–USA for mis-understanding not only the nature but also the amount of scoring required in the League. If you want to score 40 points, be really good on offense, 45-carry days (paqrticularly first down carries) are problematic.

Enough of that. It was a good win, evidence that the defense can keep anything other than a monster C-USA offense (say Tulsa) under some kind of wraps- and that the offense is getting the totals up. A middle of the pack C-USA team is really looking to break out here.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prediction Thursday- UTEP

Mike Price is, in my opinion, the best game day coach in C-USA. UTEP is really a marginal collection of players- they have the same number of folks as Tulane on yesterday's Phil Steele list.

But Price gets the League and approach. Rather than agonize over offensive approaches and trick plays, Price has merely coached up the right guys. I mean, does anyone really believe four year starter Trevor Vittatoe is an elite prospect? He isn’t really mobile, sprays the ball around. He is not on some draft boards, late round on others.

Yet from day one, he was prepped and ready to go- a four year, routine 30 TD, 3000 yard, C-USA numbers machine. His career numbers in TDs surpass Peyton Manning and Byron Leftwich. He is arguably the MVP of the League- driving a blah UTEP team to a real good 5-2 start. And Price has a couple of plus skill players: RB Donald Buckram (up and down this year after 1500 yards rushing last year) and WR Kris Adams. That might be all UTEP really has that is real good. But Price is all about finding and coaching talent at the skill positions- and guys like Orleans Darkwa are not touted as realistic major contributors there. Thus, the Miners are -10 over Tulane.

Frankly, the Tulane from earlier in the season would be a lay-up here. That Green Wave outfit could win this game outright; ten points would have been gravy. But they’ve been blown out two weeks in a row- bringing into doubt the ability to stay close when presented with C-USA firepower.

Certainly, Tulane did not deserve to win either the Army or Tulsa game. But I can’t shake the feeling they were a mite unlucky. The defense allowed a respectable total versus Army, the offense had 500+ yards under duress versus Tulsa. No matter what happens on the other side of the ball, these are efforts that probably are not normally indicative of being routed.

So, yes, I can see something "even". Tulane allowing 400 yards on defense and generating a like number under the increasingly productive Ryan Griffin. Unfortunately, Trevor Vittatoe probably turns those yards into more points than Griffin. That is what this game is about: equal talent, but Price is light years ahead of Toledo as a exploiter of said talent. But is it worth ten?

I looked at UAB upset effort. The Blazers had a fortunate day on offense, 500 yards- but like I suggested above, UAB just couldn’t turn it in to actual points. I can definitely see Tulane struggling to the same 21 point effort where the results simply don’t add up to the production assets. Plus, a team can run on the Miners- but I increasingly think the Tulane running back trifecta simply isn’t very good. I don’t know if Tulane can run the ball inside the 20- turn that field position into touchdowns

And the Tulane defense just doesn’t seem adept at stopping these sort of big number C-USA quarterbacks. The Green Wave seems to do okay with quarterbacks that are limited: Houston, Rutgers, Army- but the real schooled distributors kill them. The experienced distributors can deal with the decent pass rush Tulane gets.

Sort of feels like five TDs to three- and the return follies, coach and general team karma just don’t seem to be of the sort where Tulane can get a free score through preparation. That is not enough to cover ten. UTEP -10 over Tulane is the pick.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wonking With Phil Steele

Phil Steele has his mid-season all C-USA team out. Tulane has a decent smattering of representatives: SEVEN- one more than Rice. Marshall had five, UAB four, and Memphis three. SMU had the most- thirteen.

1st team:

DT Justin Adams: no doubt the interior DL has been vastly improved early in the season. Pre-Army, Tulane was quite good against the run at times.

LB Trent Mackey: Team MVP so far.

S Alex Wacha: This surprises me. But the safety play has been strong in spots- up the middle defense has been okay for Tulane. Wacha hasn't struck me as great this year. But DB is always a weak position in C-USA- and he did have a huge interception versus Rutgers. And I don't have an obvious replacement.

2nd team:

TE Cody Sparks: Again, weak position in C-USA. Had to pick someone I guess, and the veteran gets in. I think he's been disappointing this year. He is not a great blocker and the raw numbers just aren't there.

3rd team:

WR Casey Robottom: Three wide outs make each level- and he is arguably top ten. Maybe. Veteran status helps here too.

