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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