Wednesday, December 2, 2009
West Region Final Preview: Linfield Vs. St. Thomas
CATDOME!!!!!!!! Sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. Saturday is another HUGE day in the Catdome as Linfield will be hosting University of St. Thomas in the West Regional Finals of the NCAA Football Playoffs. Weather for Saturday is currently being forecasted as being partly sunny with a high of 44. In other words, it should be a picture perfect early December day in the Northern Willamette Valley. Man, I’m so geeked up that I’ve not been too functional so far this week but I’m holding it together.
After the Wildcats 53-21 2nd Round victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor you would think that the road might be a little smoother in the quarterfinals but as ESPN’s Lee Corso might say “Not so fast my friend.” The University of Saint Thomas is hands down the biggest and most fundamentally sound team that the ‘Cats will face the entire season. When I say biggest, I mean they are huge all over the field. Their starting 5 offensive linemen ave 295 lbs and check in at 6’ 5”, 6’ 6”, 6’ 3”, 6’ 4”, and 6’ 2”. On the division III level that is just incredible size. It just doesn’t stop there, their star running back, Ben Wartman, is a bruser at 6’ 2” and 205 lbs, and starting quarterback, Greg Morse, is listed at 6’ 5” and 215 lbs.
However, an a ironic twist the Tommies biggest playmaker is the only starting offensive player under 6 feet tall and comes in the package of 5’ 9” wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner Fritz Waldvogel. For Linfield fans, Waldvogel is a player in the model of Travis Masters (Linfield 2004-08) but even more explosive. This is a punishing running offense but they can hurt you with big passing attack when needed.
Defensively, the Linfield offense will see a huge defense that has only give up 14 points per game, racked up 32 sacks on the season, only allowed 35% 3rd down conversion, only give up 2.8 yards a rush, picked off quarterbacks 17 times, and only give up 276 yards of offense a game. Pretty much, they’re really dang good on defense too.
The more you look at UST the more you realize why they’ve punished teams all year long and in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Tommies cram it down your throat, they don’t turn it over, make big special teams plays with Waldvogel, and their defense out physicals their opponents. Mary Hardin-Baylor has had the most talent of any team Linfield has face but UST will be the best coached and most outstanding TEAM the ‘Cats will line up against all year long.
Wildcat11’s keys to victory:
Linfield’s Defensive Line vs UST Offense Line: Bottom line, this is a paramount battle in deciding who is going to move on and who’s season is going to end. Linfield has to find a way to limit the push of the huge UST offense line and keep those big bodies off the ‘Cats linebackers and safeties. It’s cliché to say this game will be decided in the trenches but it’s cliché for a reason….it’s the truth.
Limiting Fritz Waldvogel in the return game: This young man is a crazy, crazy weapon in the special teams game. Waldvogel has 3 punt returns for touchdowns and 3 kickoff returns for touchdown. He’s fast, elusive, and a threat to break every time he touches the ball in space. He avg. 37.4 yards in kickoff returns and 14.5 yards in punt returns. The Linfield special teams HAS to get it done this week and not only give up the big one to Waldvogel but not allow UST to set up shop beyond the UST 40 yard line off of kickoff returns. The performance of special teams is going to have a huge impact in the outcome on Saturday.
Linfield has to run the ball: UMHB did a fine job in slowing down the ‘Cats rushing attack and UST is another fine rushing defense but Linfield can’t go away from attempting to establish a running attack. The better the ‘Cats can move the ball on the ground, the harder it will be for the Tommies to slow down the other aspects of the ‘Cats offense. If the ‘Cats can rush the ball effectively then the ‘Cats are going to score points.
Start Strong: The Tommies are rolling teams to start out in the 1st quarter to the tune of 124 scored to only 30 points allowed. UST likes to establish the dominance early and keep pounding away. Linfield has also been a strong starting team and is going to need to be able stay close with UST early in the contest.
Continue to handle adversity: Linfield has been great in not getting too up when things are going well and not getting down when things are going bad. As long as the ‘Cats are able to maintain steady composure through all 60 minutes of the contest then they are going to be in a good position to win the game.
‘Cats by 7. Like I’m going to pick against Linfield! Seriously, this is the biggest challenge to date and for good reason. With only 8 teams left standing, everyone is a top flight team and anyone can win this Saturday. If Linfield doesn’t perform then we’re not going to win this ball game, however, I really believe in this team and this staff. They are confident, intelligent, and I don’t think they’ll be afraid of the physical nature of this Saturday’s game. If Linfield is able to limit and overcome the adversity of the contest then look to Linfield to hold off UST and move on to the final four.