2005 Defense Does Not Appear To Stack Up To 2002

2005 Defense Does Not Appear To Stack Up To 2002

Statistically the defense can be seen to be improving and very likely will continue to improve as the d'front gets more game experience in 2005

Although there have been outstanding plays and outstanding performances by individual d'linemen during preseason camp, and sophomore Frank Morton appears to have had an excellent camp, the consistent ease with which Tulane's veteran offensive line has handled the Green Wave defensive line in preseason camp has illuminated the fact that, although there's considerable talent and decent depth on the d'line, Tulane's defensive front has not yet returned to the apex of the experience cycle, which most recently the Green Wave faithful witnessed in the play of the 2002 team's defensive front that totalled 48 sacks and caused 43 turnovers.

Down in the trenches, where many observers think games are won and lost, it's physical and emotional maturity that adds up to success. In short, on either side of the ball the younger you are up front, the harder it is to win.

The success of the 2002 defense was predicated on the pressure, especially from the edge, that the the senior-dominated defensive front (5 seniors started at one time or another) was able to generate, combined with the turnover-producing play of a group of senior ball hawks in the secondary.

Unlike 2002, the strength of the 2005 defense will be the linebacker and safety positions, those being the positions stocked with seniors.

There's just not enough d'linemen with enough years in the program nor enough snaps under their belt, for that unit to reach the heights that the 2002 defense reached. There should be improvement this year in the d'line's performance over the past two seasons, but barring a near-miracle, the result won't be a defense that can bring the same kind heat on opposing quarterbacks that the 2002 defense could. And it's the heat on the opposing quarterback that causes turnovers in the numbers like those that the 2002 defense produced.

The year after the loss of the five senior d'linemen who led the team to the 2002 Hawaii Bowl victory, Eric Schuman's defense accounted for only 31 turnovers and 15 sacks. In 2004 the season turnover numbers dwindled to a meagre 13, while sacks increased to 27.

Part of the explanation for the decline in defensive production the past two seasons is that in addition to the loss of the 4 seniors, by the beginning of the 2004 season Tulane lost all four d'linemen who signed in the spring of 2001 due to injury and academic problems. The last of the four - Willie Christian - was available for action in the 2003 season, but was not with the team thereafter.

For the record, the youth-dominated defenses of 2003 and 2004 allowed 5,575 yards of total offense and 424 points in 2003, and 361 points and 4,633 yards total offense in 2004.

Some improvement is visible in that the average rushing yards per carry declined from 4.9 per attempt in 2003 to 4.4 yards per attempt in 2004.

Statistically the defense can be seen to be improving and very likely will continue to improve as the d'front gets more game experience in 2005.

But a comparison of the career stats of the 2005 d'line unit to the single season stats for the 2002 d'line group illustrates the point that the 2005 aggregation has not seen enough action to be considered a reliable bet to consistently control the line of scrimmage for the Green Wave this season.

That's not to say that there can't be a performance or two, or three, equivalant to that of Floyd Dorsey, Roxie Shelvin or Kenan Blackmon in 2002, when the three combined for 173 tackles, 56 tackles for losses, and 23.5 sacks.

In their careers, the SEVEN most experienced defensive linemen on the 2005 team have combined for 345 tackles, 50 tackles for losses, and 17 sacks.

Now here's your silver lining: observers intimate with both of the Green Wave's first two opponents, USM and Mississippi State, say without equivocation that the o'line units at both schools are major weaknesses.

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