C Andrew Nierman: Competent lineman in a League that really struggles to find interior o-lineman.

OT Pete Hendrickson: Again, a journeyman performer you can trust in a League that struggles to generate "big" players.


Monday, October 18, 2010

No More Hurricanes

First, I will admit I did not watch the 52-24 Tulsa debacle with my full attention. The Phillies were beginning their defense of the Pennant in full high def, while Tulane was available only via a grainy, possibly illegal internet feed.

No matter. Hard to draw constructive tactical lessons from yet another rout. On the surface, the game was perplexing. As predicted here, Tulane did possess the ball an awful lot, mostly through the air: QB Ryan Griffin was 36-53, 412 yards, 2 TDs; 35 rushes for a decent 117 yards, 36 minutes ToP. Yet, how can Tulane run 91 plays, score 24 points, 527 yards of offense, simply have the ball that much - and still get decked?

Our collective football frame of reference is the NFL and the proto-NFL (SEC)- and the collective associates a three TD loss into one team being dominated. But that is not C-USA.

You have to think about C-USA a little different. Defenses in the NFL tend to fail in stages- sort of a linear progression from good-to-okay-to-bad. C-USA defenses tend to gap down, a geometric reaction versus arithmetic- like a bridge sagging, sagging, sagging, then utter failure. I tend to think that stems from a talent gap factor. There is an ability step down in the NFL from star to starter to reserve. But that gap is miniscule to the step down in C-USA. You can have a pro prospect one place, and a guy who might not start for Harvard at another. In the NFL you might occassionally have one or two defenders who totally can’t handle their assignments. In C-USA, you routinely have three or four guys who are just over matched.

Thus, Tulane’s defense Saturday is explained. Their improvement over last year is tied to a couple of transfers and Shakiel Smith. They can have extended the sag capacity- but total collapse is still possible. Thus, this Tulane gap downward is understandable- decked for 52 points and 350+ yards rushing. Further proof of collapse: ten Tulsa players had double digit rushing totals. Ten! Five of those ten averaged more than ten yards a pop. I honestly don’t know if I ever seen that- even from an option team.

Tulane’s offense, particularly the quarterback, wasn’t terrible. Certainly, the Tulane offense did not deserve to be on the short end of this kind of rout. Ryan Griffin supporters have won the argument at this point. Yet again, he turned in that 65% completion percentage, low turnover day. The big yardage totals surfaced when faced with the typical challenged C-USA secondary.

But Tulane was not able to engineer that same defensive collapse in Tulsa- where 500 yards of offense becomes 50+ points in 25 minutes versus a mere 24 points in 35 minutes.

Frankly, the skill position players outside of the quarterback just don’t give Tulane much of anything “special” right now. I mean, the Tulane offense can’t complete 60-65% of your pass attempts, generate 500 yards of offense, without passable play. Guys seem to be standing in the right places at the right time, blocking the right guys, organized football plays are run competently.

But none of the receivers put pressure on anyone. Robottom is the best of the lot- and he defines pedestrian, competent C-USA wideout. He just isn’t going to blossom into a perimeter attacker, touchdown maker, second team all C-USA star we had all hoped for four years ago. He is a an okay second wide out being asked to play the top spot- but that dazzle you need in this League to generate free scores, that flip the field position talent is just not there.

DJ Banks is the second guy- and I just don’t see what the buzz is about. Ryan Griffin, for all his faults, is distributing the ball accurately- and Banks can’t get anything big going. Double his season totals and you get 50 catches, 480 yards. Those are “so what?” numbers. Here is another problem: together Banks and Robottom have three TD receptions. How many games can you win in this big score League if your top two receivers project to have six TD catches for the season?

And, to reiterate last week, this three-headed Darkwa, Willaims, Jason rushing “monster” is really either two guys stealing carriers from the best one or three okay-minus backs routinely unable to distinguish themselves from even each other. I will also point out this dynamic trio has a terrible 18 catches combined for the season.

Just not a whole lot of juice from the top five (in terms of total touches) skill options. It is hard to win in offense-friendly C-USA when none of your wide outs, tight ends or running backs are better than mediocre. Who is even a third team all C-USA player on offense?

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Dezman Moses

I was a little glib yesterday in the comments concerning Dezman Moses’ injury. I’m not so sanguine this morning- although reports are conflicted as to whether the key DE can go.

