Monday, September 16, 2019

Fuhgeddaboudit!!! ‘Cats roll 35-14 in season opener at Rowan.

Team. Excellence. Attitude. Class.
Yup, that was a good start to the season.  I’m not at practice every day but the times I attended fall camp, I liked what I saw from this group on a number of levels.  Yes, there’s still a list of areas and items where this Linfield team needs to improve, and the ‘Cats were far from a finished product against Rowan, but we have a chance to be a damn good football team.  (On a side note, it took me about 45 minutes to come up with a headline to this game review because everything I had would have landed me in hot water.  The 16-year-old in me couldn’t get past playing at Richard Wacker stadium.)

That wasn’t an easy game on multiple fronts.  The travel alone was grueling. In talking to some players on the way out, this was easily the furthest East of the United Sates they’ve been in their lives. On top of that, this is a younger core as well with the largest class on the trip being sophomores. There was a lot of ‘new’ going on for this Linfield program. That said, confidence in their potential is high and we had a peek of this against the Profs.

Rowan for their part is a solid team.  They certainly look the part in terms of size and skill.  Hell, if you were going to use the eyeball test to judge who was going to win on Saturday, most unknowing people would have dumped buckets of money on Rowan’s chances.  This isn’t a new story when playing teams from outside the West Region for Linfield, but time after time, when the ball is kicked off the ‘Cats have them singing a different tune.

This Saturday was no different as the ‘Cats showcased a swarming ball-hawking defense and an offense that struck quickly with the deep ball as the ‘Cats pushed the lead to 14-0 late in the first half.  But Rowan mounted a heck of a drive that saw the Profs crack the scoreboard with no time left in the half to get the score to 14-7 Linfield.  It was a big drive for Rowan and gave them life going into the break.

The second half started slow for the Linfield offense in two fruitless drives to start the 2nd and that’s when Rowan scored their 2nd and last touchdown on the day in a 30 yard rushing gash to tie the game up at 14.  It was a critical moment for Linfield and the offense answered with a quick TD of their own to push out into a lead and the Wildcats never looked back in the 35-14 victory for Linfield.

While the win felt great to start the season, Linfield cannot afford to put their feet up on the dash.  Up next for Linfield is a huge challenge down in Southern California when Linfield once again plays Redlands. The ‘Cats have owned the series against the Bulldogs since they first played in 1998 but this 2019 version is easily the best Redlands football team I’ve seen and the ‘Cats better be ready to roll.

We’ll talk more about the Dawgs on Wednesday but let’s get to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from this past weekend’s win over the Profs.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Handling the travel:  Awesome job by the staff and players in dealing with the commercial travel to get to Rowan. Linfield didn’t come out on Thursday but rather on Friday.  The team was split into two groups and didn’t get into the hotel until about 8pm Friday night (no Friday practice). But every step of the way, food and hydration was waiting, the players were well organized by the staff, and I didn’t see a single leg cramp on the field during the game. (Rowan had at least 3 different guys go down with cramps.)  An outstanding job by the staff and players with their attention to detail, staying focused on the trip, but making the most of it along the way.  This is great group of guys.

Passing Attack:  Awesome effort by the offense in throwing the ball. O-line/RB’s protected, Wyatt Smith delivered, and we have a number of ‘Cats that can get behind a defense.  Smith was great in going 24 of 35 for 283 yards 4 TD’s. Smith spread the ball around to Keegan Weiss (5 for 104 yds and 2 tds), Keaton Wood (3 for 63 yards and 1 td), Tyler Torgerson (7 for 41 yds), and Jacob Calo (4 for 40 and 1 TD).  Outstanding job by these guys and once Colton Smith starts growing into the offense, you’re going to have 4 guys on the outside that can run right past you. Scary.
Creating turnovers: Outstanding job by our defense in this phase of the game.  Both of our starting Corners (Tyler Sitton, and Chris Adamo) had interceptions as well as starting safety Dustin Ramsayer-Burdett.  Then you throw in Brian Pullman’s outstanding strip forced fumble that Keyell Davis scooped up and the ‘Cats racked up a 4-pack turnover day.  Those turnovers were all big as Adamo and Ramsayer-Burdett’s picks halted Prof drives and the Linfield offense punched in TD’s off of Sitton and Davis/Pullman’s work.  We have play makers on this defense.
Overall pass pro:  If you go back and look at the two long TD strikes from Wyatt Smith you would see Smith in a clean pocket and Smith stepping into his throws.  That comes from great pass protection.  This is a young offensive line and they did a nice job against a defensive line with a returning D3 All-American on it.  I though the RB’s did a good job picking up the blitz and overall it was a solid effort. No time to be content as I think next week’s pass rush will be a notch up in terms of challenge.

Limiting Prof big plays: Rowan’s offense popped two big plays today (long 1st quarter pass and 30-yard TD run) but beyond that the ‘Cats held the big play in check.  That’s pretty good considering the Profs ran 83 offensive plays on the day.

Pass Coverage:  Linfield limited the profs to 151 passing yards on the day (17 of 30) with one TD against the 3 picks we talked about above.  Our DB’s competed hard for the ball once it was in the air and made a number of big plays, breakups, and a highlight reel collision as well.

Having an answer:  Holy smokes, when Rowan tied it up at 14 in that 3rd quarter you could feel their sideline swell up with excitement. The Profs had new life and it was a big moment for this Linfield offense.  The first two possessions of the half were not great.  I specifically said in my mind “Well, we’re gonna learn a little bit about our offense.”  3 plays and 57 seconds later the ‘Cats answered back with a Smith to Calo TD pass and took the wind out of Rowan’s sails.  That Wildcat response was a decisive body blow on the outcome of the game.

Bonus Awesome

The trip to Manhattan:  That was just something else.  Coach Smith works hard on making these long flight trip special as the ‘Cats have gone to Dodger or Angels games when visiting SoCal in the past, or the trip to Philly when Linfield ran the “Rocky Steps” and toured Independence Square during the 2014 Semi-Finals at Widener. This time around Coach Smith and the staff arranged a trip on the Staten Island Ferry to drop off the ‘Cats in the heart of Manhattan to visit the Ground Zero memorial.  As usual, the players had no idea where we were going until we showed up at the St. George Ferry terminal.  It was both exciting to be in New York and incredibly humbling to visit Ground Zero. It was an unforgettable experience.  Thank you Coach Smith for always making each year about more than just football.
The Bad

4th down defense:  Letting an offense go 5 for 5 on 4th down is never going to be ok or acceptable for any defense, let alone one like Linfield’s.  The ‘Cats defense was rock solid on 3rd down (allowed 6 conversions on 17 attempts) but struggled in turning the Profs away on 4th down.
Need to rush the ball better:  Look, the Wildcats offense put up 35 points in their debut game with a revamped offensive line.  I’m proud of that group. However, you and I both know that in order for Linfield to reach another level we have to have balance in this offense and 2.1 yards per carry is not going to get it done.

Jumping offsides:  I’m going to chalk this up to first game excitement by the defensive line but the defensive line has to be much better going forward on holding their water. I believe we jumped offsides four times and all that did was turn 2nd/3rd and long into much more manageable downs for the Rowan offense.

Putting the ball at risk too much:  Linfield only had two turnovers on the day but was in danger of having a 3rd pick and nearly turned it over on 2 fumbles deep on our town territory.  Those balls go the other way and maybe we’re having a different conversation today.

The Ugly

Nothing.  A victory, no major injuries, an incredible bonus trip on top of the game made for a weekend to remember. We all know and understand that one game doesn’t make for a season (in victory or defeat) but this weekend was a blast to take part in. There are a lot of little signs that this can be an excellent football team, however, there is a laundry list of items to address and shore up to get there. This Saturday is going to be a big test for Linfield so now’s the time to put the Rowan game in the past and turn all focus on the Bulldogs.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

2019 Game 1 Preview: Linfield (0-0) at Rowan (0-1)

Tight End Jacob Calo is looking to point Linfield in the right direction.

YEAH, the college football season is once again upon us and it’s time for another year of Linfield College football.  Can you feel it in the air?  The 2019 Linfield Wildcats have been hard at work in the ‘Catdome getting really for a really strange schedule that will see the ‘Cats on the road for all of September before the ‘Cats make their home debut in Mid-October.  But those are the breaks, and if anything, it presents Linfield with a unique opportunity to start the season on the east coast for what must be the program’s longest regular season road game in Wildcat history (I didn’t look that up, just guessing).  Yeah, the ‘Cats have been on the east coast before (last time was 2014 at Widener for the NCAA Quarterfinals) but never during the regular season. So, right out of the gates, the ‘Cats will have to deal with a long flight and play against an opponent that has a game under their belt in the Rowan Profs.  But Linfield’s path is rarely easy in during the non-conference and 2019 is no exception.

