Monday, October 30, 2017

‘Cats win!!! Linfield survives the Lutes in 16-10 overtime thriller.

The 'Cats get it done in the end!
Yeah, that was a bit stressful as Linfield had to overcome a halftime deficit and bad field position in the 4th quarter to get PLU to overtime before punching in the winning touchdown to get out of Puyallup with a victory.  I was worried about this game since the end of the George Fox victory and my uneasiness about this road game was unfortunately proven correct.  The ‘Cats limped up to play PLU with a banged up roster on both sides of the ball and our guys didn’t have some same focus and fire I felt before the Fox game. Coach Smith knew what was waiting for the ‘Cats in the Fox postgame huddle as he told his players that PLU would be ready to give the ‘Cats all they could handle, and like a Swiss watch, Coach Smith knew what time it was.

PLU came out loose and motivated and right from the jump you knew that Saturday was going to be a dogfight right out of the gates as the Lutes offense threw to tight end DJ Winter in what seemed like 45 times on the first drive before Linfield was able to hold PLU to a field goal. After that, it was three consecutive listless 3-and-outs for the Wildcat offense before the Linfield Defense was able to make the Linfield’s first big play of the day in a strip sack by Marcus McGovern that was recovered by Jason Farlow early in the 2nd quarter. The turnover gave the offense some temporary life in a 47 yard TD drive capped by a nice 7-yard fade TD strike from Aiden Wilder to JD Lasswell. For a second, it felt like that is what Linfield needed to get control of the game and PLU. However, the tide quickly again as this ‘Cats defense got hit with a 15-yard personal foul on a horse collar tackle and then some dumb Lute magic as PLU hit a flea flicker to Winters again for a 44 yard strike to get the Lutes to the ‘Cats 10 and then three plays later PLU hit a contested TD in the corner to regain the lead at 10-7.

Both teams traded turnovers before the break and the ‘Cats went into the locker room down at half for the first time since week 2 to UMHB and left searching for answers on offense where Linfield was only able to produce a measly 50 yards of total offense. The Linfield coaching staff decided to make a change at that point and inserted freshman quarterback Wyatt Smith into the game to try to add a different dimension to the Wildcat offense.

Even with the change of QB, the ‘Cats offense opened up the 3rd quarter with punting it away after 5 plays and pinning the Lutes on their own 9-yard line. Then one of the most significant stretches of the game occurred when PLU found some soft spots in the ‘Cats secondary and went on a long 12 play drive that saw PLU take it all the way down to Linfield’s 20 and setting up a huge set off downs that saw the Linfield turn away PLU on 4th and 4 form the ‘Cats 14.

At this point, this is when the Freshman arm of Smith started to make an impact for Linfield as the ‘Cats were able to start mixing up the run game with some downfield and the intermediate passing game that saw Linfield march 73 yards in 11 plays to tie the game up on 10-10 on a Willy Warne 27 yard field goal.

From there it was holding onto your hats as both defenses put the lock on the opposing offenses and both punt teams took turns in flipping the field. It almost seemed like both teams were content in not making a huge mistake and resigned to the fact that this game was going to have to get settled in an extra frame.

What a frame it was as overtime in college football is always a wild ride in just how quickly the momentum can swing.  The Lutes had possession first in OT and went for the throat in a strike in the back of the end zone but was broken up at the last moment by safety Nate Sample. The ‘Cats defense was able to turn away the PLU offense twice more and set up a PLU field goal try. The block unit for Linfield has already proven they can be a difference maker and they came through once again as 6’5” sophomore wide receiver Chris Cassi would come up huge for the second game in a row in getting a mitt on the kick and blocking the attempt.

The Wildcat offense went right to work with a Chidubem Nnoli 11-yard scamper to pick up a first down and two plays later, Linfield would send out Willy Warne on 3rd down to win the game. However, the Warne kick sailed to the right and missed but the Lutes right gunner took a bad angle and clipped Willy’s kicking leg that drew the roughing the kicker penalty. One play is all that the Wildcats needed with the new life as Nnoli would break 4 would be tackles before hitting paydirt for the victory as the ‘Cats would hit the dogpile in an emotional 16-10 survival exercise.

