Oct. 24, 2007
By Les East
Baton Rouge Advocate
If Tulane running back Matt Forté got as much attention from the national media as he's getting from opposing defenses, he'd practically be a shoo-in for the Heisman Trophy.
Forté continues to run through, past and over opposing defenders -- most of whom are congregating near the line of scrimmage to try and corral him -- at a record-shattering rate. He leads the nation in rushing yards (1,261) and rushing yards per game (180.1).
"One of the things we try and do is scheme up some formations and runs to be able to block the eighth or ninth defender in the box," coach Bob Toledo said at the Green Wave's weekly news conference Tuesday. "It's not easy. Sometimes you can't block them all and Matt has to block the safety when he has the ball. He's done a good job with that."
Forté has two 300-yard rushing games and two more 200-yard games. Through seven games he has the second-highest single-season rushing total in Tulane history and needs 160 yards -- 20 below his per-game average -- against Memphis on Saturday in the Superdome to break the single-season record. He's on pace to finish with 2,161 yards.
Those are just the highlights on a laundry list of accomplishments that, had they been achieved by a back playing in a BCS Conference, would be generating round-the-clock talk. Instead, Forté's name is just becoming known beyond Uptown New Orleans.
"That's the frustrating thing for me," said Toledo, a former UCLA coach, "if he was playing for me at UCLA, he'd be a Heisman Trophy candidate. But because we're not winning and we're not in a BCS conference, he's not getting the recognition he deserves."
Last week against SMU Forté rushed for a school and Conference USA-record 342 yards (on 38 carries) and four touchdowns in a 41-34 overtime victory.
That performance -- his third straight 200-yard rushing game -- earned him the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week award for the second time this season. The other came last month after he set the short lived record with 303 yards (on 40 carries) and a school-record five touchdowns against Southeastern Louisiana.
Forté, who has the top two rushing performances by a Division I-Bowl Subdivision running back this season, said he understands that playing at a non-BCS school without a strong tradition of winning and on a 2-5 team makes it difficult for him to get noticed.
"The recognition doesn't matter," quarterback Anthony Scelfo said. "He doesn't care. We know what he can do. People who really know college football know the kind of season he's having."
The three games in which Forté failed to get 200 yards -- losses to Mississippi State, Houston and LSU -- sizable second-half deficits limited him to an average of 16 carries, less than half of his average in the other four games.
"He could easily have rushed for over 100 yards in all of those games," Toledo said. "The last few weeks, we haven't had to get out of our game plan. We were able to stick to our game plan, continue to run the football and play-action pass. That has helped him and us.
"I've said he's a great player. I reserve that word for very few people, and he's a great football player. He's really our football team right now, offensively."
Toledo said the attention that Forté is attracting from defenses is providing the Green Wave with numerous opportunities for big pass plays, but the most of the opportunities have been missed.
"If you're going to put eight or nine guys in the box, we have to make them pay by hitting the big one," Toledo said. "Unfortunately, we haven't hit many of those. So they might put 10 or 11 guys in the box to try and stop the run."
It might be left up to Forté to hit the big pass play. Six times this season he has tried a halfback pass. None have been completed, but each of the last two games he threw a pass that could, and perhaps should, have been a touchdown.
Toledo said it's tempting to start throwing the ball constantly against the run-obsessed defenses Forté is attracting, but with the conference's least efficient passing game, he'll resist the temptation.
"We're going to continue to ride the horse that's winning the race right now," he said.
Toledo estimated 40-50 area scouts for NFL teams have come to see Green Wave practices and games. He expects that number to grow, as well as the prominence of the visitors, as word spreads.
"All the pro scouts who come out and watch practice, they're coming out and saying `wow'," Toledo said. "I think the bigger scouts, general managers and the big wheels will come out to watch him play and practice because he's getting that kind of attention now. The area scouts go back and say, `Hey, you've got to go see this guy.'"