NEW ORLEANS - It’s not what you do. It’s how you do it.
Those words ring particularly true for Tulane’s football team as it prepares to face a predictable yet complex Army offense at 11 a.m. Saturday in West Point, N.Y.
Using a wishbone backfield and running the triple option on nearly every play has been a staple of the Black Knights’ offense for the better part of a century.
Every opponent knows exactly what Army (1-3) is going to do when it has the ball. It’s up to the defense to execute well enough to stop it.
This season is no different.
Through four games, Army has rushed 274 times and passed just 34. In its 48-21 loss to Ball State on Saturday, the Black Knights failed to complete a pass in four attempts, never departing from the game plan even when trailing by 38 points midway through the third quarter.
Still, Tulane coach Bob Toledo thinks this is the most difficult game to prepare for all season, particularly since the Green Wave’s roster is built to defend Conference USA opponents like Tulsa, Houston and SMU, which employ spread offenses, a polar opposite to Army’s option.
“It’s the most difficult thing because you have to have a completely different game plan than you do the rest of the year because of what you’re facing,” Toledo said. “You can’t go in with the same type of things that you’re used to doing. That’s why they do it, Air Force and Navy and all of them. It’s just tough, tough to get ready for.”
Army has won three of its past four meetings with the Green Wave (2-2), including a 41-23 win in the Superdome last season and a 44-13 win at Tad Gormley Stadium in 2008. Both times, Army sliced Tulane up the middle with bruising fullbacks, and controlled the clock through its deliberate ground game.
Tulane’s defense expects to see the strategy again.
“It’s not that we don’t know what they’re going to do,” Tulane linebacker Trent Mackey said. “We just have to keep our assignments, stay disciplined and focused. It’s all about doing what we’re supposed to do over and over and over again and not biting on their fakes.”
Predictability has been a popular topic among an anxious Tulane fan base this week, after the Wave’s 48-27 loss to Duke last week, spurred by the comments of Blue Devils’ safety Matt Daniels who told the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News he knew what play Tulane was going to call when it lined up.
“We knew them like the back of our hands,” Daniels told the newspaper. “We knew what routes they were going to run based on their alignment, their formation, what personnel was in.”
Toledo responded by pinning his offensive struggles on his team’s poor execution, rather than the perception of telegraphed play-calling. While Toledo has openly admitted his system is based on establishing the running game to set up play-action passes, he said he doesn’t believe the plays he called caused the lack of offensive production (2.5 yards per carry).
“We came out with three different formations,” Toledo said. “Were they watching practice? I don’t know. We didn’t play good, and it had nothing to do with the plays. Trust me. It had to do with us not blocking people and us not separating from people and not catching the ball. Then on defense, we just didn’t do the right thing.”
To Toledo, the difference was a matter of performing. He said it will also decide what happens Saturday afternoon at Michie Stadium.
Because Tulane already knows what Army is going to do. It comes down to which team can do it better.