Air 'Wave' Completes Non-Conference Slate

There are higher profile games than Texas versus Tulane this Saturday, 6 p.m. at DKR (TBS national telecast). But for the entertainment dollar, few matchups are more absorbing than when the nation&#146;s top passer (Tulane&#146;s <B>J. P. Losman</B>) tries to air it out against Texas&#146; top-ranked pass defense (91.6 ypg).

The Horns are sticking out their chests again, following a 48-7 drubbing of a Rice team that will be fortunate to win four games all year. Tulane (3-1) and it’s high-flying offense presents a legitimate foe for the Horns, who don’t want to stink up the joint when returning home for the first time since the Arkansas shocker. The Green Wave is coming off just its second bowl win since 1970 and have won three since its season-opening loss to No. 19 TCU.

Other than knocking off a reeling Mississippi State team, Tulane is a team on the upswing but still looking for the feather in the cap that comes from upsetting a major D-I power. It’s not likely to come against Texas but, then again, few people had Arkansas tabbed to upend the Horns in their own pasture. Tulane athletic officials are ecstatic that the program has sold more season tickets (approximately 16,000) than at any time in recent memory. The Wave will be playing in front of as many folks Saturday as they will in four combined home games. But operating so close to Bourbon Street will help prepare the squad for a big time college atmosphere, Tulane Coach Chris Scelfo said. His guys may also be too young to be intimidated, he added.

"I don’t think they’re old enough to react any other way except to go in there and play a football game," Scelfo said. "We have a bunch of guys on our team that just started shaving; they’re not going to know, I don’t think they’ll know what kind of environment they’re going into. If they’re worrying about the environment, it’s going to be a long day, I can assure you that. They better worry about them Longhorns."

RECENT HISTORY

Texas holds a 16-1-1 mark against Tulane, but the phat stat in this series is that the Horns have pitched 10 shutouts, including the past four (21-0 in 1963, 31-0 in 1964 and '65 and 49-0 last year).

In 2002, Texas held a 14-0 lead at halftime on the strength of two Chris Simms’ TD passes and a bend-but-don’t-break defense. But UT scored on Selvin Young’s 71-yard punt return, Cedric Griffin’s missed FG return and also converted after a fumble on a kickoff return to break the game open in the second half. Losman was 13-of-29 passing for 127 yards and 2 INT in the Texas loss last season.

"I told our team on Sunday this is the only sport where the ball isn’t round so anything can happen," Scelfo said. "We have to play as well as we can and get some help from them, but our kids are going to compete and play hard; we can’t make mistakes. Every opportunity we have, we’re not going to get many of them, every opportunity we have we have to capitalize on them; last year we didn’t."

TULANE OFFENSE

Ask any around Denius Field this week, and they’ll compare Tulane’s offense to but one other squad: Texas Tech (shudder).

"We’ve got great respect for Tulane’s offense," head coach Mack Brown said. "Those guys are moving the ball as good as anybody. We’re going to have to play really well to slow them down. It’ll be fun for our fans to watch one of the best throwing quarterbacks in the country."

Losman’s 1,355 yards and 15 TDs (through four games) leads the nation while directing college footballs No. 8 passing attack (338 ypg). A quick turnaround from defending Rice’s ball-control option game, Tulane’s spread offense will typically line up in four- or five-wide sets.

"Most of the pro scouts have their quarterback ranked the number one quarterback prospect in the country," Texas QB Chance Mock said. "That’s a tough challenge for our defense. Last week we faced a great rush offense, this week we face a great passing attack."

Fortunately, LDE Bryan Pickryl returned from a shoulder injury that cost him a start at Rice while his backup Mike Williams returned from a spring training knee injury and saw limited action last weekend.

"We’ll have to rotate defensive linemen against Tulane because they throw the ball so much," Brown said. "They run a no-huddle offense so they wear you out very much like Tech does, so we’ll have to look at a lot of different pass rushers."

Losman threw for 350 yards and five touchdowns as Tulane downed Army, 50-33, last Saturday. Favorite wideout Roydell Williams snagged three TD passes in the contest. Their version of Roy Williams entered the 2002 season as the Wave’s leading receiver, after leading the team in receiving yards (886) and yards-per-catch (15.8).