I don’t know if fistfights and brawls are part of the practice culture Coach Toledo cultivates. I’m doubtful. I mean the guy has been here four years and that is the first time fisticuffs have made the lead. I am even accepting of the notion that some roughhousing is unavoidable. But all of this is a slippery slope for Toledo. He is in a perilous place.

Let's start here: I am really unsure fighting is indicative of a good practice(s) or culture. If unsupervised aggression during practice is anecdotally a good thing, why isn’t emotional display, lack of concentration and disregard for consequences also predictive of game-time fumbles and illegal kicking tees and “practice fighting injuries”? Since Coach Toledo got here, there has been more than a little Personal Foul Tulane is how we roll attitude. Add in this injury.

I used the word anecdotally above deliberately. Moses’ injury and Tulane’s propensity to undisciplined penalties are facts. Perceived benefits to an anarchic practice are, again, largely anecdotal. The same people pounding the team the hardest for penalties and turnovers are probably the same lot praising a culture of indiscipline at practice. It is like the endless happy yammering a few years ago about the importance of Toledo’s complaints about summer weight training- as if Tulane’s talent problems were about a dozen unsupervised summer workouts. Anecdotal frequently equals illusionary.

Football has a culture hundreds of years old. Don’t try to re-invent the success factors. And mind you, fighting is part and parcel of general sporting culture. Rage does happen. In the NHL, fighting has a definite tactical role. In baseball, it is part of self-policing the dangers of a pitched baseball. Football has no such culture. Sure, fighting happens- but if it was advantageous, you would see it as part of the fabric of the game. It is hard to fool a hundred years of culture.

Back to the slippery slope. If it is not illusionary, most of Tulane’s improvement this year centers on the introduction of two "good for C-USA" players to the defense (Mackey and Moses) to go with Shakiel Smith- plus a serviceable quarterback prospect.

That is four key guys. Four. That is all you need in C-USA to have a pulse- to not get ripped by Tulsa and Houston 50-7 every week. The reason I opine that an average coach doing an average job at Tulane can win eight games is that is doesn’t take much- just a dozen plus C-USA players and a quarterback. Look at Rice two years ago, or SMU last year.

But it can slip away quick too- the cast of three key characters on defense might have been reduced by one for nonsense. In C-USA, there is no suggestion of quality depth (if Tulane has another “quality” DE he’d be starting on the other side or forced into playing out of position to get on the field). If three good defensive players equals “decent”, trust me that the Tulane fan doesn’t want to know what one good player equals.

And that is the “perilous place”- is Coach really sure he can survive six weeks of bad beatings this far into his tenure? Scelfo had past successes (for Tulane), his 2006 team had moved forward from the Katrina disaster and would whip any of Toledo’s iterations, there were obvious stars on the roster (Forte, Williams)- but it went bad quick. A stupid decision on a punt, some losing- and he had to go.

So, if you are going to allow brawling in practice (even once in awhile or inadvertantly), it cannot be unsupervised. Tulane has a dozen plus assistant coaches; they have to know who can fight and who cannot. Tulane is allowed to have players who are important to the program too.

These guys aren’t fodder. The manager who let Jose Canseco pitch and throw out his arm was fired. If an NFL coach exposed his $8M/year end to needless injury, he could expect to answer for it. Moses is as important to Tulane football as those two examples- so protect the asset. Plus, you know, he is a kid with further football aspirations- there is an obligation as a coach and mentor to protect him from a bad, emotional moment.

Anyway, hopefully Moses is safe and plays. But there has to be a better job done here.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prediction Thursday

It took until the sixth game of this season (plus the absence of QB Case Keenum from Houston), but the big exam, a real C-USA style audit, is finally here. Saturday presents Tulane with a genuine example of the special football neighborhood the Green Wave frequents: the full tilt, forty points a game, cartoon number C-USA offense- of course equipped with sling it quarterback GJ Kinne.

Hold on tight people. GJ Kinne is the real deal: a big time recruit (originally signed at Texas), career 142 passer rating, 60% completion percentage, NFL body and mid-round draft prospect. In his second career start last year, he tore the Wave up: 15 for 20, 211 yards, 1 TD- plus a 15 yard TD run and a 45 yard scramble. Tulsa rotates a variety of good backs- and for a team that looks to keep the ball in Kinne’s hands and throw first- rushes it very well. The Golden Hurricane is a certified handful on offense (ranked ninth in FBS “officially”), reflected in the New York Post putting Tulsa -18.5 over Tulane.