Going into the season the ‘Cats have a mixed bag.  The 'Cats have a ton of reasons to be excited about what this team could develop into and then also having questions that have to be answered for this squad to reach that potential.  This season very much reminds me of last year in some regards.  Last year, the ‘Cats had potential to be a dangerous team but suffered some early season stumbles.  After the Whitworth road loss, Linfield still had some ups and downs, but at the very end against Pacific, the ‘Cats put it all together and would have been a dangerous playoff team.  The Linfield team I saw that day reminded me of the Sam Riddle led playoff teams from ‘14-‘16.  But it didn’t matter because the 2018 ‘Cats did what any NWC team doesn’t want to do and that’s leave it up to a playoff committee.  So that’s a big take away for this 2019 team that I hope has stuck with them this past winter, spring, and fall camp.  Linfield cannot afford to come out of the gates slow and stumble in the non-conference.  My hope is this Wildcat team doesn’t wait to forge an identity and comes out of the gates swinging.  Linfield must be willing to put a stamp on what this team is going to build upon as the season progresses.

The Linfield Athletics page already did a team breakdown by position group with some quotes from Coach Smith so I’m not going to rehash all the different players by each group and keep it more of a 10,000 foot view of each side of the ball.

The offense is going to come down to how quickly Linfield’s talented but untested young offensive line handles the pressure.  Smith has looked great at Quarterback this fall camp (continuing his fine play from the second half of 2018) and the ‘Cats have legit play making ability at both receiver and at running back. But that will mean little if Linfield can’t move bodies and allow Smith to stay in the pocket. I’m not expecting perfection from the offensive line early, but I am hopeful they can develop sooner rather than later in the season.

Flipping over to the defense, yes the ‘Cats do look strong here, but also have some positions that need to get sorted out and have guys seize the opportunity and solidify what should be a strong unit.  I think the ‘Cats defensive line should be a difference maker.  We’re not huge up front but we have dudes that can flat get after it.  I think there are multiple All-Region and better talent in up front on the ‘Cats defensive line.  I think a spot that’s really going to step up is at Linebacker.  We’re still youthful at LB, but again, we have a big opportunity to be very good at this spot as the season moves along.  At the end of it, the defense is going to be as good as we can cover guys. Our schedule is loaded with opponents that have guys that can make big plays in the passing game.

One thing that I have noticed, and it’s something that isn’t on a stat sheet, is the vibe of this team.  Not saying in the previous couple of seasons that the team chemistry was bad, but it’s very noticeable how tight this 2019 team is.  It’s one of those things that you gotta be around to feel and notice it but it’s very apparent with this group.  Yeah, this isn’t a measurable, but I think is a positive signal about what could be in store for the 2019 Wildcats.

The Wildcats will need that togetherness right off the bat as Linfield has a big old hill to climb with a long flight out to New Jersey to face a quality opponent in the Rowan Profs.  The Profs are members of the New Jersey Athletic Conference and will present a hard test for this Linfield squad.  The Profs feature excellent combination of size in the trenches and game breaking talent in the skill ranks.
Rowan does have a leg up on Linfield on multiple fronts.  With the fact they’re not having to travel across the country, get to play at home, and they already have a game under their belt to work out some of the issues that tripped them up in their week 1 loss (38-28) to a fine Widener Pride program.

This will be a challenge game for Linfield as some of the Profs strengths, defensive line and receiver, are going to be attacking the ‘Cats freshest faces, O-Line and defensive backs.  I think this is going to be a tight and hotly contested ball game.  If you don’t think Rowan will be hyped to have a program of Linfield’s caliber coming into their house, you’re only fooling yourself. The ‘Cats better be ready to buckle it up.

Wildcat11’s keys to victory

Don’t wait, come out fast:  Rowan came out a little flat last week but then picked it up as the moved on. That momentum will carry into this Saturday, so Linfield can’t wait to work stuff out of their system for a half.  The ‘Cats need to start fast because you know the Profs will be looking to get Linfield on their heels early.

Need offensive balance: Linfield’s offense must find a way to be a balanced attack.  That’s much easier said than done as Rowan was stout last week in only yielding 86 rushing yards (2.5 avg) against Widener.  Linfield's offense will scuffle if the 'Cats can’t find a way for Rowan to respect the rushing attack.

Bottle up the Prof running game: Rowan has dudes that can move on the outside but if Linfield allows the Profs to establish a running game, it’s going to be a long day for the ‘Cats defense.

Take care of the football:  Being careless with the football is a quick way to 0-1. Anyone that touches the ball for Linfield must put a premium on security and Wyatt Smith must make good decisions in the pass game. Not turning it over will not guarantee a victory but it certainly will help the cause.
Making plays on the football:  When the ball goes in air, who is going to want it more?  I feel the passing attack is going to be crucial for both teams and the team that make more plays on the ball will be a major deciding factor on the victor.

Making plays on the football:  When the ball goes in air, who is going to want it more?  I feel the passing attack is going to be crucial for both teams and the team that make more plays on the ball will be a major deciding factor in the victory.


Linfield by 3. What a way to start the season. Yeah, put a high ranking on Linfield during the preseason but to me that meaningless right now. If this Linfield team gets on this flight thinking Rowan is just going to roll over because of Linfield’s history and rank, then the ‘Cats might as well stay home. The Profs are going to be hyped and want nothing more than to slap down the ‘Cats.  Saturday is going to be a battle for Linfield, but I feel that the ‘Cats are going to be ready to go.  Expect To Win!

Friday, September 13, 2019

2019 NWC Pick ‘Em: Week 2

Wow.  Can’t believe we’re actually into Week 2 of the 2019 football season.  I love that the season is here but we all know this goes by quickly so let’s make sure we all enjoy the time.  Yeah, I didn’t get a pick ‘em up for last week as I was hustling to get some video projects wrapped up (like the one above! *cheap plug*) but I did spend time watching a great majority of the NWC teams in week 1 play.  Some teams surprised me with their performance, and not in a good way, and some teams are who we thought they were.   

Whitworth has the bye this week so I’ll get this my 2 cents on the Rats out of the way.  The Pirates smacked La Verne around down in SoCal last weekend 50-24.  The NWC coaches picked Whitworth to repeat as NWC champs and they looked good in their 2019 debut.  It’s early but I only see one true challenger on their schedule this season.  We know who that is.

I’ll sprinkle the rest of my thoughts in the week 2 picks below and in Wildcat11’s first NWC power rankings of the season.

NWC Games of the Week:

Redlands (1-0) over Puget Sound (1-0) at Redlands:  Redlands looks like a complete and legit playoff worthy team in week 1 in Newberg against Fox. Good physicality on both the offensive and defensive lines, liked their schemes, and have dudes in the skill positions (‘Cats better be ready to go next weekend).  Puget Sound knocked off Claremont last week and will be a tough out this year. The Loggers go with a 2-QB system with Rutledge as their primary passer and Bernhardt comes in for Georgetown rush packages.  Receiver AJ Johnson continues to be a stud receiver for UPS and Rutledge makes a ton of good plays but will throw 3-5 really bad balls per game.  However, I do think the UPS defensive backfield is suspect and Redlands will expose that on Saturday and limit the Logger running game.  Dawgs take care of business.

Lewis & Clark (0-0) over Pomona-Pitzer (1-0) at PP: In 2018 Pomona knocked off Lewis and Clark and my gut tells me the Pios return the favor and start the season at 1-0.  L&C is debuting a new offensive scheme tomorrow from a local high school coach that was hired as the OC in the off-season.  I believe it’s a single back/spread/hurry up (a.k.a. every other offense in college).  I look for the Pios to hitch their wagon on returning All-NWC running back Michael Abraham (kid is a hoss) and ride him to a victory.

Alfred (1-0) over George Fox (0-1) at Alfred (NY):  The Bruins are also on the East Coach this weekend (Man…they really do try to copy everything Linfield does) as GFU is in New York facing the Alfred Saxons from the Empire 8.  Alfred is on a good run with a National Semi's appearance in 2016 and are coming off an 8-3 season last year.  They kicked off the 2019 season with a 42-0 shutout of Thiel.  On the other side the George Fox Bruins have a football team.  Fox looked bad in week 1 and especially on the offensive line.  GFU’s offense is all based on the ability to run the ball, and if their line play doesn’t improve, it’s going to be a long year for Linfield Lite.  The Butlers knock off the Bruins.