It was exhausting and all I was doing was pointing my camera at the action, I couldn’t imagine how both the ‘Cats and Lutes felt after that battle. All I know is that I have to tip my cap to PLU for giving Linfield all they had and more. Yes, Linfield has rattled off 18 victories in a row over Pacific Lutheran but nothing but respect to those dudes in just a clean, respectful, and hard fought ball game.

Linfield’s defensive coordinator, Jackson Vaughan, hit it on the money when he said that this team needs to let go of the frustrations of not having the punch on offense as previous years and to embrace who this Linfield team is this year.  And that’s a team that is going to play damn good defense, have a strong kick game, and get enough offensive plays when the ‘Cats need it to win and move on. Yes, there’s not a lot of style points but if the score is 2-0 or 45-38, the team with the most points win and six out of seven times in 2017 it’s been the Linfield Wildcats with more points at the end of the day.

With that said, it’s not like the offense isn’t going to throw up their hands and say “I guess we will just suck for the rest of the year”.  That’s not going to happen but our offensive line needs to find a way to get healthy as quick as possible. The ‘Cats opening year starting five haven’t been on the field together since Whitworth as multiple players been banged up at various times and the offensive staff seems like they are in a constant state of shuffling the line.  Along with that, Linfield knows they have to find a way to start consistently throwing the football.  I’m not talking about the bombs but the plays that move the chains. If somehow the ‘Cats can quickly develop that aspect of their game it cures some of what ails this offense.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Winning: A few years from now people won’t see Saturday as a game where Linfield struggled to beat PLU but they will see another football game that Linfield won. That’s the bottom line is it doesn’t have to be pretty but Saturday was a gut check for this Linfield program in that 2nd half and ultimately these players answered the bell and that excitement at the end of the football game wasn’t something you could force but was genuine and exciting.

Making plays when they count: When the game hung in the balance and the ‘Cats had to make the plays they needed to win the game, that’s just what they did.  It’s the mark of a winner. From Nate Sample knocking down that sure TD in the back of the end zone in OT, Chris Cassi getting a mitt on the field goal attempt, and Nnoli not being denied on the game-winning TD run. Winners will themselves to win and this roster is full of winners.

Special Teams Impact: The Linfield special teams was absolutely tremendous once again this Saturday against the Lutes. Great coverage by the punt and kick teams and once again the legs of kicker Willy Warne and punter Colton Ramos were huge.

‘Cats gutting it out/new faces stepping it up:  I don’t want to point out how bad this player was hurting, because I don’t want other teams to know how banged up this guy was this weekend, but I want to salute this dude who was basically dragging himself off the field after every possession on Saturday. Crazy respect to you.  Also, Linfield had two players making their first starts ever in Linebacker Patrick Pipitone and safety Kyell Davis. Both of these players stood up to the heat.

Red Zone Offense: Yes, the Linfield offense didn’t even total up over 200 yards of offense but Linfield made it count in when they were in the red zone in going 3 for 3 to push this team over the hump and securing the victory.

The Bad

Not being sharp enough:  It was a general feeling that you could pick up that they didn’t have that same heat or intensity as the week before. I can understand that being an issue in playing a team that on the surface wasn’t doing too hot but like I wrote before the Linfield coaching staff knew better and it was almost a bitterly hard lesson this year’s team almost felt the hard way. This Linfield team cannot just roll the ball out on the field and expect anybody to roll over. The ‘Cats have to bring it every single week.

3rd down defense/offense: The Wildcat defense has suffocated every team this season on 3rd down but Saturday was the first game all season long that Linfield allowed an offense to break the 50% on 3rd down conversions and while it didn’t amount to many points on the scoreboard, it allowed the Lutes to hold position of the ball at a much greater clip that the ‘Cats.  Flipping it over, the Wildcat offense was an abysmal 4 of 13 on 3rd down tries. Not good at all.

Too much pressure: Last three games the ‘Cats have given up 13 sacks. Obviously, that needs to get cleaned up heading into the last two weeks of the season as Puget Sound has improved on defense and Pacific is a program that prides itself on getting pressure up front.