Now, one good thing about having picked games for so long is that a reference of sorts exists. From an ATS point of view, this season feels like 2006.

Think back to 2006- really the nadir of public confidence in the Scelfo regime. Fans were unhappy and a lot of bad karma and noise surrounded the on-field product. Yet, I posted a nifty 9-3 ATS mark by positing a lonely thought again and again: the 2006 Wave was not that bad.

Outside of two stone sacrificial lamb games- at Auburn, at LSU- Tulane was a decent 4-6 (with a win at Mississippi State). There was no FCS lay-up game either: put Southern in for Auburn and Tulane was 5-7. Tulane quietly fielded more collected C-USA talent than Toledo has yielded since: Ricard, Forte, Route, the vastly underrated Jeremy Foreman. Davis, Brown and Williams were light years ahead of the current receiving group. The 2006 Tulane team would have beaten the 2007-2009 versions by two scores and be a six-win team versus this year's schedule.

I’m not really eager to rehash ’06, other than to take this lesson. The “feel bad” train was so loaded (no one thought they could beat Mississippi State, a game I felt Tulane probably could not lose)- that you could get rich looking at the fat lines and taking Tulane again and again.

I’ve pretty much ridden that theory, that the pre-season consensus of “Tulane=horrible” was wrong- and taking the Wave again and again en route to a 4-1 ATS start. And I’m on it again here- particularly as an unusual Army loss plumps a fat number back up again. Sure, the loss to the Cadets was embarrassing- but when a team only allow 343 yards of offense, said team was probably unlucky or unreal stupid to get blown out. Frankly, Tulsa -18.5 just seems a little rich.

There is risk. Tulane’s defense has improved, mostly against the run- but with Keenum out, it has not seen this sort of firepower directed at the passing game. But Tulsa is 3-3; I’m pretty sure Tulane would be square playing that schedule too (FCS opponent, plus Memphis and Bowling Green are terrible). Plus, Tulsa’s defense is a 2008 Tulane level wreck: 101st overall, 115th against the pass.

As we saw against Rutgers and Houston, Tulane can adequately both run the ball and possess the ball via the pass- generate some points and possession time. Tulane can absolutely score 24-ish here- which starts forcing Tulsa into some crazy numbers in order to cover. Frankly, Tulane’s defense looks like it might have enough life to keep that from happening. If the Wave plays defense like it did at Rutgers, Tulsa ain’t scoring six, seven TDs here. “18.5” is a BIG number- five TDs probably doesn’t see Tulsa through. Reference the Houston game, where everything that could go wrong for Tulane in the first quarter went wrong, and the Cougars were still touch and go with that giant number.

Intangibles look good too. The Army rout hopefully means Toledo has got his team’s attention- and Tulane has actually played harder and smarter on the road. Kind of a trap game too for Tulsa- the Golden Hurricane has a bye, then Notre Dame.

Bottom line: Tulane probably scores into the 20s against this poor Tulsa defense, scoring at that level necessitates some good ball possession numbers. Tulsa will have to play both great and quick to get to 40+. That cover seems problematic. So, while it will be hard for Tulane to keep up (the offensive firepower discrepancy is the biggest Tulane will probably face this year), it is too much of a head start. Tulane +18.5 over Tulsa is the pick to get to 5-1 ATS.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

BlogPoll Week 7

This week's BlogPoll submission is below:


I'll move Ohio State to the top- and slide Auburn into the second spot. Until proven otherwise, there will be an SEC team in the BCS Championship Game- so my ballot will not be SEC naked in the top two spots. The rest of the SEC slots nicely: South Carolina beat Alabama which beat Arkansas.

Nebraska probably has done more than Oklahoma so far.

I feel bad dropping Miami entirely because they play all comers, play the in-state teams I'd never touch: South Florida, Florida State- and would beat a full half-dozen teams I have polled ahead of them.

UTEP is the new king of C-USA, and thus moves on to my ballot.


Monday, October 11, 2010


Rub eyes, shake head...