Dubuque (0-1) over Pacific (0-1) at Dubuque (IA):  It’s the 5th year in a row that these two out-of-conference foes match up, with Pacific looking to finally knock off the Spartans.  If I had to base the Boxers chances on what I saw from them last Saturday, then I would say it’s probably not gonna happen in 2019 either.  I mean, the Boxers made the Chapman defensive line looks like Mary Hardin-Baylor at times.  The Pacific offensive line play might have been worse than George Fox, and that was brutal.  On the other side of the ball, Pacific's defense would make two nice plays in a row and then get absolutely gashed by Chapman. What was most depressing for Pacific was their crowd, or the lack of one. I think class started in Forest Grove but you wouldn’t know it based on the attendance. The official attendance number for last Friday's game was 737. (George Fox would have listed that at number at 2,367). You could have shot cannons in the Boxer end zone bleachers and not harm a single living creature.  It doesn’t seem too long ago when it seemed like the Boxers had a lot of excitement around their program, but if Saturday is an indication, maybe that new car smell has finally faded and the fan base is left with the aroma of a middle of the pack finisher. As for Saturday, this might be tight game, and the Boxers receivers might make enough plays, but I’m not betting on it.

Pacific Lutheran (0-0) over Cal Lutheran (0-0) at PLU: The Lutes’ get the honor of being the only NWC team hosting this weekend up at Sparks.  It’s year 2 under the new coaching staff and I think PLU is moving in the right direction. The Lutes’ brought in a big recruiting class and have been very active in making improvements to build towards the future.  I still think the Lutes’ are a couple of seasons away from being an NWC contender again but McCord and his staff are doing a good job.  CLU is actually the more experienced and talented team in this matchup, but Cal Lutheran is the most under-performing program on the West Coast.  The Kingsmen SHOULD win the SCIAC title each year but they seem to be a rudderless ship on the sea since their taste of success earlier in the decade. I might be off the mark on this one but I’m gonna give the Lutes’ the benefit of the doubt here.

La Verne (0-1) over Willamette (0-0) at La Verne: Battle of the two of the worst teams on the West Coast go down on Saturday.  The Bearcats are in year 1 of a major, and I mean major, rebuilding job under their new head coach and staff.  The new Bearcat staff was hired late and are only bring in 20 something new Bearcats. I’m not sure how much talent they could add to an already talent starved roster.  La Verne is not a very good football team but I suspect they’ll be better than the Bearcats. I hope I’m wrong because I wouldn’t mind a little Bearcat Rumble in week 1 because it’s going to be a LONG season for Willamette in the Northwest Conference.

Wildcat11’s Week 2 NWC Power Rankings:

1. Whitworth: They’re the champs and looked good in week 1.
2. Linfield: Dangerous week 1 game for the ‘Cats. Catdome baby!
3. Puget Sound:  Have offensive weapons but secondary is a big question mark
4. Lewis and Clark: The Pios are gonna surprise a lot of teams this year.
5. George Fox: If the offensive line play doesn’t improve, the Bruins are going to struggle
6. Pacific: I like the Sophomore QB and their receivers. They could turn it around and move up.
7. PLU: Going to be here for the majority of 2019.
8. Willamette: It was a decade ago that their program was talking about an NWC football dynasty. How times change.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

2019 Linfield Fall Camp - Defensive Coaches Interviews

Had the pleasure to track down Linfield defensive coordinator Jackson Vaughan and linebackers coach, Phil Rombach, this past Saturday night after the 'Cats practice.  We touch on the potential strengths of the 2019 defense as the 'Cats look to continue to the be the top defensive unit in the NWC.

Monday, August 26, 2019

First full week in the books for Linfield football!  I'll have audio interviews, videos, photos, blog posts and more coming as I relaunch the blog this season.  I'm pretty excited to start writing again about Linfield football. 

I was able to get out to practice this past Friday night and Saturday afternoon and so far I'm really digging what I saw.  We're young in a number of positions but talented.  I think the future is bright for the program and there is truly some promise in 2019 but obviously we haven't played a snap yet so and there's 240+ Division III teams feeling the same way.  However, there are a few other small observations about this team that are different than the past two years and little things that I believe will add up to large results as this season progresses.  Look for an audio post tonight and in the meantime above is our first video of the 2019 season!
Yes, I'm going to start blogging about Linfield football again! YES! YES! YES!

Monday, September 10, 2018

‘Cats let the Saints slip away in Helena.

Senior Linebacker Patrick Pipitone was named NWC Defensive Player of the Week
This past Saturday was a tough one for the ‘Cats.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it, or try to spin it, I’ll call it like I saw it. The outcome out in Helena was a terrible loss for Linfield.  Probably the worst loss since the 2014 Willamette game.  Yeah, there were a few factors that slid the hurdles up a little higher for Linfield to clear going into this contest, but the ‘Cats were well aware of these when they signed up for this game.  The program knew it was going to be a long two day bus ride to get the Helena, the program knew that Carroll would have more time to get their stuff together having two games under their belt. We could go on and on, but at the end of the day, our ‘Cats should have handled Carroll on Saturday and flat out didn’t.  I think everyone was disappointed in the end result.

With that said, there is a huge amount of talent on this roster.  You saw that with Nnoli showing flashes of his 2017 form, Ruhl being outrageously good out of the backfield, Mackle coming up with picks and laying the hammer, the ‘Cats defensive front having periods of complete control at the line of scrimmage, etc, etc.  However, the ‘Cats just couldn’t get into a sustained positive flow where strong play from one side of the ball would transition into the other.  It was an up and down game from both the offense and defense and ‘Cats couldn’t take control. It was frustrating because it’s obvious this roster is capable of much more.

This loss isn’t a death sentence for the 2018 season. The ‘Cats need to turn it around and improve in a number of areas if Linfield wants to be in the NWC title hunt and beyond.  You noticed that I didn’t write “be in the NCAA D3 title hunt” in that last sentence?  Yeah, that was on purpose.  That is how poorly I felt our guys executed against the Saints. Again, I’m not trying to be harsh but real. If the Carroll trend continues, it’s going to be a short season. 

However, if the ‘Cats can quickly improve, do their jobs, win those keys individual battles, and execute there is no reason this team can’t be a major player out in the far west and make a huge playoff run.  The potential is there for this to be a standout football team but it’s 100% up to the players on the roster to turn potential into performance.  I know our guys are going to get it done and we should see a much crisper brand of Linfield football this Saturday.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Not giving up the fight:  To me, this was a huge take away and what gives me the most confidence that the players and staff will right the ship and get this roster moving in the right direction.  When the ‘Cats went down 14-0 in that 3rd quarter, it sort of felt like 35-0 with how flat the offense looked for the majority of the game.  But the ‘Cats didn’t shrink from the pressure and keep plugging away and eventually started to show some moments of what could be possible for this program.  The will and flight was strong and that is something to build on.

Defensive line play:  The two rush touchdowns allowed were not great, but overall, I think that Linfield has a chance to be an incredibly disruptive front. Multiple players showed flashes of ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage (Stinchcomb, Eteaki, Gomez) with newcomer Travis Swanson made a big impact in his first time suiting up for the ‘Cats. I think the NWC is going to have a hard time with this group in 2018.

Pip: Linfield senior Linebacker, Patrick Pipitone played freaking great for his first career start.  Pip has obviously put in the time and effort to be the guy at Linebacker and it showed with 10 total tackles, 1.5 for loss, and a huge interception on a QB hurry/deflection.

Pass Pro: I thought the pass protection on the whole was strong for the Linfield offense. The ‘Cats chucked it up 54 times on the day and while the Saints were credited with 3 sacks, there was only one real time that the Saints rush immediately got to Smith.

Punting: Flipping the field is going to be a strength for this team all year long and Linfield did a great job of this especially in the 2nd half.

The Bad

Coming up empty early in the Red Zone: As I mentioned above, the ‘Cats left 10 points on the field in that first half and who knows where the game might have gone if Linfield could have capitalized. The ‘Cats have to be killers in this area of the field.

Passing attack rhythm: The Linfield passing could be VERY good but on Saturday it wasn’t the case as the ‘Cats threw for under 50% on the day and just seemed off.  In order for the ‘Cats to get where they need to be, this is a key area that Linfield has to have improvement on in the upcoming week.

Giving up 21 to that Carroll offense: Linfield mostly held Carroll in check but that was a bad offense.  Even if Linfield scored 45 points, giving up 21 to that offense isn’t a great look.  However, most of the game, the Linfield defense dominated the Saints but had three bad series where we allowed Carroll to convert long 3rd downs and then the blown coverage at the end of the game.  If the ‘Cats could have cleaned some of that up, they really could have blanked that Saints offense.

The penalties: There’s no play-by-play in the stats so it’s hard to go back and look at an exact number but Linfield had multiple promising offensive series get stalled with one ill-timed penalty after the next. It killed offense and created way too many 3rd and long situations.

The Ugly

The Final Sequence: That was tough.  The ‘Cats had all the momentum and looked like they were in prime position to either end it in regulation or take the game to overtime and the underthrown deep ball that was picked and the defense turned around and had a miscommunication in the backfield that led to Carroll sticking the dagger in the heart of the ‘Cats. That was just a tough way to end a game that was in total control by Linfield. Hope it was a valuable lesson learned and the team can use it as a launching pad to great things!  Go ‘Cats!