The Ugly

Lack of a passing attack: I’m not writing this to be a downer but we know that 66 yards of passing isn't up to snuff. What I’m not saying is that we all should be expecting this Linfield team to be a 250+ yard a game passing attack for the remainder of the season but what I do hope is that the ‘Cats can find a way to be sound in throwing the ball.  This is a run-first offense but Linfield has to find a way to keep teams from loading up the box and be credible in throwing the football. If that can happen then Linfield will see the defense loosen up and should be able to pop the run game for bigger chunks. Here’s to hoping that we can find a little of that during the next two weeks.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Game 7 Preview: Linfield (5-1) at Pacific Lutheran (2-3)

One of Wildcat11's favorite games of the year.
Time to hit the road again for Linfield’s second longest road trip of the season as the ‘Cats will point the buses North on I-5 and make their way up to Sparks Stadium in Puyallup to face long-time foe, Pacific Lutheran. Don’t let the PLU record fool you.  The Lutes’ are 13 points away from being 5-0 and making this weekend a showdown for control of the Northwest Conference. Yes, PLU have lost those game but this is a team where every game has been decided, win or loss, by 13 points or less. It’s just been tight game after tight game for Pacific Lutheran. With Linfield having issues on offense with health and productivity, this could be very well a game where Linfield gets more than just a stiff challenge. Linfield could very well get a game that doesn’t get decided until late in the 4th quarter.

Where the ‘Cats are physically and emotionally this weekend will be something to keep an eye on. Linfield’s offensive line had multiple starters playing with nagging injuries, lost a starting receiver due to injury before the Fox game, and not sure the status of a few defensive players as we go into this weekend as well. The ‘Cats depth and ability to develop talent is being tested this season. Just look at the offensive unit. Starting at the skill positions this past Saturday; starting at wide receiver was a senior, sophomore, and a freshman. Starting running back is a sophomore in his first year in the program. Starting quarterback is a sophomore in his first year in the program. Tight End is a sophomore.   It’s a talented but still young group of players overall.  I’m not surprised there have been some ups and downs on offense this season but eventually, the ‘Cats need this group to solidify and raise their level of play. I’m hoping that if the offensive line can get healthier over the next three weeks will help get this offense on track to being a game changer.

On the other side of the football, the Linfield defense has been leaving their mark all over opposition quarterbacks this season and more.  The expectations were high for the defensive line and linebackers and both units have lived up to the hype. It’s been impressive to see them snuff out rushing attack after rushing attack and get after quarterbacks on passing downs. But what has made this defense complete so far in 2017 has been the play of the ‘Cats defensive backs. There was a lot of concern going into camp about if there was enough playmaking out of this group and the Linfield DB’s has done nothing but put those concerns to bed. It’s actually a diverse group of players in terms of style but they function so well as a unit. On top of that, it seems like nobody on the field for either team has more fun playing the game than these dudes.

The Linfield special teams have been a mixed bag.  The kicking has been excellent and critical to the success of the 2017 Linfield Wildcats.  The return game has been solid but not game breaking, but the kickoff team still needs to prove something in terms of their coverage.  They will need to bring it against the Lutes in order for the ‘Cats to help control the field.

Overall, this has been a fun team and fun season up to this point. I still contend that the 2017 Linfield Wildcats haven’t played their best football game and still have to have a daily sense of urgency in getting better and taking every single opponent remaining on the schedule as a serious threat. Linfield is going to have to keep that playoff mentality this weekend against a PLU program that loves the challenge of playing Linfield and will no doubt bring their best fight at the ‘Cats for a full four quarters.

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory:

Bring the physicality: The ‘Cats have to bring the physicality on Saturday. PLU is a team that plays with emotion and togetherness so you know they are going to bring the effort on Saturday. Linfield has owned this series since the early 00’s because of the physicality the Wildcats play with. That has to be the calling card for Linfield in Washington this Saturday.  From the interior players to receivers on the edges, the ‘Cats have to be physically attacking the Lutes and then attack some more.

Establish a rushing attack: This is a good defense that Linfield is going to face. The Lutes are only allowing 19.0 points per game and are led by an outstanding secondary.  That secondary is only allowing 208.6 passing yards a game and has piled up 8 picks on the year so it’s critical for Linfield to establish a rushing attack to not have to play into the strength of the Lutes’ defense.  Get bodies on bodies and let’s get those shoulders going downfield.

Make the PLU offense one dimensional: Along with all the formations and motion, the Wildcat defense is going to see lots of veer and run/pass/options concepts. PLU spreads the wealth on the ground but quarterback Cole Chandler is their best playmaker rushing the football. This Lute team loves running play action and the best way for play action to be effective is if you get the running game going. IMO, the ‘Cats have to make the PLU running game an afterthought and makes those play action fakes less effective to help bottle up the big plays. 