Two weeks before the '02 Texas game, Williams fractured the distal tibia bone in his left leg and was lost for the season. (Of course, UT's version of Roydell Williams did not play in last year’s game either). In Roydell’s absence, slot receiver Tristan Smith emerged as Tulane’s top receiver with 43 catches and a team-leading five TD grabs.

"They’re working on all cylinders right now," Brown said. "They’re playing really, really well. They’re better than they were last year, and they got better after us. They’ll feel like they can come in here with a chance to win, without question."

Statistically, senior RB Mewelde Moore is the top running back in the history of both Tulane football and Conference-USA. By the end of his junior campaign, Moore owned 23 school records, including single-season and career (3,449) rushing marks. Heading into this season, Moore had more career rushing yards and all-purpose yards (5,182) than any other returning D-I player.

In fact, Moore and RB Cedric Benson are just one of three returning D-I backs who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. Voted preseason Conference-USA Player of the Year by league coaches, Moore was held to 52 yards in 15 attempts against Texas last year.

"We beat them last year so they’re probably hungry this year," SE Roy Williams said. "They’ve got that quarterback who’s probably going to try to make a bigger name for himself (against Texas) in order to put himself more out there."

If anything, it’s not likely that Texas will shut out Tulane’s balanced and high-flying offense for the fifth consecutive time.

"If we execute, then I think our system has been proven that we can move the ball and score," Scelfo said. "Take the last four games, when we hurt ourselves, that’s when we didn’t move the ball. We missed blocks, had penalties, dropped passes, missed reads; if we execute, we should be able to move the ball and score."

TULANE DEFENSE

It wouldn’t be a stretch to report that Texas players tried hard all week to say something nice about Tulane’s defense (giving up 33 points to Army?). It’s not that the Wave defense is terrible, but that it is terribly young.

The unit that led the nation in turnovers gained (43) and registered 48 sacks in 2002 is, essentially, long gone. Tulane replaced eight defensive starters, including its entire line and secondary.

"Tulane is going to come in and blitz a lot and play a lot of different coverages against us to try and confuse us," Brown predicted.

The one thing we can predict is the unit’s strength will be its linebackers. WLB Anthony Cannon was one of college football’s top true freshman last year, ranking second nationally in tackles by a freshman while pacing Tulane with 114 stops.

Senior SLB Wesley Heath posted a career-high 13 tackles (5 solo) against Texas last year while MLB Brandt Quick (a Kansas State transfer) was his team’s third leading tackler last season with 97 (51 solo).

Tulane’s cornerbacks may be inexperienced but they’re also short. (Every one of ‘em gives up four or five inches to Roy, and every one is either a freshman or sophomore). A pair of juniors (FS Joey Dawson, SS Tra Borger) represent the safety valve between Williams and the goal line

"Those DBs will always be up for the challenge," Williams said. "They’re gonna try to shut down the running game since they saw that we ran the ball so well (at Rice)."

Smart teams will concede the running game to Texas and try to contain Williams, as Arkansas did, keeping the Legend out of the end zone the entire game. Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Benson is hoping Texas will employ a more smash mouth game against the Wave (he gets more carries that way).

"Just come out and play hard-nosed football." Benson said. "Line up head-to-head. Go straight at ‘em and see who’s the best man."

TEXAS VS TULANE: A FAMILY AFFAIR

Greg Davis, Junior is now in his fourth year as Tulane’s running backs coach while Greg Davis, Senior, of course, is in his sixth year as Texas’ offensive coordinator. Father and son spoke Sunday (as they typically do) to debrief about the other’s game -- but that was about it for game week, Brown reported. And as far as any divided loyalty from Greg Senior’s wife: "Mama knows where her paycheck is coming from," Brown said.

Brown was head coach at Tulane from 1985-87, taking a 1-10 team to a 6-6 Independence Bowl team before departing for North Carolina. The elder Davis succeeded Brown as head coach (1988-91), after Brown lobbied heavily for his hiring.

This is how the Tulane media guide remembers Davis:

(1988) "Greg Davis…was promoted to the top spot for the 1988 season and led his first Green Wave team to a 5-6 record."

(1990) "Coach Greg Davis entered the 1990 campaign with aspirations for his first winning season, but instead finished 4-7."

(1991) "The 1991 season was one of the most trying in Tulane football annals as the Green Wave struggled to a 1-10 record. The season opened with nine consecutive losses…Late in the season, Coach Greg Davis announced his resignation, effective after the last game."


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