Friday, September 7, 2018

2018 Linfield College Football Season Preview

What a way to kick off the 2018 season!
It’s that time of the year again!  Yes, the air is a little bit cooler in the morning, students are back on campus again, and college football is once again blessing us all.  And that also means college football’s most consistently winning football program is kicking the tires and lighting the fires.  Yes, Linfield football is back and ready to start the 2018 football season with their typical high expectations, some questions marks, and a boat load of talent ready to step into the arena.

In order for us to start exploring the 2018 Wildcats, we need to go back to the end of the 2017 season and see how Linfield got to where they’re at now.  Linfield once again finished their season losing in the second round of the NCAA playoff at UMHB.  The Cru’ would go on to another Stagg Bowl appearance and the ‘Cats were sent back to the drawing board.  However, in so many ways, 2017 was a bumpy ride that eventually turned out to be a hell of a year for the ‘Cats.

2017 was a season told in three different chapters.  Those chapters were driven by the up and down nature of the offense.  The defense for the 2017 Linfield Wildcats was LIGHTS OUT good.  It was a veteran and talent laden defense that was good on all three levels.  You knew each week, you were going to have a shot to win because of that defense and the outstanding year Linfield had kicking and punting the ball. The offense was a different story. At the beginning of 2017, the ‘Cats showed some inconsistency but started to develop a personality as a big play offense especially during that Willamette/Whitworth stretch.

Then due to some key injuries up front and in the skill areas, the Linfield offense had to ready grind away to find points and it wasn’t pleasant. The ‘Cats had to survive and win some fights in a phone booth to keep control of the NWC title chase.

It was during this time that a few critical items fell into place.  At halftime of the PLU overtime game, the Linfield offense was once again scuffling so the coaching staff inserted true Freshman QB Wyatt Smith into the lineup.  Wyatt taking snaps didn’t instantly turn the offensive into a juggernaut but the complexion of the attack changed.  As Smith took more snaps the offensive group started to solidify and it was during that second half against Puget Sound that the offense started to click.  The offensive line was finally getting healthy and Smith’s arm acted as a great counter to Chidubem Nnoli’s legs. By the time Linfield rolled into Pacific, you were looking at a complete football team.
Boom!  The ‘Cats dusted Pacific, and dare I say, easily handled a very talented Hardin-Simmons football team in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs. Linfield was a dangerous football team but once again ran into the brick wall of UMHB. Even with the loss, I was so proud of this team, the players, and the coaches that answer the bell to a number of gut checks in 2017.

So now that we’ve talked about the past, let’s turn our attention to the future with the start of the 2018 season.

I’m sure you’ve already read plenty on the ‘Cats so far and I’m not covering any new ground.  This is a role reversal from the 2017 season, where the offense is the established group, while the defense is going to be featuring a number faces in starting roles.

Obviously Smith is back for his sophomore campaign and he’s the type of player that’s going to get better and better as his career progresses.  Wyatt is a bright guy with a great arm.  He’s not the runner we had with Sam Riddle but Wyatt is far from a statue in the pocket.  Smith will be able to extend plays and move the chains with his legs as well.  He’s be a great field general for this offense.

Setting up shop in the backfield with Smith will be returning All-Region running back Chidubem Nnoli.  The now Junior was out-freaking-standing in his debut year for the ‘Cats. Chidubem has track speed, vision, great feet and wiggle, the guys is a gamebreaker and will be a huge factor for this offense once again in 2018.  However, Nnoli is far from the only weapon Linfield has at running back.  Dawson Ruhl is back for his sophomore season and turned in some great moments from his freshman season with his ability to make guys miss and flashed some tremendous hands out of the backfield that rival most receivers in the region.  We don’t stop there as Sophomores Artie Johnson and Tanner Earhart are now healthy and ready to roll. Both Johnson and Earhart are dudes that could wind up being major contributors to this offensive unit. Honestly, I haven’t seen this much talent at the running back positons at Linfield since the 2000-2003 run with Haberberger, Russel, Williams, and Ford being the core group of ‘Cat backs (all four of those guys are in the top 10 of Linfield career total rushing yards).

On the outside and in the slots, the ‘Cats have six players that will be in the mix in the passing attack. J.D. Lasswell is obviously the man out of that group after coming off his breakout 2017 season.  Tyler Torgerson is back from his knee injury from 2017 and will offer a great outside counter to Lasswell. I think a guy Linfield fans are going to see often is Khory Day, as he is young guy dripping with talent. Slot wise, Keegan Weiss is just filthy.  This guy is going to make so many plays out of nowhere for Linfield this year. To me, he’s like a Brad McKechnie (2002-05).  Not the “star” but if you don’t account for Weiss, he’s going to burn you multiple times a game.  Aiden Wilder has looked very good in the slot in camp after shifting from QB.  I’m really fond of Aiden as a player and person know that he’s going to make himself known this season.  A newcomer to the program is Max Novak who transferred in during the spring. Max is surgical in his rout running and will be a player in this offense.

(Holy crap, I’m 1,200 words in and I haven’t even finished the offense.)

Let’s talk beef. Linfield is going to feature an all-senior offensive line to kick off the 2018 season and I’m excited for this group.  Leading the ‘Cats up front is preseason All-American Dakota Smith at Left Tackle. Smith has looked tremendous in camp and should have an outstanding 2018.  I feel that Gabe Mojarro performance at Center is going to be critical to the success of the Wildcat offense.  Mojarro is a 1st team all-conference talent, and if Gabe can stay healthy, he should be a force in the middle. Returning starting guard Aaron Kokubun is back this season and I’m expecting the big man to have a big year. I’m thrilled for these next two guys as Cody Mitchell and Duncan Mattson will get the starting nods at the other guard and tackle spots.  This is an experienced and talented group of guys and below them is a huge crop of young offensive line talent. I mean the Wildcat staff brought in a group of young studs that will get in the rotation soon and add to this group’s depth.

Two outstanding tight ends in Junior Jacob Calo and Senior Sione Atuekao will round out the offense. Both of these guys can make plays in the passing game but are also both physical players that like mixing it up.

Flipping over to the other side of the ball is a talented but untested group on the defensive line. The ‘Cats lost some fine defensive linemen in Zach Grate and Markus McGovern. Both of these guys will be missed but I think the guys coming back are going to surprise people, and in a good way with their play. Chris Stinchcomb will the anchor up front at the DT position and is primed for an excellent senior campaign.  Joining Stinch is Havili Eteaki who is a playmaker at DT. I’m looking forward to the return of Sam Gomez at DT. Sam started a number of games in 2015 as a freshman, but left the program soon after. However, Sam is back with ‘Cats and will be a difference maker for this defense with his explosiveness.  Out on the ends, Sam Fults and Tony Kraus are both going to be physical bangers that can get after the quarterback.  Also keep an eye on Occidental transfer Travis Swanson out at defensive end as well. The 6’3” Idaho native is long and can close on the QB in a hurry. He could be a guy that makes waves as the season progresses.

Defensive Back wise…man I’m loving this group.  Anthony Guttadauro and Marquis Perrilliat are both proven talents for the ‘Cats and will get their time to shine as fulltime starters at corner.  Adding to that mix is a guy the program was thrilled to pick up in Western Oregon transfer Chris Adamo at corner. Adamo is a player and I have no doubt the Wildcat fanbase is going to get to know his name and number quickly.  Returning back at safety for Linfield Duke Mackle.  I’m calling my shot right now and will say that Duke is going to be an All-American at the end of this season.  IMO, Duke was shorted honors last season by the regional voters.  Mackle came up huge for Linfield time after time in 2017 and it wasn’t a fluke. I’ll be keeping my eye on the Monster spot this year as Tyler Bergeron is back at Linfield after a 6 year absence. Bergeron enlisted in the Marine Corps after the 2012 season and proudly served his country.  But Tyler always wanted to come back and was greeted with open arms.  The defensive staff had high hopes for Tyler in 2012 and that is still the same in 2018.  Over at Rover, you’re going to see both Steven Kwak and Peter Finley in the mix.  Finley can bring the hammer on guys and I love Kwak’s steadiness in the backfield. Steven is an extension of the coaching staff on the field and should pay dividends for the defense this season.

Linebacker is where the ‘Cats have the biggest question marks going into this season. Linfield lost three players from 2017 that were essentially starters since 2015 with Jason Farlow being a 1st Team All-American last year.  Leading the new charge will be Senior Linebacker Patrick Pipitone who that staff has been thrilled about this past spring and fall camp.  Pip will be the quarterback of this defense and should be a major contributor to this team. Sophomore Brock Klosterman has a huge upside and could develop into a dominant player for the Wildcat defense as Brock has all the tools. Junior Taulelei Toledo has stepped up his game and should be the 3rd backer that sees a lot of action for the ‘Cats to start the year.