I have zero tactical points. The Tulane offense was down three scores after running only twenty plays- not exactly advantageous for analysis. Army exploited our back-up inside guy(s) on defense. But honestly, what could one take from any of it? Is there a coach out there reviewing the game film saying wow, the way to beat Tulane is to have them fumble and fumble and fumble?

It was a stinker. Maybe Tulane was simply unlucky? Maybe the grind of the BCS level schedule caught up to them? Maybe after pitching the A-game three weeks in a row, the Green Wave was due for a letdown? The last chance Tulane had to handle prosperity was last year versus Marshall- they laid down there on Homecoming too. Teams lay eggs: Alabama, Michigan, Miami. It happens. Handling prosperity, playing big again after a big win, is hard. Fans can rail about it, but it seemingly happens to everyone. And Army has that sort of attitude and culture that is going to exploit and embarrass your C-level effort.

My problem stems more from the strategic. This loss brought to the forefront some of the worst game-day aspects of this regime.

For example, for crying out loud, pick a quarterback and play him. Piled on year after year of indecision, this Griffin/whomever occassional duopoly isn’t good coaching, it is just tiresome. Except in a pinch, no one else has a culture of rotating quarterbacks, so stop trying to reinvent the position.

For the umpteenth time, Griffin has turned in the 60+% completion percentage, low turnover game, this offense demands. Be it from way behind, under duress, good competition and bad, every single situation thrown at Griffin this year results in "60+% completion, low interception ratio". When you respond to every stimuli, every situational wrangle, with “60+% completion, low interception ratio”, maybe your quarterback is a “60+% completion, low interception ratio” player.

So let him play. Griffin has shown enough to deserve an uninterrupted shot. He isn’t perfect or real good right now- but he is a sophomore, with obvious upside (who doubts he understands the offense?). He is clearly the best option for position growth right now. I won’t even go in to the fact that Tulane has both a real talent and raw numbers issue at wideout. Putting Joe Kemp at QB, subtracting him as a target, exacerbates that talent situation further.

Do you ever get this impression? Army comes in here and looks like they know how to run this option. Houston looks like they know how to run the spread. Key players get lots of touches, handle the ball a lot. They are not tricky- but execute the given program. Then, Tulane looks like they spend an awful lot of time brainstorming methods to get the third tailback touches, formulating Kemp an interesting package as the second quarterback and a few new end around plays. Five guys have thrown multiple forward passes for Tulane this year- way too much brainpower and limited practice time being spent here.

This emphasis on getting secondary players involved in the offense: the back-up quarterback, the third running back, a crazy DJ Banks play, is suspect to me. I mean, maybe these down roster guys are ready to contribute at a plus level in C-USA. But considering Tulane hasn’t had but one sort of good C-USA skill player since Matt Forte left, I’m doubtful. Darkwa, Williams and Jason probably isn’t a three-headed monster- but rather a couple of guys stealing carries from the best one.

It is problematic introducing these guys. Not to pick on anyone- but take Tyler Helm: fifth year senior, okay-to-good blocker, second TE. Tulane runs him out there as a situational substitution- help block the red zone offense early in the game. He isn’t in the flow of the game like the rest of the blockers (the o-line), it is a big spot, he is amped up- and the fifth year senior jumps off-side. This is not an argument against situational role players per se. But constant exposure to back-ups, third options, etc. leads to this culture: guys asked to do too much, guys taking emotional penalties, guys simply not as good as the vanilla first string alternative. Who is really at fault, what is the real blame ratio, for him taking that penalty?

Coaching is about exposing your best options, not trying to find creative ways to explore your second best players. Case in point- where is Tulane most consistently exposing their third best option? Think...

Kick returns! Were those guys laying the ball on the carpet the best ball-handlers, playmakers Tulane has? Why not? What is Coach Toledo saving them for? Guys like Sullen and Van Hooser cannot have such a large say in the outcome on Saturdays. Tulane does not have surplus offensive assets. So stop pretending Tulane does. Experiment and rest guys down thirty points- put the pedal down now with Army.

College football is not like the NFL. There isn’t endless practice time. Tulane is developing QBs and RBs- and these diversions not only aren’t assisting that process, but in the return game they're helping lose winnable games. Pick a quarterback and play him. Pick two RBs- a main and blocking/scat/ whatever secondary- and play them. Then stop. Have confidence in your talent evaluation and emphasize playing the best players. Trust me, Tulane is not losing much leaving these down roster machinations until spring.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010


I realize that in New Orleans you did not have last night's ridiculous Phillies win to fill your morning with glow. Suffice it to say, the Eagles 58-37 rout of 1995 Detroit Lions at the old Vet is no longer the biggest pratfall in Philadelphia play-off history.

