Bearcats Face Tough Defense and Key NWC Test Saturday against Pacific Lutheran

SALEM: After a week off, the Willamette University Football team looks to maintain its hold on first place in the Northwest Conference as they take on the 2-1 Pacific Lutheran Lutes and their top-rated rushing defense in a Saturday contest at McCulloch Stadium.

The Bearcats (5-2 overall, 2-0 NWC) are tied with Linfield for the top spot in the NWC. PLU is right behind with a 4-2 overall record, 2-1 in the NWC.

Two weeks ago, the Bearcats faced the #1 NWC rushing defense at that time when they played the University of Puget Sound. After Willamette’s 31-21 win, including 318 rushing yards, UPS relinquished the top spot in rushing defense, a position filled by this week’s opponent, PLU. The Lutes have allowed only 119 yards per game in rushing.

Willamette counters with the top ranked overall defense in the league. In seven games this season, the Bearcats have allowed an average of 284 yards per game, giving up 15 touchdowns. PLU ranks second in the NWC in overall defense, allowing 297 yards per game, but giving up only nine touchdowns in their six games.

The Bearcats rank No. 1 in pass defense (143 yards per game) and No. 3 in rushing defense (140 ypg). Willamette also ranks first in sacks with 18. PLU is second with 17.

Defensive back Marcus Boards leads the NWC in interceptions with five. Trevor Struble and Logan Lord lead the Bearcats in tackles with 53 each, an average of 7.6 per game, good for No. 8 in tackles in the NWC.

The PLU defense is led by lineman Casey Carlson (8.3 tackles per game) and last week’s NWC defensive player of the week, defensive back Peter Sarrensen. The senior DB was also named to the DIII team of the week with seven tackles and an interception with 12 seconds to play to preserve PLU’s 28-24 win over Whitworth. Along with the No. 1 rated rushing defense, PLU ranks second in pass defense (178 ypg).

Offensively, the game looks to be a battle between the Bearcats fleet corps of running backs against PLU’s RB Aaron Binger. Last week’s co-offensive POTW in the NWC with 95 yards and three touchdowns, Binger is only 25 yards from breaking the all-time PLU rushing record. Binger has 2776 yards in his career.

Willamette counters with TK Mathews (96.3 yards per game), the conference’s No. 2 rusher. Mathews gets plenty of help from two other top ten running backs, sophomore Greg Brock (76.7 yards per game) and Keyser-Allen (68.3 ypg). The Bearcats average 332 yards per game on the ground and are second behind Linfield in scoring at just under 30 points per game.

PLU quarterback Dusty Macauley throws for 183 yards per game. He’s completed 58% of his passes (77-132) for eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Bearcat QB Tyler Gaspard completes 50% of his passes, throwing for 66 yards per game to go along with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

The game also features two of the top coaches in the conference. PLU’s Frosty Westerling won his 300th game this season while Bearcat coach Mark Speckman is considered one of the key architects of the Fly offense used by Willamette.

Game time is 1 pm.