The Special Team do look to be special for the ‘Cats this season. Back is All-American kicker Willy Warne who looks like he hasn’t missed a beat this past fall camp and punter Colton Ramos will build unto what was an impressive freshman campaign.  Linfield has had All-American punters and kickers in the past but I cannot think of a better kicker/punter combination on the same team in the 20+ years I’ve been around the program.  They are that good.

So with all of that said, what does that potentially mean for the 2018 season?  I don’t have a crystal ball and the season can be unpredictable.  At the top end, if a few key areas can come together, I think this Linfield team could be a serious threat for a deep playoff run.  The talent on the roster is all there. At the worst, the ‘Cats could be a dogfight for the NWC title and their playoff lives. The upside is there for this team and now it’s a matter of getting after it.

I’m not going to get into a game preview this time around and that’s mainly because I haven’t been able to spend a minute watching or researching Carroll.  That’s not a knock on Carroll but more of a statement of where I’m currently at. I do know that the Saints have an incredible pedigree, they have tremendous size and skill, and have two games under their belt to make roster adjustments.  The ‘Cats better bring it tomorrow or they’re going to be sitting at 0-1 and with a dangerous Redlands team coming to the ‘Catdome on what will be a shortened week of preparation (I’m not overselling it, I think Redlands is good). Let’s go ‘Cats!

So on a more personal note.  There have been some people reaching out asking when the game preview is going to come out, etc.  Full disclosure, I have been and will continue to scale back on the writing of the blog.  Life is busy right now and the blog has had to take a major backseat.  And that’s a good thing for my family!  That doesn’t mean my passion for Linfield football has diminished but I have to take care of business.  The mini-highlights will still be delivered weekly and I’m going to try to get a game review/game preview out but don’t be disappointed that is not as consistent as years’ past. Thank you to all of you that have and will continue to support this venture!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Nine Seasons of Catdome Domination.

On December 31st 2009, we review the first full decade of the realignment of the Northwest Conference (The NWC regrouped in 1996 as the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC) and then officially named back to the Northwest Conference in 1998). For an number of years we would take a look at the numbers but slipped last year.  I wanted to bring this back out but with both Pacific and Fox back it didn't seem right to go a full 18 years.

So I decided to narrow the field down to the past 9 seasons (2009-17) where the 'Cats have busted off 9 consecutive NWC titles. Linfield has been incredible for a long time but this 9 year stretch has been downright impressive. Since 2009, Linfield has won 94 total football games and the next closest on the list is Whitworth with 56. That is a 38 game gap between the reigning champ and the second best
team over that period of time.

There are others stats that leap out at you in terms of where Linfield has made their mark.  17 playoff victories, 97 Northwest Conference 1st team honors (nearest team is Willamette with 38), 26 1st team All-Region selections (rest of the conference has 12 combined), The 'Cats a 94.5% home winning percentage (PLU is next with 69.2%)

Another area to look at is the All-American totals since 2009.  Linfield has 32 All-Americans honors since 2009, the rest of the Northwest Conference has 12 combined. That's just nasty.

The data is staggering to me when you considered that the Northwest Conference is a darn good conference.  There's no secret why this has happened. It's been consistence that's the program reaches on a yearly basis on the back of hard work.  No shortcuts, no gimmicks.  Linfield will continue to be the team to beat year after year because of the commitment of this staff, players, administration, and support community that do things the right way....the Linfield way. 

Decade Records (2009-17) (I've now included Pacific’s data from the past 8 seasons and FU's 4 years into the mix.  Their percentages are big enough now to include and slot them accordingly.)

Overall Record (Winning Percentage)
Linfield.............94-13  (87.8%)
Whitworth.........56-35   (61.9%)
PLU.................50-32    (60.9%)
Willamette........44-42    (51.1%)
GFU.................17-21  (44.7)  (Since 2014)
Pacific……….31-43   (41.8%) (Since 2010)
L&C................20-61     (24.6%)
UPS................19-62    (24.6%)

NWC Record 
Linfield............57-1     (98.2%)
PLU.................37-21   (63.7%)
Whitworth.........35-23   (60.3%) 
Willamette.......27-31  (46.5%)
GFU..............13-15  (44.2) (Since 2014)
Pacific……….23-29  (44.2%) (Since 2010)
UPS..............12-46   (20.6%)
L&C...............10-48   (17.2%)

Home Record 
Linfield............52-3   (94.5%)
PLU................27-12  (69.2%)
Whitworth......27-18  (60.0%)
GFU.............12-8  (60.0) (Since 2014)
Willamette......22-22  (50.0%)
Pacific……….15-21   (41.6%) (Since 2010)
L&C................12-29  (29.2%)
UPS................12-29  (29.2%)

Road Record 
Linfield..........42-10  (80.7%)
Whitworth.......29-17  (63.0%)
PLU...............23-20  (53.5%)
Willamette.....22-20  (52.3%)
Pacific………16-22 (42.1%) (Since 2010)
GFU.........5-13 (27.8%) (Since 2014)
L&C...............8-32  (20.0%)
UPS..............7-33 (17.5%)

Playoff Record

NWC 1st Place Finishes
Linfield............9 (1-tie)
Pacific.......1 (1-tie)

Conference Honors (2009-17)

Coach Of The Year

Offense Player of the Year
Lewis & Clark...1

Defensive Player of the Year

NWC 1st Team Players
Linfield.......97  (10.8 per year)
Willamette....38  (4.2 per year)
PLU.............35 (3.9 per year)
Whitworth....32 (3.5 per year)
Pacific…….19  (2.4 per year)
GFU.............9 (2.25 per year)
UPS.............8 (.88 per year)
L&C..............8 (.88 per year) All-American Players
Pacific..........1 All-American 1st Team Players

Team Statistics (Averages) (2009-17)

(Pacific's totals are averaged by 8 seasons and GFU is averaged at 4 seasons)

Points Per Game
Linfield..........40.6 PPG
Whitworth......32.2 PPG
Willamette...............30.2 PPG
PLU......26.5 PPG
Pacific...........26.3 PPG
UPS...............23.6 PPG
GFU...............23.3 PPG
L&C...............22.6 PPG

Points Allowed Per Game
Linfield..........14.6 PPG
PLU...............20.4 PPG
Willamette....21.8 PPG
GFU...............22.6 PPG
Whitworth....23.6 PPG
Pacific............28.2 PPG
UPS...............36.0 PPG
L&C..............36.8 PPG

Pass Offense Per Game
UPS..............278.8 YPG
Linfield.........269.8 YPG
Pacific........... 244.7 YPG
PLU..............234.8 YPG
Whitworth.....230.3 YPG
L&C..............224.6 YPG
Willamette....208.8 YPG

Pass Defense Per Game
Linfield........182.1 YPG
PLU..............214.0 YPG
Willamette....223.5 YPG
Whitworth.....235.6 YPG
Pacific..........242.6 YPG
GFU..............247.7 YUP
UPS..............249.0 YPG
L&C..............258.7 YPG

Rushing Offense Per Game
Willamette....193.4 YPG
Linfield.......176.3 YPG
PLU.............140.3 YPG
GFU.............138.6 YPG
Whitworth.............137.5 YPG
L&C.............126.0 YPG
Pacific............125.0 YPG
UPS........80.1 YPG

Rushing Defense Per Game
Linfield........95.9 YPG
PLU.............124.1 YPG
GFU.............143.7 YPG
Willamette....152.8 YPG
Pacific.........153.8 YPG
Whitworth....156.5 YPG
L&C.............190.4 YPG
UPS.............191.0 YPG

Total Offense Per Game
Linfield........446.1 YPG
Willamette...402.2 YPG
Whitworth..400.7 YPG
PLU............375.2 YPG
Pacific.............369.6 YPG 
UPS.........359.0 YPG
L&C.........350.5 YPG
GFU.............245.3 YPG

Total Defense Per Game
Linfield........278.0 YPG
PLU.............338.1 YPG 
Willamette....376.3 YPG
Whitworth....388.0 YPG
GFU............391.4 YPG
Pacific.........396.3 YPG
UPS.............440.0 YPG
L&C.............449.1 YPG

Avg. Sacks Per Season

Avg. Turnover Margin Per Season

Passing TD's Per Season

Rush TD's Per Season

Friday, December 1, 2017

A great season comes to the end of the line in Belton, Texas.

Linfield knew that they were going to have to play a near-perfect game to knock off the defending national champions and current number one team in the country.  But the ‘Cats put themselves behind the eight ball early with a blocked punt deep in their own territory that resulted in a short touchdown for UMHB that made an uphill climb, even more, treacherous the rest of the way. The ‘Cats had a golden opportunity to make it a 10 point game midway through the 3rd quarter but when Linfield wasn’t able to cash in, it was ballgame on Linfield’s 2017 season.

