This is it. The Northwest Conference game of the year and if you couldn’t tell I’m pretty darn excited. Before the beginning of the year most Linfield fans expected for the ‘Cats to be right in the middle of playing for the NWC championship but Willamette has been a big surprise this season. The Bearcats lost some outstanding linebackers, a two time all-american offensive lineman, and both their kicking specialists. I thought Willamette would be solid because they were returning some talent but I had no idea they would being coming into the ‘Catdome on the roll they’ve been on this season. Even with some injuries the Bearcats have been cruising right along with contributions from all phases of their team.
It should be a special atmosphere and I think it will be an instant classic of a ball game. Tradition rivals, playoff implications, conference championship implications, bragging rights, etc. are all on the line. Is it Saturday yet?
Know Your Foe (Ripped 90% from Wikipedia)
Bearcat. A common question you hear when Willamette comes up is “What the hell is a Bearcat?”. Well, it’s not the tool in the photo on the right with the crappy tattoo. But I do have your answer.
Bearcats are actually a “Binturong”. It’s neither a bear nor a cat but is a four legged fuzzy creature that lives in the forest canopy of rainforests throughout Asia. They have a tail but it’s fully prehensile, which means they use it like a fifth hand. They’re not really big and are the size of a small dog. Their ears are small and round and have beady eyes with coarse and thick black fur.
Bearcats are nocturnal and sleep on branches. It likes to eat fruit but will chow on small animals like a bird or rats (you hear that Whitworth…rats.). They also have a sent or musk that is compared to that of warm popcorn and cornbread (I always wonder why I smelled warm popcorn when watching a game at Willamette)
Willamette University was established in 1842 and they love to brag that they are the “First” university in the west. Well congratulations on that and here’s your cookie for being first.
WU has about 2,500 students if you combine their grad students and undergrads. They have a Law school which is well respected but I have a general distain for most things Willamette. That probably stems from the near multiple fights/word exchanges I’ve had with some moronic Bearcat students. I’ll save my favorite story for another day.
On Willamette’s Wikipedia page in the athletic section they talk about the Bearcats best football team being the 1997 group but that gets trumped by touting Liz as the first female to kick in a college game. So, once again the greatest team Willamette every put on the field gets overshadowed by Hawkins stunt. Happens every time they talk about the 1997 team. Don’t believe me? Even when that team gets a big article in WU’s athletic magazine they still play 2nd fiddle to Liz....way to go Hawkins.
Wildcat11’s key to Victory.
-Bottle up the Fly Sweep/Bottle up Mervin Woo. The #1 key in slowing down the Fly offense is putting the clamps on the sweep. The whole offense is based around the sweep and if you can’t contain it then everything else they run off the sweep (ISO Blast, traps, play action pass) will slice you up. The most important player on that Willamette team is the “sweeper” and that’s Mervin Woo. Woo is not only the Bearcats best weapon running the ball he’s also Willamette’s best receiver too. If Linfield’s defense can put Woo in check then the ‘Cats will make life much more difficult for the Bearcat offense.
-Limit Willamette’s big play strikes. Defending the Fly offense is assignment football and it only takes one breakdown to give up the big play to Willamette. This season alone, Willamette has scored 6 touchdowns of 40 yards or more and 2 more touchdowns from 30 yards out. Linfield has to be able to limit the big plays on defense in order to keep the point total low. Last year’s loss to Willamette can be chalked up to a few items but giving up a few big plays was a huge factor. Make them earn it with sustained drives.
-Win on Special Team. Willamette has always done a nice job on special teams and this year is no exception. This week the special teams battle is huge and Linfield has to win this phase in the game. We cannot afford a blocked punt/kick and we have to do a great job in the return game. This is the type of game where a play in special teams could make or break a team.
-Counter the Bearcats 2nd half adjustments. In two of Willamette’s toughest games (Whitworth and SOU) the Bearcats started out somewhat slow but picked up steam as the game went along and really showed they are a fine 2nd half team. In fact, the Bearcats have outscored their opponents 175-52 in the 2nd half of games this season and have been particularly strong in the 3rd quarter holding a major 76-16 scoring edge. While the ‘Cats haven’t exactly been a point scoring machine our offense has been efficient in the 2nd half of games while the defense has only given up a total of 29 points the entire season in the 2nd stanza.
-Convert in the Red Zone. Willamette is a bend but don’t break style of team so I feel confident that Linfield will be able to move the ball in between the 20’s but it’ll will get down to who is going to win the battle in the red zone. The Bearcats have shown the ability to stiffen up and turn away teams from touchdowns so Linfield’s ability to execute opportunities into touchdowns will be huge.
-Turnover battle. The Bearcats are a +10 in the turnover department this season and that is a huge key in why they’re currently 7-0. They’ve been able to hang onto the ball for the most part and been able to take the ball away on a regular basis. Linfield’s defense has been creating more turnovers this season but we’ve still been giving away the ball too much. It goes without typing…whoever wins the turnover game will have a huge advantage.
Linfield by a late 7 points. I suspect there are going to be times where each team is going to have the momentum and this game could really come down to the last few possessions. I like the fact we’re at the ‘Catdome and our players have already been in some tight ball games where different players have made the plays to propel Linfield to victory. On the other hand, Willamette has experienced the same thing this season where it’s been a collective effort and not just one or two players that dominate a game.
In the end I believe that Linfield’s defensive front seven is going to get the job done late in the game and provide the Wildcat offense enough time to put the dagger in during the ladder stage of the game. Go ‘Cats!