Play assignment football: Both the PLU offense and defense throws a ton of looks at you.  On defense, they have linebackers coming from all different angles and positions of the field and offense you are going to once again see a ton of formations and motion to get the defense out of alignment and confused.  Linfield has to be great on their assignments and with their in-game communications. PLU thrives on chaos so it’s on the Wildcat players to be solid coming into this weekend’s game on being prepared.

Team pass protection: The Lutes get after the quarterback with their blitzing defense and currently average over 3 sacks a football game. Linfield has had a few bad protection days in a row and the ‘Cats offensive line, running backs, and tight ends need to rise to the challenge and allow our QB’s to process and make decisions upright in the pocket.

3rd/4th down defense: Not only do the ‘Cats need to get the Lutes’ offense off the field on 3rd down but Linfield has to be ready to bring in on 4th down as well.  PLU goes for it on 4th down almost 3 times a game and I’m assuming will be doing the same this Saturday.  These 4th down stops will be critical moments that will be huge emotional swings. Bring it.

Play with a disciplined edge: Up above, I talked about being the more physical team but please remember that physical doesn’t equal being out of control with decision making and with your emotions. The ‘Cats need to show they can play on the edge without falling off and getting unnecessary penalties.

Overall

‘Cats by 10.  Linfield is a banged-up football team coming off an emotional win. PLU is better than their record indicates and is used to playing in tight football games. This has all the appearances of a game that could be a tight one if the ‘Cats don’t bring the heat from the very snap. I suspect that PLU will be jacked for this football game and throw the kitchen sink at the ‘Cats.  I’m excited to see how the Linfield respond this weekend and think this ‘Cats team will be fully ready to play with emotion and urgency. Go ‘Cats!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

2017 Linfield College Football: George Fox Mini-Highlight



Go 'Cats!

Monday, October 23, 2017

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield leaves the Bruins all wet in 12-6 victory in the ‘Catdome.

#18 Duke Mackle's created a critical punt block in the 2nd quarter of action.
Photo Coutsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.
There’s an old adage in football that if you can win two of the three phases of a football game (offense, defense, special teams), then the odds are the scoreboard is going to reflect a victory. This past Saturday, the ‘Cats did just that in riding their tougher than a pine knot defense and excellence special teams play to a 12-6 victory over George Fox to take the wheel of the Northwest Conference title race with three weekends to go. As you all know by now, it was a wet and windy day in the Pacific Northwest and that old South by North wind that likes to rolls through the ‘Catdome was happy to add an element to the mix that forced each staff to make strategic moves on which side of the field to defend.

Fox won the toss and took the wind at their back to try to establish an early advantage and that decision almost paid off huge in the first quarter as Linfield’s offense struggled mightily and couldn’t flip the field. The ‘Cats defense was able to hold serve but dodged an early bullet with a missed field. The second near miss was early in the 2nd quarter when the ‘Cats special teams had their only blemish, in what was a brilliant day, with a fumbled snap on a punt set Fox up on Linfield’s 19-yard line.  Once again, the defense held up and Fox’s next FG attempt was partially blocked to keep the game at 0-0.  After that, the Bruin offense wouldn’t cross the 50 for the rest of the game (until that last drive) as Linfield methodically put the game out of reach.

At halftime, the ‘Cats only held a 6-0 lead, and while the Linfield defense had the warps on the Bruins offense, all it would take the turn the tide was a blown assignment or ill-timed turnover the Fox could convert to a touchdown. Linfield head coach, Joe Smith, had a big decision to make in if the ‘Cats were going to take the wind at their back in that 3rd quarter or bet that the ‘Cats would hold steady and make Fox win the game going into that wind. Coach Smith knew his guys and bet right. It wasn’t easy sailing in that 3rd quarter as the game hung in the balance as the ‘Cats were pinned deep in their own territory late in the 3rd quarter but the offense was able to put together their best drive of the day that would essentially win the football game.

#10 Wade Ransom dropped the hammer on GFU's QB late in the 4th quarter.
Photos Courtsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's photos here.