As tough as it was to watch Linfield lose that game, you have to tip your cap to UMHB as that is the best defense I’ve seen in my 20 plus years in watching small college football.  Linfield has lost four games the past two years and all four are to UMHB.  Linfield owned the first four games against the Crusaders, and now, UMHB has turned the tables the last four times out. There is a ton of respect on both sides of the table as a Crusader starter reached out to me via twitter moments after the game with this message:

“I respect everything about yalls program. Y’all always play hard and with class. I love playing y’all and the challenge it is to prepare for y’all.
Much respect and safe travels”

The feeling is mutual young man. I do believe the UMHB has learned a lot in the previous playoff losses in 2014 and 15 to Linfield and they improved those “weak” areas that the ‘Cats had previously exploited to victories in those games. The result is a Crusader program that no longer plays suspect pass defense and a team that doesn’t implode when the spotlight is brightest. On the flipside, I hope that our ‘Cats and our program has learned some hard lessons the past two years on just what Linfield needs to do to get our program back to that extra gear that can take down a team as talented as UMHB.  Yeah, it’s going to be hard to find the speed they possess but I know that Coach Smith and his staff are not content in 2nd round playoff exits.

As for the 2017 overall, what a ride this team went on. Coming into the season, the ‘Cats knew they were going to be excellent at Linebacker and the defensive line, and had potential to be solid on the offensive line but after that, the roster was in the air.  There was talk about our defensive backfield being a weak link, nobody knew who was going to be our main running back, not sure which of the receivers would step up, and everyone wanted to talk about who was going to be the quarterback.  These questions were understandable after a truckload of talent the ‘Cats lost after the 2016 season.

Let’s look at it. Linfield lost one of their greatest quarterbacks of all time, one of the most dynamic running backs in program history with our outstanding other RB’s, we lost our top EIGHT receivers (where most of them were multiple years starters), long time punter, and lost their entire starting defensive backfield (who were all starters since their Sophomore seasons). After the 2016 season, the Linfield Wildcats lost a CRAP load of talent. Coaches around the Northwest Conference had to be licking their chops that this was going to “the year” where they were finally able to knock off Linfield from the NWC throne. It was an understandable though as Linfield might have appeared vulnerable for the first time in nearly a decade. However, the 2017 Linfield Wildcats had other plans in mind. First, let’s talk about this defense.

What an amazing season for the Wildcat defense.  The ‘Cats knew that in order for this team to have a shot to get back to another conference title and the playoffs, the defense was going to have to play top-shelf defense for the entire season and Linfield did just that in only allowing 12.1 points per game and only allowed a team to break the 20 point mark twice (24 points twice by UMHB).  While everyone knew the linebackers and defensive line play would be strong, it was the secondary and their excellent play that made this a complete defense. With five new starters and multiple other players breaking the rotation in the secondary, they instantly put any worries to rest in a tremendous performance against Chapman and just didn’t stop playing outstanding coverage defense during the entirety of the 2017 season.  Duke Mackle turned in a huge 2017 season from his safety position along with Nate Sample. The ‘Cats had four of the best cover corners in the conference between Andrew Schwieterman, Cory Stowell, Anthony Guttadauro, and Marquis Perrilliat. And busting onto the scene from the Rover position was Wade Ransom who turned in a 1st team All-NWC season after fighting injuries for most of his Linfield career. Wade’s size and speed made him both an enforcer in the secondary, he could rush the QB, or come up with huge interceptions in the secondary. What a great combination of players for the Wildcat defense in 2017.

But the tip of the spear of this defense was their linebacker and defensive line. This was about as dominant of an overall defensive front that Linfield has rolled out in a long time. The front seven had such a great combination of speed, size, intelligence, and playmaking ability that they made it incredibly difficult for a team to get any sustained offense going. You had Linebacker Jason Farlow who should have been named NWC Defensive Player of the Year by himself as Farlow put himself on a level of Forrest, Causey, Olsen, Bertsch, in terms of All-Time great Linfield Linebackers. Flanking Farlow was Jake Reimer who has been so tremendous throughout his career at linebacker and Mitchel Kekle with his playmaking ability. The three of these guys caused so many issues for offenses over the past three years that NWC offensive coordinators had to pop a bottle of champagne when they played their last snap.

When you combine with those three was a defensive line that could both rush the quarterback and stuff the run.  It started in the middle with the play of defensive tackle Zach Grate. Grate’s ability to eat up space in the middle and crush offensive linemen made our linebacker’s job so much easier over the past three seasons. Rolling next to Grate was DT Jake Handran who was rightfully honored as a 2nd team all-nwc defender and also playing vital minutes at DT were Havili Eteaki, Chris Stinchcomb, and Dakota Church. On the outside what can you say about Marcus McGovern? Gov had a great senior season in racking up 7.5 sacks and seemed to constantly in the backfield harassing quarterbacks. Asa Schwartz also had a huge impact at the other defensive end as well as Tony Kraus, Sam Fults, and freshman Ray Thomas.

It was near comical in how stifling Linfield was during NWC play as Linfield only allowed 8.6 points per game.  The dominance was so complete that the 1st and 2nd team All-Northwest Conference team could only muster up a single rushing TD and single passing TD against Linfield on the season.

Here is the breakdown of 1st and 2nd team players against this defense:

Ian Koste (Whit): 32 of 63, 267 yards passing, 0 TD’s, 3 interceptions, 3 sacks, 2 lost fumbles
Grant Schroder (GFU): 8 of 23, 69 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 interception, 3 sacks, 2 lost fumbles

Brand Boyd (Pac): 24 rushes, 69 yards, 1 TD
Mason Elms (Whit): 7 rushes, 39 yards, 0 TD’s

Kevin Thomas (Whit): 4 receptions: 46 yards, 0 TD’s
Kobe Williams (Pac): 4 receptions: 29 yards, 0 TD’s
Garrett McKay (Whit): 7 receptions: 69 yards, 0 TD’s
Dustin Harrison (UPS): 2 receptions: 10 yards, 0 TD’s
Brad Lander (GFU): 1 reception, 3 yards, 0 TD’s
Nick Kiroukas (Whit): 3 receptions: 25 yards, 0 TD’s
Michael McKeown (Whit): 6 receptions, 79 yards, 0 TD’s

DJ Winters (PLU): 5 receptions, 89 yards, 0 TD’s

Not one single running back or receiver broke the 100-yard mark against the Wildcats in 2017 and had a 4-1 interception to TD throw ratio against what the NWC coaches deemed as the top two QB’s in the conference. That is some nasty defense right there.

And that defense was needed badly as the Wildcat offense took a long journey in 2017 before finding their footing and setting up what could be an excellent run for the upcoming seasons.
But let’s rewind back to the start of the season. As we covered above, Linfield’s offense went into the season with a lot of new faces but you could see some budding potential in the 27-12 victory over Chapman where Linfield rushed for over 200 total yards led by Freshman Dawson Ruhl’s and newcomers in QB Aiden Wilder and running back Chidubem Nnoli. Combining with those legs was the arm of QB Troy Fowler who threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns to JD Lasswell.  The Junior receiver would explode on the scene as a big play threat for the ‘Cats in the 2017 season as well as speedster Tyler Torgerson.

While it wasn’t a gangbuster season opener offensively, it gave the Wildcat faithful that the ‘Cats had something cooking on offense.  Unfortunately, that halted pretty quickly the next week when UMHB came to the ‘Catdome and put a lock on the ‘Cats defense in only allowing 3 points and a measly 141 total yards of offense.  Again, most of that is to the credit of the Crusaders and their brilliant defense who had and continued to steamroll over every offense they encountered. Thankfully, nobody in the ‘Catdome hit the panic button on the offense and that faith was rewarded with a solid offensive output against Whitworth (379 total yards) and then a season high-water mark for points against Willamette (55) that saw Chidubem Nnoli burst on the scene with 197 rushing yards and 3 TD’s.

At this point of the year, the offense seemed to be really growing with Fowler developing chemistry with Lasswell and Torgerson on the deep ball and the emergence of Nnoli on the ground. However, that is when the offense started to look different as the starting offensive line started accumulating some significant injuries and Linfield would lose quarterback Troy Fowler for a significant portion of the remainder of the season.

With the combination of the offensive line getting shuffled almost weekly and the balance of the offense suffering from not as dynamic of a passing attack, the overall output of the Linfield offense suffered as a result over the middle portion of the season in hard-fought victories over George Fox and the overtime thriller at Pacific Lutheran. However, with the improved health of the offensive line, the development of freshman receiver Kyle Kimball, who stepped up after a season-ending injury to Tyler Torgerson, and the insertion of freshman quarterback, Wyatt Smith, the offense started to develop a rhythm late in the year between the passing attack and Nnoli’s explosiveness at running back. This sudden growth peaked in the first round of the playoffs against Hardin-Simmons as the offense was brilliant for significant stretches in piling up 414 total offensive yards against one of the better defenses in the country. Linfield had found that balance in the rushing attack and being able to attack defenses on multiple levels in the passing game as the offensive line (Ryne Furhmark, Will Heck, Gabe Mojarro, Aaron Kokubun, and Dakota Smith) played brilliantly. While it took most of the season to get here, the Wildcat offense has set themselves up to be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming seasons.

