Archive for Thursday, September 21, 2006

Opinion: Football team seeking identity

September 21, 2006

Every good football team has an identity. At the NFL level, there's the Indianapolis Colts, with their high-powered passing game centered on Peyton Manning. Then there's the Baltimore Ravens, with an aggressive, relentless defense led by Ray Lewis. Two different teams, two different identities, yet both fairly successful in the past five years. It just goes to show that to win in football you need to find an identity, no matter what that might be, and then build around it, making your opponents play your type of game.

The Basehor-Linwood football team has ended up trying to play its opponents' game lately and, as a result, has had trouble establishing its own identity. The Bobcats showed flashes of the kind of team I think they'd like to be in the season opener against Bonner Springs.

In that game Basehor-Linwood ran the ball effectively, using a number of different backs to go well over 100 yards rushing. The Bobcats also showed signs of a defense that, while not dominant, was capable of making big plays in the right situations. Twice they forced huge turnovers by pressuring the quarterback, forcing Willie Wilson to make a bad throw that was intercepted in the end zone in the first half, and then sacking Wilson and forcing a fumble that was run in for a go-ahead touchdown in the second half.

The game-changing fumble came when senior linebacker Kevin Marshall blitzed in and hit Wilson before he was even finished dropping back to pass. That play might hold the key to Basehor-Linwood establishing a winning identity this season. The Bobcats have simply got to get themselves into a position where they can turn Marshall loose defensively, because the senior is just so good at creating chaos when he's able to fly to the ball.

That means the Bobcats' defense has to get better on first and second down. They have to force other teams into third-and-long situations where Marshall can pin his ears back and go after the quarterback with reckless abandon. That's going to create more sacks, more fumbles, more ill-advised throws and more interceptions.

Occasionally those sacks and turnovers will lead directly to points, but more often they'll give the Bobcats' young offense better field position, which is also very important. If Basehor-Linwood can start drives at or beyond midfield it will open up Steve Hopkins' playbook and give opposing teams a lot to think about.

In the last two games, however, the Bobcats were plagued by their own turnovers, which killed their field position and put them behind early. Then they were forced to pass the ball more than they'd like, while their opponents were able to stick with a conservative running game that milked the clock and gave Marshall few opportunities to make plays.

In order to have success this season the Bobcats have to switch things around in the turnover battle. First they've got to hang onto the ball themselves, and then they've got to force their opponents into high-risk passing situations where they're likely to give away the ball.

That could be Basehor-Linwood's winning identity this season: smooth, ball control offense and Marshall running around and making game-breaking plays on third-and-long. It almost worked against Bonner Springs, and it will work if the Bobcats can get back to it.

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