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September 27, 2006
Tulane's long road trip ends
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Last season the Tulane Green Wave played football games in Shreveport, La., Baton Rouge, La., Ruston, La., Lafayette, La., Monroe, La. and Mobile, Ala.
And those were the home games.
After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina last August, the nomadic Green Wave — which has played its last 16 games in 15 different stadiums — returns home this weekend. For the first time since Dec. 4, 2004 home actually means home.
No more entering sparsely-filled stadiums to polite applause. No more playing in front of supportive strangers, who'd like for you to win but won't lose sleep over a loss. No more feeling like you just don't belong.
The return is so anticipated that the cover of Tulane's media guide features a photo of the Louisana Superdome with the caption: "Back Home in the Dome."
A big crowd is expected for Saturday's game against SMU.
"It feels like you're part of a Division I football program," Tulane coach Chris Scelfo said of the atmosphere surrounding Tulane's return home. "This is what the kids here signed up for. It's important that we are back and having them have the experience of what it should be like."
That experience sure beats what the Green Wave endured a year ago after Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29. The levees that protected New Orleans from flooding broke the next day.
Scelfo took his team to Jackson, Miss., then Dallas and then Ruston, La. In Dallas, a hotel ballroom was used as a locker room and chairs were used as lockers.
Normally, players would have been studying game plans and learning tendencies of opponents. Instead, they were worrying about families and what remained of their homes.
Although New Orleans is getting back to normal, there are some players on the Tulane roster still affected by Katrina — whether their homes were damaged or their families were displaced.
"There are a lot of guys on the team (whose lives) won't be back to normal for a long time," Scelfo said. "But we can't concern ourselves with the past. We have to worry about the present.
There is a feeling of optimism at Tulane. The Green Wave returned 12 starters from last year's team. Although they're 1-2, those losses were to unbeaten Houston and LSU. They defeated Southeastern Conference opponent Mississippi State.
"I don't know that we've been very consistent," Scelfo said. "We've got to learn to play four quarters, and stay healthy. But we've got real good character and outstanding kids."
And they've finally got a home game, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have a home field advantage.
"We haven't played in the Dome in two years," Scelfo said. "We're not familiar with the Dome, either."
Three questions with Michigan tackle Jake Long
The big question about Michigan coming into the season was whether the rebuilt offensive line would hold up. Has that question been answered?
"I think a little bit. We've been able to run the ball pretty well in the first few games and we've gotten better in pass protection. We still have a lot of work to do on some things we're not doing good enough yet. Right now, we've definitely proven ourselves in the running game."
What are the areas in which you feel the offensive line must improve?
"We're giving up to many sacks and getting Chad (Henne, quarterback) hit too many times. That's a point of emphasis we're working on. We just want to be complete players. I think we're becoming a strength of the team. I think we will be a force."
The Wolverines have gotten off to a fast start after going 7-5 last season. Did you anticipate such a good start?
"I'm not surprised at all. We had a great offseason. We had a bad taste in our mouths after last season and this offseason everybody worked hard and knew what we had to do, so we were fired up for this season. We can be a special team — all of us know that. We have to keep working hard and proving ourselves every week, but I'm not surprised. I have a lot of faith in this team."
Who is E. King Gill? (Answer at the end of the column.)
It's Patrick's Turn(er) at USC
USC All-American receiver Dwayne Jarrett is likely to be sidelined this weekend against Washington State because of a sprained left shoulder. Jarrett's injury should lead to more opportunities for sophomore receiver Patrick Turner.
"I just want to go out and make plays," Turner said.
At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Turner is as physically impressive as the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Jarrett, but has a ways to go to match Jarrett's productivity.
Through three games, Jarrett has 20 catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns. Turner has four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
"Patrick gives us no reason to think he can't be a significant part of the offense if Dwayne can't go," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We're losing the all-time touchdown maker in the history of the Pac-10. We're losing a ton."
Hoosiers coach returning to sideline
Indiana's game against Wisconsin on Saturday will be charged with emotion because Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner will be back on the sideline.
Hoeppner, who had a tumor removed from his right temple in December, underwent brain surgery again on Sept. 13 after a scan showed a spot in the same area where the tumor was removed. Fortunately, the spot proved to be scar tissue.
"I'm honored to be here," Hoeppner said last week. "I'm honored to be anywhere today."
Indiana is 2-2 and lost games against Southern Illinois and Connecticut while assistant Bill Lynch served as interim head coach.
E. King Gill is Texas A&M's original 12th man.