I can’t do a season review without giving some tremendous praise to our kicking duo of freshman punter Colton Ramos and placekicker Willy Warne. Both of these guys were critical to the success of the 2017 Wildcats and it’s astounding for multiple reasons. First, Ramos being a freshman was unphased in the responsibility that was thrust on his shoulders in being a huge cog in the ‘Cats field position game. Ramos came up big so many times on the year in a huge field flip or pinning an offense deep. He was tremendous but I can’t say enough about how impressive Willy Warne was in 2017. To be honest, I thought Willy had the yips after the 2016 season and was done as the placekicker for Linfield football. He had such an up and down season and had a miserable playoff game against HSU that I wasn’t counting on him very much coming into 2017. I have to apologize to Willy for every doubting him as he was Mr. Clutch for the ‘Cats in 2017.  Warne kicked the 2nd most field goals in program history in a single season (16) and was perfect on PAT on the year (30 for 30). Willy had three FG’s of over 40 yards and came through with critical after critical kick.  It’s a tribute to Willy to break the chains of a rough season and kick at an All-American season and play such a vital role in the success of a Linfield football season.

Overall, what a tremendous and successful season put together by these Wildcats. This group had so much going against them at the start of the season and they faced huge amounts of adversity during the year as well, but they never flinched, and always embraced the task at hand. I am so proud of what this team accomplished and the fact they earned their way back into the NCAA playoffs with another conference title, smacked a top ten team in the mouth and had the chance to once against stand toe-to-toe against the best team in Division III. It was once again, a great year to be a Linfield Wildcat.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

2017 NCAA D3 Playoff Round 2: Linfield (9-1) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0)

To be the man....

Here we are once again my friends. I felt like I’ve written this game preview about five times in the last 23 Linfield games. I feel that way because this is the 5th time Linfield and UMHB have played against each other in the last 23 Linfield games dating back to the 2015 playoff game. It’s crazy to have teams that are separated by more than 3,000 miles face square off with more frequency than programs that are within an hour drive of the McMinnville campus but that’s where the Wildcats are once again as they board a plane, that I’m sure the NCAA is hating to pay for, and head down to Belton, Texas to play the number one team, defending champ, and heavy favorite to repeat in 2017, the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor Crusaders.

The Wildcats lone defeat of the 2017 season came at the hands of the Cru in week 2 as UMHB choked out the Wildcat offense and made enough plays on offense and special teams to land a solid 24-3 win over Linfield. There has been a lot of talk about how different both of these teams are since week 2, and that is very true when talking about the Linfield and UMHB offense, but what hasn’t changed is what is special about both of these programs, the defenses.

The UMHB defense is special. It was special in 2016 and in my humble opinion, and I’m not just saying this because Linfield is playing them, the 2017 version is flat out better. The Crusaders are the number one scoring defense in the country in only allowing 8.0 points per game. The Purple Crush defense has only allowed 12 touchdowns and 2 fields goals through 11 games in 2017.  Rushing the football is incredible difficult against the Cru as UMHB only gives up 45.3 rushing yards per game (an average of 1.36 yards per carry).  A big reason for that rush total is the physical and athletic nature of the Mary Hardin-Baylor defensive line and linebackers. The defensive unit is number two in the nation in averaging 10.0 tackles for loss a game. I don’t need to go on and on about the stats the Cru puts up. If you watch them play you already know what makes them great. It’s a huge challenge for this Linfield staff to try to find something to hang your hat on in terms of attacking them offensively.

What’s changed this time around is that the Crusaders have been on a journey on offense in trying to find their guy to pull the trigger on offense. The Wildcats saw converted wide receiver TJ Josey behind center and Josey was effective against the ‘Cats in rushing for a 74-yard TD and going 12 of 17 throwing the ball for 130 yards and a touchdown.  However, it seemed that UMHB was looking for more punch out of the passing game and moved the dangerous Josey back to receiver (where he leads the team with 7 TD receptions) and when with Sophmore Kyle Jones who proved to have a live and accurate arm (82 of 126, 1,162 yards, 9 TDs, 4 picks) but doesn’t have the running threat that UMHB likes in their starting quarterbacks. So the Cru made the decision to insert freshman Carl Robinson III into the lineup and Robinson has been sensational in the role. Robinson was a two-star recruit and 83rd ranked duel-threat quarterback in the country coming right out of UMHB’s backyard (Killeen).  99.8% of Divison III schools in the country are not landing talents like Robinson III in their program.  Robinson makes quick and smart decisions and throws a nice ball. It doesn’t hurt that he can pull it down and punish a defense with his legs as well.

So we all know what our ‘Cats face this weekend. A suffocating defense, dangerous special teams, and an explosive defense. This is a great football team that our Wildcats are facing but all I’m going to say is that I like Linfield’s chances this week a hell of a lot better than just four weeks ago.

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Find a way on offense: We already talk about how good this UMHB defense is.  They are phenomenal at every level and it all starts up front with that defensive line. The task for Linfield’s offense is large but something is happening with this Wildcat offense the past three weeks. The pieces are in place and the health of this group is as good as it’s been since the start of the year. With that said, points and opportunities are going to come at a premium for Linfield. The ‘Cats are going to have to be sound as a pound and when these chances present themselves to put points on the board, Linfield is going to have to grab them with both hands and not let go. 

Bottle up the Cru rushing game: This is easier typed than said but it will be critical for Linfield’s defense to try to bottle up an explosive rushing UMHB running game. Markeith Miller is the main man and one of the very best running backs in the country (886 rushing yards, 13 TDs, and a 5.4 YPR average) but Miller is far from the Cru’s only weapon as freshman quarterback Carl Robinson III and running back Byron Proctor offer up fantastic options for UMHB to lean on.  If Linfield is going to stay in this game the ‘Cats have to keep the Cru’ from revving up this aspect of their offensive game.

Eliminate the big play on Special Teams: Linfield has giving up two special teams touchdowns on the year and both of them to ASC schools, including a backbreaker against UMHB in week two. The Cru’ getting big returns on Linfield isn’t new as they’ve returned at least 3 touchdowns on special teams against the ‘Cats since the 2014 season. Of course, keeping points off the board will be a premium for Linfield so they need to be on the money in finding ways to minimize the Crusader kick/punt return game.

Make Plays on the Football:  In games where two excellent teams are facing each other, making plays on airborne footballs is not a stat that is kept but are some of the most critical moments of a football game.  The Wildcat receivers and defensive backs/linebackers have to be players on fire in these situations as the Crusaders have dudes on both sides of the ball that can change the tide of a game with their on-ball skills. Gotta compete.

Offensive line has to hold up: I’m not expecting this to be perfect at all. The defensive line for the Crusaders is so good so I’m expecting them to make plays but if Linfield is going to have a chance on Saturday, we’re going to need our offensive line and tight ends to play their best football of the year. We’ll need this group to try to make some space for Nnoli to navigate and allow Smith time to process and step into his throws.

Pressure: If the ‘Cats can limit the rush game, UMHB will have no problem in putting the ball in the air. The Wildcat defensive front needs to continue to be a force in making either quarterback Carl Robinson or Kyle Jones as uncomfortable as possible. The more the Wildcat defense can make these quarterbacks throw before they’re ready or put them in the turf, the more of the chance the ‘Cats can disrupt this explosive offense.

Keep mistakes down to a minimum:  Linfield is going to have to be great in this department. The ‘Cats are going to have to keep the penalties down low, make great decisions with the football, and protect the rock.  Both UMHB and Linfield are fantastic takeaway defenses and have offenses that don’t cough it up too often so the game could turn on what team could make an ill-advised throw or cough it up at the wrong time.


‘Cats by 1.  UMHB hasn’t lost a football game since the end of the 2015 season and there is a reason why. They are as complete of a football program that you’ll find with huge amounts of depth, skill, speed, size, and great coaching.  The degree of difficulty in going to Belton and knocking off UMHB is about as high as it gets on the Division III level.  With that said, this Linfield team has something going on. They have such a hard road to travel to get to this point of the year and has developed into a team with a standout defense and capable offense.  It’s going to take every guy on this roster to contribute but the ‘Cats have a shot to get it done. I’m looking forward to seeing Linfield take their shot and see if they can land a bullseye. Go ‘Cats!

Monday, November 20, 2017

‘Cats win!!! Linfield hogties Hardin-Simmons in 27-13 playoff victory in the ‘Catdome.

The Linfield defense swallowed up the Cowboys from start to finish in the 'Cats victory.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here.
We all know the story of this Wildcat season up to this game. Linfield was a team that went a large portion of the season with struggles on offense in dealing with injuries, and lineup changes, but the ‘Cats leaned on their standout defense and the leg of Willy Warne. Linfield kept finding their way to win after win.  It wasn’t pretty and darn right close to having the season go off the rails a few times but this group kept believing and kept banging away.