So here is some material to get us ready for Homecoming. I suggest this Hitler parody of the game at Rutgers suggests we've arrived. "These plays are insane!" It is NSFW.

And, speaking of Army, here is me, a young artillery officer, many years ago in Germany:


Friday, October 08, 2010

Meet The Unbalanced Line

As part of an ongoing tradition here, I am turning Frank Helps You Think It All Out over to The Unbalanced Line. He is answering questions I posed- and a reciprocal exchange is posted over at his site:

Last year you editorialized:

“Army plays Tulane today... Along with Rutgers, I believe that this rivalry should be developed in the long-term.”

I enjoyed this series too- but I am up in the air of the merits of continuing. Of all the teams in I-A, you pick Tulane? Why?

The Unbalanced Line: Of the teams on this year's schedule, Tulane is only Army's 5th most played opponent. Navy, Notre Dame, Air Force, Rutgers and Duke all have significant series against the Cadets. In terms of all Div. 1-A teams it might surprise that Tulane is 10th on the list Army's most played opponents.

The Army/Tulane series began in 1958 and Tulane is the only Conference USA team that Army played more than once before they joined the conference and is the only CUSA team that Army has continued scheduling regularly since leaving CUSA.

The other teams on USMA's most played teams list either actively play Army, or have stopped scheduling the academy years ago.

Army's most played opponents are these:

Team Games Record vs.
Navy (110) 49-54-7
Notre Dame (49) 8-37-4
Air Force (44) 13-30-1
Boston College (36) 12-24-0
Rutgers (36) 18-18-0
Pittsburgh (27) 6-19-2
Penn State (25) 10-13-2
Syracuse (21) 10-11-0
Duke (22) 10-11-1
Tulane (17) 7-9-1
Stanford (10) 5-5-0
Michigan (9) 5-4-0

Penn State (last game 1979), Pitt (1983), Michigan (1962), Stanford (1975) and Syracuse (1996) have for the most part moved on from their respective series. A suppose a lot of that is on Army for seeking out a lighter slate of games. In the context of scheduling competitive games and a desirable series my first thought in Div 1-A is Tulane. New Orleans presents a legitimate jump-off point for non-Texas southern recruiting trips.

An eighteen game series with Army shouldn't constitute a rivalry game to most Tulane fans considering the Green Wave's long history with the SEC, but from Army's perspective as an independent - it's the year 2010 - I think seeking out and building viable traditions and rivalries is far more important than skipping around D1-A taking any old paycheck game or scheduling home and homes with teams like Marshall. Nothing against Marshall, but in my eyes that trip just doesn't complement Army's schedule. Tulane and New Orleans do, and I look forward to this game every year.

Through five weeks of college football, no list of “most improved” would be complete without Army. What few things are most improved?

The Unbalanced Line: I could carry on all day about Army's improvement. Most notably, Army's offense is sustaining drives and scoring points. Last year the team had a difficult time doing anything with the football and the whole year it kind of seemed that the offense just wasn't comfortable in its own skin. Looking at 2010 the comparison is night and day. Army’s 2010 points per game through the first 5 games simply doubles last year's average; 30.6 ppg up from 15.3 ppg.

A lot of that comes with having such a veteran unit. To my knowledge, Army's starting five O-linemen have played every offensive snap of the season. That not only speaks to their ability, but to their experience as well.

The Black Knights are running an actual fullback this year with the addition of Air Force transfer Jared Hassin. He's a tough player who can endure the rigors of the position. It's the nature of the flexbone offense that the fullback will get drilled on every play and Hassin is a definite step up at fullback from last year's reliance on the more speedy guys that are better suited finding the edge as slotbacks.

This year's Army team is playing actual football - and playing to win. Last year in every game it kind of seemed like the team's scheme was held together with duct tape. In 2009 the team appeared to be a football team, and they were definitely playing the game of football - but things just had a feel like they could unravel at any time. This year is completely different, you will see a much sharper Army team on Saturday (well, at least for those who plan on attending the game will.)

