Although the Green Wave has played only four games under Toledo, it's not untoward to say that Saturday's game is a critical point in the veteran coach's young Tulane tenure. A loss to Army at this juncture would be like getting on the interstate headed in the wrong direction.
A win in the coach's first game, and the first game of a three game road swing, would set the stage for a better season than most observers have expected, while a loss would diminish the fan enthusiasm that the Green Wave's competitive showing and great effort for three quarters against No.1 LSU has stoked.
And momentum on the field would be reflected in the stands.
The first three of those four games are on the road and in college football road wins are a precious commodity. A win in each of the four games, or even in three of the four can only be achieved by the Green Wave suddenly becoming able to consistently reproduce the level of effort they displayed in the LSU game.
Unfortunately, the bugbear of building or rebuilding football programs is consistency and that will be the biggest burden that Toledo and his coaching staff face this season, getting a consistent performance from a Tulane football team that has been anything but consistent.
So Army, sporting a 2-3 record, is the first hurdle that the Green Wave will face as they try to escape the undertow. The Cadets are a team whose season appears so far to have taken a similiar course to Tulane's.
The Knights have lost to Akron, Wake Forest, and Boston College, and own victories over winless Temple and 1-AA Rhode Island, while the Green Wave has lost to Houston and Mississippi State as well as LSU, while defeating 1-AA Southeastern Louisiana.
The game will turn as most games do on control of the line of scrimmage. If Tulane's linemen can maintain control of the LOS and keep Army's explosive return men from ripping off long returns, the Wave should win.
Army's offense should be controllable if the Green Wave front four and linebackers play with the intensity thy showed against the Tigers and can remain assignment perfect.
On the other side of the ball, Tulane has Matt Forte, a weapon that the Army offense can't match. Four years ago Forte exploded on the Cadet defense for 216 yards on 34 carries, with 159 of those yards coming in the second half as the Green Wave posted a 45-31 victory. That game was as close as it was because Army's then kick returner, Scott Wesley, returned seven kickoffs for 269 yards and a touchdown.
A steady diet of Forte should once again be more than the Cadet defense can handle. And a performance like Forte mounted against Southeastern Louisiana two weeks ago should disarm the Army defense's pass rush.
The blocking matchup between Tulane's wide receivers and Army strong safety Caleb Campbell is one to watch. Campbell has the reputation of being a big hitter and he'll be looking to put the hurt on Forte. But as it looks right now, Toledo's saddle will be on his big horse Matt Forte, the Green Wave's No. 1 meal ticket.