Then, the offensive line starts to get healthy, Wyatt Smith was inserted into the lineup at quarterback, and a passing game starts to develop to help to provide the space that our standout running back Chidubem Nnoli needed to loosen up those packed defensive fronts. In the second half of the UPS game something started to click. It wasn’t perfect but it was the base to build on, and then another step forward in the Pacific game, and then…BAM! The talent on this roster finally meshed and performed to their ability this past Saturday in a slapping of one of the best teams in the country in Hardin-Simmons.

I’m not overselling HSU either. They had the offensive player of the year in running back JaQuan Hemphill, Special teams player of the year in Reese Childress (he’s good), 3 offensive lineman on the first team offense, 5 defenders with all-ASC honors, all the yards and points the Cowboys put up and a defense that only gives up 12 points a game.  This was an excellent opponent and Linfield chewed them up and spit them out.

Defensively, the ‘Cats did what they’ve done all year but doing it to a team with the pedigree of HSU was impressive. Making it even more impressive is that Linfield did it without starting corners Cory Stowell and Andrew Schweiterman (both injuries) and then lost All-American lock, and should be in heavy contention for West Region Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Jason Farlow early in the first quarter. Losing one of those guys is a blow but losing all three made you wonder how it would play out. The defensive staff didn’t flinch in putting their faith in corners Marquis Perriliat and Anthony Guttadauro and inserting Linebacker Patrick Pipitone in for the lost Farlow.  Perriliat was the first to make an impact with that tone setting interception from the 3rd play of the game. After that, it was a Guantanamo Bay style lockdown by the Wildcat defense.  I can throw out all the stats out at you but it wouldn’t do the justice in how the Wildcat defensive systematically took Hardin-Simmons apart on offense.
Speaking of offense, Linfield’s offense had an excellent day in the office in executing their game plan. Linfield only went three and out once on the day and used a balanced attack of run and pass to keep the chains moving and Hardin-Simmons off balance. What I loved the most was the play of the ‘Cats offensive line which hasn’t been on the receiving end of much love this year. This group is finally healthy and have been jelling over the past three weeks and they owned the Cowboys upfront. The O-Line was setting the corner for Nnoli and giving Smith the time he need to make great decision after great decision. The ‘Cats ability to sustain drives, eat up clock, and put points up on the board were a killer when match with the Wildcat defense.
What we all saw on Saturday was the culmination of a group of players that kept the faith that if they stuck to the coaching staff’s overall vision of what this team could be, this Linfield team could be as dangerous as anyone in the country.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Defensive Domination: That was a Texas sized butt whipping by the Wildcat defense.  In my preview, I wrote nearly 800 words alone on how great this Hardin-Simmons offense is and the Linfield defense printed up my preview and wiped their noses with it.  HSU was the 4th best offense in the country coming into this game and Linfield made them look like George Fox’s offense. The ‘Cats deleted the Cowboys rushing attack and took away the ASC offensive player of the year in running back in Jaquan Hemphill (12 carries for 30 yards) and nearly match quarterback Landy Turner’s season interception total (5) in a single game with 3 picks. This was a talented offensive unit and the Wildcat defense had them at under 100 yards headed into the 4th quarter. People around division 3 knows this Wildcat defense is legit but I think Saturday opened up some eyes.

Balanced offensive attack: Tremendous offensive production against an outstanding defense as Linfield totaled 414 yards on 70 plays for an average of 5.9 yards.  The ‘Cats split up that total yardage with going for 188 on the ground and 226 yards passing. Linfield went heavier on the rushing attempts as the staff saw something there and used an incredibly efficient passing attack to keep the defense loose and kept the chains moving or in popping a big gainer.  I thought the offensive game plan was excellent and that balance kept HSU guessing on the day as Linfield dominated the football with a 36 minute to 23 minute advantage in time of possession.

Offensive Line had a day:  Linfield’s offensive line played a hell of a game on Saturday. This group has been so beaten up and had to reshuffle the deck during this 2017 season and it showed for a long period of time.  The original starting five of the 2017 season finally all were able to get back on the field against Puget Sound and since then they’ve started to jell and continue to get healthy. Their performance on Saturday was going to be a huge factor in the outcome of the game and these guys answered the bell. The Linfield offensive line and tight ends dominated up front in both the run and pass game. You give Nnoli the edge and Smith time to sit and process and you’re going to get good results. The Wildcat offensive line gave the team both of those against HSU and was critical to the victory.

Chidubem Nnoli carrying the load: What can you say about Chidubem Nnoli?  Nnoli just cracked the top ten of Linfield’s career single-season rushing leaders with a now 1,045 rushing yards in 2017.  The sophomore added 153 of those rushing yards to the total this past Saturday against the Cowboys off of 33 carriers. With the push the offensive line was getting up front and Nnoli’s blend of vision, balance, power, and speed it was a beautiful thing to watch. The coaching staff has a lot of trust in Chidubem and Nnoli keeps rewarding that trust with one great performance after the next.
Pass Rush Pressure: Hardin-Simmons offensive line is an outstanding pass pro football team. Their guys are big, physical, athletic, and well coached. They presented a big challenge for the ‘Cats defense front and Linfield rose to the challenge. While Linfield did technically only combine for 2 sacks on the day, they were constantly moving HSU QB Landry Turner off his mark and making the quarterback incredibly uncomfortable in the pocket.  Senior Defensive End Marcus McGovern stood out and seemed to be perpetually chasing Turner in the backfield as McGovern continues his standout Senior season.

Efficient Passing Attack:  Wyatt Smith and the Linfield receivers were freaking great on Saturday.  Smith passed for 226 yards and a TD on 17 of 24 passing and completed passes to six different receivers.  JD Lasswell continued his trend in making explosive plays for Linfield. Both Drew Accimus and Keegan Weiss had big plays and the staff continues to be creative in using their running backs in the passing attack. I loved that Smith changes speeds on the ball for what’s appropriate. If he needs to zip it in he can snap the ball, but it the pass calls for some touch to find the window, Wyatt has a knack to glide it in. On top of that, Smith made great decisions with the ball all game long.

Winning the Turnover Battle: In the game preview, we discussed how Linfield came into the game as a +11 on the year and Hardin-Simmons has a -1. Those numbers are now updated to Linfield being a +14 and HSU finishing the year as a -4. Trends at this point of the season can tell you just who you are and Linfield’s ability to take the ball away from opposition burned HSU to the tune of 4 turnovers to 1. All four takeaways for Linfield were huge as the first by Marquis Perrilliat set the tone for the day, a forced fumble snuffed out one 4th quarter drive and a Wade Ransom pick ended the game and stopped Hardin-Simmons last gasp.  However, the Duke Mackle pick six was the backbreaker and a thing of beauty. (Sidenote: How in the blue blazes was Duke only a 2nd team all-NWC safety? Straight garbage on that decision.)
3rd Down Defense: We’ve already covered how masterful the Wildcat defense was on Saturday and Linfield’s performance on 3rd down was critical in the flow of this game. The ‘Cats held Hardin-Simmons to only 4 of 13 on 3rd down on the day with two of those conversions with the game in hand in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys’ offense had few answers for Linfield and that played out during this critical down time and again.

The Bad

Special Teams:  Our special teams unit did not have a day to remember against Hardin-Simmons as the ‘Cats kickoff team as an adventure (again), we had a bad turnover on a punt return where one of our guys had the ball hit them while they were blocking a Cowboy gunner, muffed an onside recovery that kept HSU alive a little longer, and then the punt return for touchdown in the 4th quarter. A lot of food for thought for the staff as Linfield will face an even greater special teams challenge next week at UMHB.

Penalties: A LOT different this week than against Pacific as Linfield were able to get rid of the garbage penalties (i.e. bad personal fouls) but Linfield still piled up 10 flags for 70 yards on the day in what seemed like a number of minor infractions that caused the ‘Cats to stub their toes. Some of this is the byproduct of the aggressive nature of this program, so I can be live with walking the edge, just not the dumb look at me/fake tough guy stuff. Good to see Linfield clean that up this week.

The Ugly

Hardin-Simmons signal blocking towel:  It was back! Last year the ‘Cats defense was savaging the Cowboys high flying offense (sound familiar) and the only answer the Cowboys coaching staff had was to create a towel wall because Linfield staff’s *had* to be picking their signals. I mean, there is no other reason why Linfield was absolutely stuffing their offense. Right? Well, instead of two wimpy sized purple towels, the HSU staff went with one large white one.  The Cowboys offensive staff should have put that towel to better use and tossed it in at the officials halfway through that first half when it because obvious that Linfield’s defense was too much for the Cowboys to handle. In fact, when I saw them break out that big towel it showed that Linfield was in Cowboys staff’s heads before the game even started.