It was a gutsy effort for Linfield as the ‘Cats offense line and overall offense continue to deal with a number of health issues.  I’m not trying to diminish the performance of George Fox’s defense, which was tremendous as well, but the ‘Cats offense is scuffling and playing that physical and skilled Bruin defense only compounded matters.  But that’s football too.  When one group is not able to get it done on the level that is desired, it’s up to the others to pick up the slack and do what it takes to get the hay into the barn. That’s the way Linfield has done it for a long time and will continue to approach each game as long as this staff or descendants of this staff remain at the helm of Linfield football.

Moving forward, as much of a solid team victory Saturday was, Fox was just another team in the way to what this Linfield program is ultimately and continually trying to reach. Linfield will now turn their attention to another defensive standout team in the Pacific Lutheran Lutes. But for now, let’s turn out attention to Saturday’s good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Defensive Lockdown: This Linfield defense is so darn tough. This group came to play and overwhelmed, blanketed and hammered the George Fox offense into the ‘Catdome turf.  The ‘Cats defense has owned the George Fox offense since the Bruins rebooted their football program in 2014 and that continued Saturday as Linfield’s physicality at the point of attached was bone jaring. It was a brilliant performance that held GFU to only 79 total yards until that final drive of the game when George Fox made the stats and final score a little bit close than it actually was at the end of the game.



Huge 3rd quarter drive: While the offense had a rough go of it, the Linfield offense came through when it mattered most. Late in the 3rd quarter, Linfield had that driving wind in their face, pinned on their own 11-yard line, and facing a 1st and 20 thanks to an unsportsmanlike penalty on the punt return. At this point, Linfield was hanging onto a 6-0 lead and a quick 3 and out might have given the Bruins an opportunity to take a lead. But the offense found their footing and ground out a 15 play – 53-yard drive, that took the game into the 4th quarter (and out of the win), and set up Willy Warne’s 3rd field goal (43 yards) of the day that made it a two-possession football game.

Overall Special Teams Performance: What a great day for the Linfield special teams unit. Besides the one mishandled punt snap in the 1st, this group rose to the challenge. The blocked punt by Duke Mackle was giant, a partially blocked field goal attempt by Freshman Jared Ellisen, huge field flipping punts by Freshman Colton Ramos, clean snapping, clean holding, just solid as a rock all around. The Linfield special teams had a huge positive impact on the outcome of this football game.

Willy Warne was nails: Just a big old tip of the Wildcat sailor’s cap to our junior kicker who scored all 12 of Linfield’s points off of four field goals. The weather was bad and the pressure was high but Warne cut through all of that in nailing all four attempts including a 43 yarder. It’s been an incredible season of growth for Warne who had an up and down 2016 and was not a lock to handle kicking duties coming into 2017.  Willy not only locked up the kicking job at the start of the season but has been a big weapon for the ‘Cats in 2017.

Forcing 3 GFU quarterback turnovers: The ‘Cats had made it a long four years for GFU quarterback, Grant Schroeder.  The Linfield defense has turned the Bruin QB over 9 times over the past 4 seasons including 2 forced fumbles and one interception this past Saturday. The first forced fumble was a meet you at the quarterback sandwich hit by linebackers Jason Farlow and Jake Reimer. The next forced fumble was this piece of brilliant football by Duke Mackle (at the :30 mark of this clip) that set up the ‘Cats 2nd field goal, and the third turnover was the late game interception by corner Andrew Schweiterman to essentially end the chance for any late-game heroics by Fox.  A great combination of hard-hitting, smart, and playmaking football by the defense.

#6 Chidubem Nnoli had a big second half rushing the ball for the 'Cats against GFU.
Photos Coutsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.

Nnoli 4th straight over 100 yards rushing:  The ‘Cats offense was about as one-dimensional as possible on Saturday with the lack of a passing game, so the challenge to run the ball was that much greater with Fox loading up the box. With that said, Chidubem Nnoli was a workhorse for the ‘Cats.  The Sophomore ground out 120 yards on 27 attempts (4.4 average per carry) with nearly 100 of those yards coming in the 2nd half. Nnoli has performed like a sure fire 1st team all-conference performer this season and was huge once again for the ‘Cats against George Fox.

The Bad

1st half lack of offensive punch: The 'Cats were only able to scratch together an enemic near 20 yards of total offense in that first half.  It was a bad omen that Linfield's offense started their day by coming off the sideline and still couldn't get the snap off in time before a delay of game penalty. In fact, Linfield started off their first two series with negitive plays and it set a bad tone early. Credit Fox's defense for all the chaos they created with their pressure and Linfield paid for it with one bad half of offensive football.

