Forté's Showing Bittersweet



Oct. 28, 2007

By John DeShazier
New Orleans Times Picayune

This isn't a Wave. It's a tsunami.

And watching Matt Forté run for what seems like as many yards per game as he wants is one of the most unbelievable events Tulane football has had the privilege of calling its own, and probably one of the most under-watched treats in college football history.

Think about it.

The leading rusher in the nation is in New Orleans, laboring in relative anonymity nationally and playing in front of home crowds at the Superdome that are so sparse -- Saturday's official attendance against Memphis was 23,267; unofficially, slice that in half for a count that's closer to the truth -- that the wonder is if we, who call ourselves informed football fans, truly grasp and appreciate what we're seeing.

"He is one of the greatest backs I have ever been associated with," Tulane Coach Bob Toledo said Saturday, for the umpteenth time. "He's very deserving of being an All-American, very deserving of being a Heisman Trophy candidate.

"I think he's the best running back in the country."

That case, obviously, can be made.

"It's no big deal to me, really," Forté said. "I'm just doing what I was coached to do, what God blessed me to do. It's no surprise to me."

It's getting to be less of a surprise to the rest of us, too.

Forget the team's results, as selfish as that might sound. True, team triumph is the ultimate measure of success, and obviously Forté would trade in a couple hundred yards for a couple more wins. But by that standard, Tulane (2-6) has lacked, almost inventing new ways to lose this season in defeats to Army (20-17 in overtime) and Alabama-Birmingham (26-21).

And Saturday's 28-27 loss to Memphis was particularly awful. Forté lost a fumble at Memphis' 1-yard line in the first quarter (he thought he crossed the goal line and the ground caused the dislodge). Kicker Ross Thevenot missed a 22-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter that might've given the Green Wave an insurmountable 30-21 lead (he pushed it right). And the last two offensive plays for Tulane were chaos: A receiver who should've been called out of bounds after a reception with 17 seconds remaining wasn't, and the Green Wave spent precious time arguing in favor of a correction instead of stopping a non-stopped game clock. Time expired on the final play, with Tulane out of field-goal range.



"I blame myself for that one," Toledo said.

But with team success rare, there's no reason to not put Forté under the microscope, to dissect, inspect and enjoy every morsel of his historic senior season.

He entered Saturday averaging 180.1 yards per game and had run for 186, on 22 carries at halftime, his style a combination of elegance, balance and power that's a little more advanced than what Tulane opponents are accustomed to handling.

He entered Saturday with four 200-plus yard rushing games this season and three in a row, and upped the numbers to five and four -- with 278 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries.

Obviously, we should slow down long enough to pay homage to an offensive line that has been superb.

A player doesn't run for a single-season school-record 1,539 yards, Forté's total with four games left, on his own. Tulane's offensive line has been just as forceful as Forté during his run to All-America status -- and if he's not an All-American, every organization that names a team should stop. Best of all, the yards keep piling up even though every Tulane opponent knows who's getting the ball, how many times he's going to get it and where he's going to run it.

Regardless of competition, that's impressive, and it's more than a coach sanely can ask.

But it can't be done without the right kind of back, and Tulane, obviously, has the right kind of guy.

"(Memphis Coach) Tommy West said, 'Wow. Is that guy special,' " Toledo said.

Said West: "We stacked the box about as much as you could stack it; we just couldn't tackle him."

Forté scored on a 51-yard run and on a 1-yard run. He ran over some defenders and around some.

"Same old, same old," joked Tulane quarterback Anthony Scelfo. "I mean, it's getting kind of old."

Seriously, only the losing is.

"It's probably the most bittersweet that you can get," Forté said. "You have a good game and have a call like that and lost that way. It hurts."

And this season, he has been the only pain reliever.