I am worried about this one…more than the nail-biter over in Murfreesboro last week. Not sure if it is because I had to travel all week this week and am mentally shot or if it is simply because this Tulane team is such a dichotomy for our players. On the one hand, our program has thoroughly dominated the Tulane program in the 12 contests we have had with them to-date. On the other hand, the Green Wave has been slowly reeling our program in over the years. They could have won the last two games at the dome, both in 2008 and 2012. We managed a blowout win over them at home in 2011, but on the road without fans (as my friend Kev Monroe articulated nicely today over at Bonesville) our team has struggled and last season, a good portion of the Tulane defense forced Shane Carden into one of his poorer games, where he was intercepted twice. Of course, while Shane was still getting used to the starter’s role, we were fortunate that Vintavious Cooper, Reggie Bullock and Carden himself were able to move the ball on the ground effectively.
What we need to understand about the present situation at ECU is that – particularly this season – we are pretty much tantamount to each of our C-USA opponent’s biggest game. Maybe not their Super Bowl, but close and that we are leaving for the AAC, there is an additional layer of reasons why each CUSA opponent is going to be sky high to play us. MTSU played their best game of the season – particularly defensively – against us and we struggled to put them away. Here, you have a very confident Tulane defense that played us well a year ago, looking to prove themselves. I fear we come up short if we don’t put them down early.
Our offense is much better than last year and their defense is much better than last year, so even if it is a push there, it seems that our Defense holds our fate again this week. The Pirates defense is quietly proving to be an equal member in the success of this team and right now, we need them to really rise up and put a hurt on the Tulane offense. We need pressure this week in big quantities so that the Defense can engineer some turnovers (maybe even a score) and give our offense a shorter field than we normally require. I worry about our receiver depth and experience. With Webster out and Zico Pasut injured, some of the guys who have shown flashes of greatness now need to be consistently good because Shane needs to be able to dial them up now, more often (guys like Isaiah Jones and Bryce Williams)…maybe we see DaQuan Barnes and Cam Worthy getting more looks.
On offense, we really need efficiency like in the UNC game, where we are executing the routine plays over and over again and we need Coop and Hairston to really battle for yards on each touch. They don’t have to run wild, we can take 3 yards and a cloud of whatever that surface produce. Most of all, our offensive line has to come out on the first drive – like in fairness, they have all season – and PUNCH TULANE in the mouth…hard. Otherwise, this Tulane defense is going to get sky high and could make life tough for our offense.
We can’t have special teams shortfalls either…no missed field goals, no blown kick coverages, no lapses on kick returns – stay in the end zone when you should, catch the punt when you should.
Yes, not real confident this week – for whatever reason. I am confident we can and should win, I just worry that we have not yet shown that we can play at a consistently high level despite our opponent. We still seem to rise and fall to the level of who we are playing. And, for Tulane, a win over us validates their program’s growth…we are the proverbial HUMP that they need to get over to become a higher level program. Can’t do that…not in the midst of a season that is laid out to be a special one.
Which leads me to the biggest point. Can our kids take on the role of elite (or at least king of the CUSA hill) team? Can we go into that vacant dome and simply execute? Can our kids be agnostic to the opponent and their reputation as a program? This is a BIG test for our kids football culture. If they win it by 1 or 100, it will continue to validate that our kids play with grit, have heart, all that and more. But, if we go there and EXECUTE and run this team out, it will demonstrate that our kids are starting to allow their talent to lead the way and their mindset to be under control which will go a long way in allowing the program to separate itself from the status quo of CUSA and tendency to play up or down to our competition. The difference between our program, IMO, right now and the dominant teams is that we still don’t dictate the game to our opponents enough…we typically are willing to follow the other team’s lead.
We have always operated on that “want power” that former Coach Ed Emory drove into the program. I agree that it is some powerful stuff. But really, now, we need to start asserting the will of our program on opponents. And if we cannot do that in CUSA against programs like Tulane, MTSU, FAU, FIU, and that ilk – no disrespect intended – then we are a lot further away from where I know many of us see us and a lot closer to the program that at times is the brunt of jokes from teams that sit in the power conferences.
Food for thought.
I need some of you to push some Pirate mojo my way…got to feel better by tomorrow so I can send positive vibes our team’s way.