College Sports

WWU FOOTBALL: Vikings face unique test

The Western Washington Univer-sity football team has a pretty good idea what to expect today from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Shotgun spread and pass, play-action pass, roll left and pass, roll right and pass. The Bulldogs’ basic plan usually involves quarterback Ted Schlafke slinging the football somewhere down field.

Whether WWU can stop it will be another matter all together.

“Everything they do is signaled in,” WWU coach Robin Ross said. “We practice every week against a no-huddle, but this is a little different as far as they actually stand out there and everybody looks over at the coach and he makes the calls. It’s different from what you normally see.”

If that sort of setup sounds famil-iar to Whatcom County high school football fans it should. It’s a similar system to the one Lynden High School runs. As the Lions have proved it can be hard to defend. Pulling UMD out of its rhythm on offense and pressuring the quarter-back will be two keys for WWU.

“You know you can get pressure when you bring people,” Ross said. “The key is getting pressure from a four-man rush. If you can get that and you get the quarterback to throw the ball before he wants to you can be pretty effective.”

The two teams have been on a strangely similar trajectory so far this season. The Bulldogs (1-3, 0-2 North Central Conference) opened the year with an upset win against Bemidji State, but haven’t won since drop-ping their first two conference games to the University of South Dakota and Central Washington.

Western (1-2, 0-2) also started the season with a big win against UC Davis before losing to No. 6 Univer-sity of Nebraska-Omaha and No. 2 North Dakota.

“There are some similarities,” Ross said. “We both started well and then had some tough games. It will be interesting to see which team makes plays. The one thing about the North Central Conference is that there are no gimmees.”

UMD has struggled with late-game collapses in the last two weeks. The Bulldogs led South Dakota going into the fourth quarter two weeks ago only to lose 36-22. Against the Wild-cats last week UMD gave up 16 points in six minutes in the third quarter in a game they eventually lost 43-21.

Last season the Bulldogs jumped to a 17-0 halftime lead against West-ern and then went on to win 20-10. In that game Schlafke had 329 yards, but was also roughed up and left the game limping.

This season he’s thrown for 986 yards and 12 touchdowns through the Bulldogs’ first four games and also leads the team in rushing with 191 yards. Schlafke ranked 7th in the nation last season in Division II in total offense.

“They do so many things,” Ross said. “They do a nice job of throwing the ball and mixing a few runs in there. Their quarterback is their leading rusher. They do a lot of things to get Schlafke involved.”

Of course, the Vikings have their own go-to player in sophomore running back Craig Garner. He rushed for a career-high 192 yards against the Fighting Sioux last week and has 332 yards in the last two weeks.

The defense, which was expected to be strength for this team, hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. Injuries have sapped Western’s depth and forced younger players into games perhaps before they are ready. The Vikings are averaging 27 points per game, but allowing 43.

“We’ve been giving up too many big plays,” Ross said. “The first week we gave up three, the next week it was five and last week it was eight. One of our goals is to eliminate those plays and that’s where we need to get too defensively. That’s what we’re working toward.”

Notes: The Vikings might be with-out starting guard Phil Hayes for their game against UMD. Hayes hurt his ankle and Dincer Kayhan has been working at that position in practice. Ross said it was a game-time decision … The Bulldogs have 14 sacks this season, but 10 of those came in their season-opener against Bemidji State … Senior defensive end Ryan Conwell had two sacks against UMD last season.

Reach Joe Sunnen at joe.sunnen@bellinghamherald.com or 756-2862.

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