The 1st weekend of October is just around the bend and that can only mean one thing: Wildcats vs. Bearcats. The story lines, history, and stakes are high as the programs separated by a short 30 minute drive lock paws once again. Let’s face it; there isn’t much love between not only the programs but between the schools, athletic programs, and student bodies in general. Don’t get me wrong, I have a couple of very good friends that attended Willamette and I’ve met some great Willamette football fans over the years but don’t think for a minute they would hesitate to cap me in the knee caps if they thought it could help Willamette beat Linfield.
Over the past 3 seasons, this very game has decided the fate of the NWC Championship and the NWC’s autobid to the DIII Playoffs. This is no different in 2011 as the winner takes the head-to-head match-up and while there are still games to play the winner will have a great chance to capture the 2011 conference championship.
For Willamette, this is it. The Bearcats could easily be 3-0 right now but dropped two tight games to UW-Stevens Point and to Hardin-Simmons. After the two losses, the margin of error for the Bearcats is at zero and it all comes down to beating Linfield. If Willamette takes down the ‘Cats then the memory of last season’s 35-7 loss fades and the Bearcats will have done what no others in the NWC has done since 2008 and that’s defeat the Wildcats.
We know OUR ‘Cats have started off the season strong in turning back a tough CLU team and then dispatching La Verne. While this Linfield team has some great possibilities it doesn’t feel like a finished product yet. It’s exciting to know the ‘Cats have room for much positive growth but Linfield can’t wait 3 or 4 more weeks for it all to come together. It has to happen this Saturday down in Salem. If the thought of “Well, if we drop this game then we’re still in a great position for the playoffs.” is in your mind then get it out right now. You can never put your fate in the hands of the DIII playoff committee. How many times have teams in the NWC been railroaded at the end of the season? That’s a rhetorical question, BTW. If Linfield desires that return to the playoff then there is only one true way to guarantee that ticket being punched and that’s not leaving any doubt.
We don’t get to know a Wildcat this week as I’ve been all over the road and forgot to reach out to a player but below are my keys to a Linfield victory. I might have gone a tad overboard with “keys” but I just kept coming up with one after another. Look, Linfield doesn’t have to be perfect on Saturday but the ‘Cats better darn well bring it. I bumped into a few Willamette backers that came up to the ‘Catdome for the La Verne game. In talking to these Bearcats they had a gleam in their eyes and a newly found confidence in their voice after watching Linfield put in a OK performance vs La Verne. They were being cordial but in reading between the lines the Bearcat faithful think Linfield is vulnerable and ready for the taking. Wildcat11’s response to that…..Send ‘Em Up!
Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory
Play Linfield Football for a full 60 minutes: This is going to be an emotionally charged game. What WC11 doesn’t want is for the ‘Cats to be wound too tight and too hyped at the start of the game and be empty when all of that initial peak dissipates and what’s left is your preparation and how well you can execute. Linfield has to be prepared for the entire course of the game. How are the ‘Cats going to handle adversity? How will the ‘Cats handle success during the game? There will be ups and downs during the game due to each staff punching and counter-punching with the adjustments they’ll make as the game moves on. Williamette has outscored their 3 opponents in the 4th quarter 27-6 so our ‘Cats need to be willing to take this game all the way to the end and finish. One play at a time, boys.
Limit the Willamette big play/make them score off long sustained drives: The Bearcat offense has scored 8 TD’s on the season and 3 of those have come off of plays of 67 (pass), 80 (rush), and 1 (was set up off a 44 yard pass to the 1 yd line). 3 more of those TD’s were short porch drives where the Bearcats had to only move it in from 19, 22, and 19 yards out. They’ve had one drive of 67 yards for a TD and one TD drive of 59 yards. The ‘Cats defense has to put a priority on not giving up the big pass play off their play action game and not allow Willamette to pop the big runs either. If they’re going to score then let’s make Willamette earn it and see if they can put together long drives against our defense.
Take care of the ball: Like I’ve stated above Willamette has feasted off of big turnovers created by their defense and special teams. Ball security is always at a premium but in a game like this taking care of the pill is even more meaningful. If the ‘Cats don’t give the ball away then I feel Linfield will have a great shot in limiting the number the ‘Bearcats will be able to put up on the board.
Tackling: The Fly offense challenges the defense’s most fundamental ability: how well can you tackle. In having to respect the Fly sweep that leaves some defenders in space where they have to make a tackle close to the line of scrimmage or it can be a huge gain for Willamette. Linfield had one great tackling game (CLU) and one not so great tackling game (La Verne). Linfield being sure tacklers this Saturday is a big key to victory.
The ‘Cats offense making the most of their opportunities/balance: This will be the best defense the ‘Cats will see during the regular season. CLU might have a few more athletes but this Willamette defense is much more sound in their scheme and fundamentals. Don’t discount the fact Bearcats also have some pretty good playmakers on that side of the ball too. The ‘Cats offense has had moments when they have looked great and others where they have sputtered. This Saturday is the time for the Linfield offense to have their best game to date. That’s going to get done by being a balanced attack and making plays when the opportunities are there. This offense doesn’t have a lack of talent, far from it, but it’s matter of being a cohesive unit and growth. I’m not asking the offense to be perfect but the ‘Cats offense to play with a chip on their shoulder.
Special Teams meeting the challenge: This aspect of the game is going to play a big role. Willamette prides themselves on being a play making special teams unit in creating blocked kicks, big returns, and not afraid of rolling the dice in running fakes. Linfield’s special teams have been great on the young season and that trend needs to continue headed into this weekend. When Linfield gets the chance our Special teams units need to pin the Bearcats deep, have great protection, and make a few plays of our own. The momentum of this game could very well change at some point off a special teams play.
Make Widing feel the heat: Willamette’s offense is its most deadly when the Bearcats can make plays in the air. Once the passing game gets going it opens up huge lanes in the running game and next thing you know the Bearcats are moving up and down the field. Flat out we have to get after Willamette QB Brian Widing and make him feel the pressure. The Bearcats play action game can be lethal if you allow Widing to stay on his feet and step into his throws. If Linfield can continually get to Widing it’s going to limit offensive firepower of Willamette.
Linfield by 7. We all know this is a big game but I feel in my bones this Wildcat team has the mental and physical make up to go into a hostile environment and rip it way from a program and school that would give about anything to get over on Linfield. It’s going to be a tough and hard fought game for a full 60 minutes but at the end of the day I think Linfield will do enough to put Willamette down and walk out of Salem 3-0 and have the inside track to another NWC title. ‘Catdome!