By Dan Elliott (Manager, Media Relations)
September 12, 2-13, VANCOUVER – When the UBC Thunderbirds (1-1) and the #8 Manitoba Bisons (1-1) square off Saturday afternoon at David Sidoo Field at Thunderbird Stadium prepare not to blink as two of the conference’s top offensive teams go head to head. The tailgate party starts at 1:00 pm and kickoff is 2:00 pm.
UBC is averaging 509.5 yards offence/game and a conference best 305 yards/game on the ground, while the Bisons are tops in the conference with 583 yards of total offence/game and second in rushing with 267.5 yards/game.
So it might be safe to say, whichever defence comes up big on Saturday will be the team that wins the game.
“It seems this year defence has struggled across the league,” said UBC head coach Shawn Olson. “When teams have to face the likes of Brandon Deschamps and Anthony Coombs (Manitoba) on a regular basis its understandable. However, I think the big wild card come Saturday will be special teams. Make a difference there and it could be the difference between winning and losing.”
The Thunderbirds benefited from timely special teams plays last week in a 39-36 overtime win over Alberta. They successfully executed a fake punt and an onside kick, not to mention hitting a couple of clutch field goals with the game on the line. Manitoba is no slouch either. They boast the best punter in the conference and have two of the best returners in the country in Coombs and Nic Demski who returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown in last year’s first meeting of the season against UBC.
“We want to keep the ball out of their hands (Coombs and Demski), whether it be kicking the ball out of bounds or to somebody else,” said Olson. “The other key will be to tackle effectively. We need to get as many heads on the football as possible because these guys have too much talent for just one player to bring them down.”
Saturday will also be a showdown between Coombs and Deschamps. A third-year running back from Prince George, Deschamps was named the Canada West Offensive Player of the Week after racking up 212 yards on the ground and two touchdowns versus Alberta last weekend. Coombs meanwhile has big play potential. He is averaging 11.8 yards per carry and 25.7 yards per reception.
“Coombs is a special player and thrives in open space,” said Olson. “He has the Barry Sanders mentality, where he could easily have three or four negative plays and then all of sudden will break a big one. We have to frustrate him and limit his explosive plays.”
The best way to do that is to not allow the Bisons offence to get the ball in their hands. The ‘Birds need to do a better job of taking care of the football. They have seven interceptions and one fumble through two games of the season. According to Olson, that is six interceptions too many as far as he is concerned. However, the improved play of quarterback Carson Williams in the second half against Alberta, where he led a game tying drive with time running out will hopefully give the pivot confidence heading into homecoming weekend in which a soldout crowd is expected.
“Homecoming is the signature event of the season and anytime an athlete gets to play in front of a large crowd, it adds to the excitement of the event,” said Olson. “We hope this game brings everybody together from all across the university and is the galvanizing point for which UBC students can come celebrate their fellow students and feel apart of the Thunderbird community.”