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.

Labels: ,