Tuesday, November 22, 2016

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield gets a Texas sized playoff win at Hardin-Simmons in the first round of the NCAA’s.

Linfield's defense put the wraps on the explosive Hardin-Simmons offense.
Photo Courtesy from Thomas Metthe: View the Abilene Reporter-News slideshow here
Darn it, Saturday was a fun day to be a Linfield Wildcat fan. We all know the backstory at this point with the ‘Cats in getting slighting by the NCAA and put on the road for the first round of the NCAA tournament against the #11 team in the country. While it was disappointing not getting to play in front of the ‘Catdome crowd this past Saturday, it was a blast for this team to rally together and land a solid, 24-10, road playoff victory over a standout Hardin-Simmons football team.

What can you say about this Linfield defense? The Cowboys came into this playoff game as one of the most explosive teams in the country in averaging 46.7 points per game and 53.6 points at home during the 2016 season, and the ‘Cats dropped the hammer on them defensively.   At first it didn’t appear that was going to be the case as the Cowboys’ offense looked to live up to their hype as they were converting 3rd downs and chewing up yards but after HSU scored their lone TD of the day with 6:27 left in the half, Linfield slammed the door shut on the Cowboys and began to overwhelm Hardin-Simmons at the line of scrimmage and with the tight secondary coverage. It was a brilliant performance by the Linfield defense.

#10 Skylor Elgarico and the Linfield secondary swatted away any hope HSU had in coming back.
Photo Courtesy from Thomas Metthe: View the Abilene Reporter-News slideshow here
On the other side of the ball, the Linfield offense started off the game with some poor field position  but slowly started to loosen up the Cowboys defense with a great combination of a pounding rushing game setting up a big play passing attack. Reed Peterson continues to shine as “Mr. Johnny Walker Blue” had a career day against HSU in piling up 11 receptions for 207 yards and 1 TD.  However, the ‘Cats were far from a one man show as the three headed monster of Payne/Cassill/Choisser combined for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing behind another great effort from the ‘Cats offensive line. The ‘Cats offense did leave points on the field and I’m sure is the area that coaching staff would be quick to nitpick but productivity wise, it was a great effort by an offense that just seemed to assert themselves the longer the game went. 

With the victory, we all know what’s next.  Linfield will be back in Texas this weekend to play the number one team in Division III in second round action. Yes, Linfield did get run off the field by UMHB in the first go around and I’m not here to try to justify this or that about that 39 point loss.  It is what it is and playing for “revenge” isn’t what this Saturday is all about. This Saturday is about coming together and trying to get past a monster of a team and take another step towards the ultimate goal in this Division.  We’ll talk more about Linfield vs UMHB later this week but do take a moment to enjoy the journey this team is on. This is a special Linfield team. The more I see them, the more I know it.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Flat getting it done: The ‘Cats played a terrific football game this past weekend and minimized all the areas that have held back this team. Linfield marched into the heart of Texas and wore out a very good football team. While Linfield only beat the Cowboys by 14 points, that was going away and Linfield had a stranglehold on the contest that whole second half. Just a great effort by this program.

Making plays on the football: As Coach Smith said in the post-game huddle and in the press conference, in the playoffs it’s about making plays on the football and the ‘Cats did plenty of this against Hardin-Simmons. Linfield’s secondary broke up 7 passes on the day, the ‘Cats receivers made some huge plays on the ball to swing field position (EDIII & Peterson), and what can you say about Kennedy Johnson’s strip at the 1 yard line that saved an early touchdown score against the ‘Cats. That was an All-American level type effort by KJ. Bottom line, Linfield made more plays that Hardin-Simmons and that was a big ingredient in the Wildcat victory.

Linfield found its pass rush: Coming into Saturday’s game with Linfield, Hardin-Simmons had only given up 9 sacks on the year in 10 games. NINE. But the ‘Cats, who haven’t been a sack heavy defense this season, brought the pressure all game long in downing the elusive Ryan Breton 5 times on the day while applying constant pressure during the whole game. The ‘Cats have tinkered with their defensive front throughout the season and it’s paying dividends at the right time. 

The ‘Cats rushing attack: It’s been one of the biggest knocks on this Linfield program since the mid 00’s and that’s the ‘Cats can struggle rushing the football against top end Division III teams. While the ‘Cats still have more to prove on that front, Saturday was pretty darn good start in knocking down that criticism with 187 yards rushing on 45 carries (4.2 yards per rush) and two rushing touchdowns. To me, the Linfield Offensive Line wore out the Cowboy defensive front as the game progressed and was so active in getting on and sustaining blocks.

Sam Riddle and the passing attack:  I work hard on the blog on not trying to overly praise individual players because this is the ultimate team game but I just have to say how lucky we are to have watched Sam Riddle play QB for the ‘Cats this past three seasons. Sam is a flat out stud and at times makes the game look so easy when he’s slinging darts over the middle or lofting another perfect long ball. He’s been so fun to watch over the years and was once again against Hardin-Simmons. Riddle threw for 367 yards against HSU and dropped some absolute dimes to what has to be the most diverse receiving corps in Division III.  Every time Riddle dropped back you could hear the Cowboys sideline hold their breath.

#11 Erick Douglas III came up with this beautiful deep ball grab in the 3rd quarter.
Photo Courtesy from Thomas Metthe: View the Abilene Reporter-News slideshow here
 Shutting down the Cowboys and their run game:  HSU came into this game with Linfield in rushing for nearly 200 yards a game and Linfield stuff the Cowboy running game like a Thanksgiving turkey. The ‘Cats held the Cowboys to 15 net rushing yards on the day (22 attempts, 15 yards, 0.7 yards per rush).  I’d be real curious to know when the last time a Hardin-Simmons team was held to that low of a rushing output.

Taking care of the football: Linfield is already a hard football team to beat but when the ‘Cats take great care of the ball and don’t turn it over, it will be a tall task for ANYBODY in the country to knock off this Linfield team. The ‘Cats running backs and receivers did a tremendous job in securing the ball on contact and Riddle’s decision making was top notch all day long.

The Bad

Missed Opportunities:  Linfield had chances to really put some distance between them and the Cowboys but Linfield did miss three field goals and stalled on a 4th down in the first quarter on a promising drive. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘Cats offense had a brilliant day on multiple levels but if Linfield could have cashed on those four other possessions, the ‘Cats might have ran Hardin-Simmons out of their own stadium.

The Ugly

HSU Towel Wall:  It seems that the HSU coaching staff became very paranoid during the game that Linfield was picking their offensive signals so their solution was to build this impenetrable wall of two towels that could barely dry off a 5 year old. After each offensive play, these two unfortunate coaches had to run out on the field to create this wall that blocked the HSU offensive signals from…well…nobody.  If anything, watching these guy enthusiastically pop up their cotton shield after each play was probably the first time anyone from Linfield noticed the Cowboy sideline signal callers. The Cowboys did average over 50 points of offense a game at home so I’m sure it was confusing why Linfield’s defense was owning the line of scrimmage and how the ‘Cats defensive backs were blanketing the Cowboy receivers. It had to be that Coach Vaughan was picking HSU offensive signals and no other reason at all why Linfield held HSU to 0 points and 84 total yards of offense in that second half.


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