Army opens as a slight road favorite. Your game prediction?

The Unbalanced Line: I don't normally do predictions, but I'll give it a guess. Without knowing the status of some of Army's key defensive pieces... I like Army's chances to control the clock and I'll pick the Black Knights 27-17.

Thanks for having me aboard for this guest post it’s been a lot of fun. Good luck and enjoy the game!

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Prediction Thursday

Before starting, tomorrow we will have a special guest post from The Unbalanced Line- my fellow BlogPoll voter who covers Army. There is a good bit about the history of Tulane-Army, so be sure to check here tomorrow in the AM.

Obviously we can't have a guest today- because it is time for Prediction Thursday. In a sign of this blog’s durability, I have already picked five Tulane-Army tilts: 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The mark ATS is a perfect 5-0 in those games, plus 4-0 ATS this year. So pay attention folks.

The New York Post, official line supplier to Prediction Thursday, lists Tulane -1 over Army- a flip flop from Army -1 earlier in the week. This is perhaps not surprising. Both teams can lay claim to the somewhat dubious title of “most improved train wreck from 2009”.

I’ll be straightforward. Much like last year, I like Tulane in this spot.

After last year’s game, I waggishly wrote that DT Oscar Ponce de Leon would never have to worry what was the finest game he played in his Tulane career. He utterly wrecked Army’s option offense last year.

Fifth year senior Ponce de Leon is a somewhat atypical C-USA defensive tackle. In a League that prizes mobility over raw size and strength, Ponce de Leon suffers getting to the quarterback (he has half a sack in his career!) or supporting the edge. He is a sort of 1980s NFL-style tackle- the era of Refrigerator Perry and the like. He owns the real estate under him, but occasionally not much else.

But when defending this option, when you must stop the dives and plays around the center gaps, Ponce de Leon is invaluable. He was awesome versus Army last year- plugging the center of the field.

The Cadets could not move him. Those wide o-line splits they love got narrower and narrower, more and more Wave defenders cheated to the exterior, and Army’s option died. Tulane was terrible on defense last year, but kept Army’s vaunted rushing attack to 3.5 yards a pop.

Army touts the stability of its offen sive line as a strength, but to me it means the Cadets return the same cast of characters up front that could not do anything with the Wave defense last year. Main actors Reed (okay), Peterson (not okay) and Merzi (pretty okay at guard, problematic at tackle) just aren’t a very good unit. Army could not block them last year; I doubt they will this year either.

Worse for the Cadets, the source of Tulane’s improvement is further reinforcements to the defensive front, middle linebacker and improved safety play. Tulane is quite good against the run inside. They still lack good perimeter defenders- corners and OLBs- but Army doesn’t throw effectively enough to stop the Wave from cheating the safeties all over the place.

Following that thought, if you wanted to design a team to give the Wave-problems, it would a pass-first team (exploit the lack of defensive backfield speed) with running backs that could catch passes in the flats (exploit the OLBs coverage and tackling issues). Conversely, to make Army nuts, I would seek to speed up the defense (to get to those mis-direction, outside the OTs, rushing attempts) and increase the importance of the forward pass (which Army is loathe to attempt).

Which is exactly what playing in the antiseptic, quick turf Dome does. Army dodged the Dome in 2008 (routing Tulane on, ugh, natural grass). But in 2006, Tulane dumped like 500 yards of offense on them. It literally took Army like 45 game minutes to get acclimated to the speed at which receivers could run and the accuracy and depth with which quarterbacks could throw.

The Dome rewards the forward pass. And Tulane QB Ryan Griffin is more equipped to deliver that than any Army alternative(s). Albeit raw, Griffin is the spread prototype- high completion percentage, spread the ball, no turnovers. Army’s defensive backfield is much slower than the recent versions on display versus Houston, Mississippi and Rutgers. Those missing YAC totals will surface this week- and Griffin finally has a C-USA style defensive backfield that will not always stay up, catch up or be able to react quickly to a missed play in the secondary.

Army is improved- but this is a bad match up for them. It feels a lot like the 2006 pick frankly (gosh, the blog really is old). The venue, nature of Tulane’s interior defense and quarterback disparity are problematic for Army. They lose by at least ten. I’ll try to move the season mark ATS to a perfect 5-0 by taking Tulane -1 over Army.

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