The Penalties, man: George Fox had 11 first downs on the day (4 on the last drive), and out of that 11, the ‘Cats gave the Bruins 4 of them via penalties. Out of that four, one was a roughing the passer and two more were via personal fouls, including that last Fox drive. This team plays with a lot of emotion but the ‘Cats have to be smarter as a big chunk 9 penalties for 95 yards was preventable for the ‘Cats.

Losing the shutout at the last second: This was more in the category of “it would have been nice” to blank George Fox once again but Linfield gave up that last second TD to the Bruins to make the game’s final score tighter.  Yeah, it was a meaningless score but that Linfield defense earned that shutout on Saturday so it was a bummer to see it melt away at the last moment.

The Ugly

Giving up 7 sacks: It was a tough day for the Linfield offense in terms of protecting the quarterback. GFU did a great job in executing their defensive game plan but the Linfield offensive line and running backs, along with the quarterbacks, have to figure it out in terms of the protection and making decisions on-time with the football, and not allow the protection to break down. I really don’t like laying the blame on the feet of this group, because this is a beat up unit with guys sucking it up and playing hurt, but I think they would agree that Saturday was not a performance that can be repeated moving forward.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

2017 Game 6 Preview: Linfield (4-1) vs George Fox (5-1)

Team, Excellence, Attitude, Class
It’s a big NWC game in the ‘Catdome this weekend as red-hot George Fox rolls across Yamhill County and into Maxwell Field. On the line is control of the conference title race with a month to go in the regular season as both teams sit 3-0 in Northwest Conference play. It’s looking like is could be a duplicate of the 2015 game in terms of weather as it might be coming down like cats and dogs on Saturday afternoon so make sure you break out the rain gear for the first time this season.

Coming back to the ‘Catdome on back-to-back years, due to some anomaly in the conference schedule realignment, is the peak year George Fox Bruins who currently sit at number 19 in D3football.com top 25 polls after bursting through after blowing out Whitworth in the Pine Bowl two weeks ago.  It’s been a banner year for the Bruin program in their 5th year since rebooting the program and 4th year of hitting the field.  The program features a large majority of their starting lineup as 3 to 4 year starters the in GFU scheme. That experience and their constant improvement are very reminiscent to the 2013 Pacific Boxers, who in their 4th year back (they didn’t have a zero year) came within 6 points of knocking off a highly ranked Linfield and 10 total points of going 10-0 in their 4th year back on the field.

The success so far of the 2017 George Fox Bruins was expected, however, GFU has surpassed what many thought would be their ceiling in coming within 2 points of beating one of the better and highly ranked WIAC teams (Platteville) on the road and then dumping a top 25 Whitworth Pirates on their head to set up this showdown where the Bruins are looking to knock off the ‘Cats.  You have to credit the coaching staff of GFU of being aggressive in their scheduling of WIAC competition to help them prepare for the likes of our ‘Cats. The Bruins have benefited from that scheduling far more than they would in lining up the likes of Whittier and La Verne year after year.

In terms of what Linfield will see this Saturday is almost a mirror image statistically. Linfield’s offense averages 387.2 yards per game, GFU’s offense averages 380.3 yards per game. Linfield rushes for 185 yards per game, GFU averages 181.3 rushing yards per game. Passing yards: Linfield 202.2/GFU 199. GFU’s defense gives up 13.7 PPG/Linfield 14.6. Fox with 7 interceptions, Linfield with 7 interceptions, etc, etc, etc. These are teams that are both built with physicality up front and teams that put a high regard on execution and precision.

The Bruin offense is one that will feature a ton of formations out of the shotgun.  You’ll see 4 wide, or extra tight ends, a good chunk out of the Pistol, single back, and more. The Bruins do like to attack downhill in the rush game and will put their QB in lots of veer type of options situations behind their big and experienced offensive line. GFU will also attack the outside with bubble screens and try to hit the home run ball as well.  If you allow the Bruins to start moving the sticks, it becomes a dangerous offense to stop that will eventually pop the big play.

Defensively, Fox runs a 3-4 or even a 3-3-5 front that features three bigs up on the defensive line and outstanding linebacker play lead by Charles Riga and Daniel Campos. But what has made the Bruin defense complete so far in 2017 is the solid defensive back play that has helped solidify what was already a good run stopping unit. 

For Linfield, I will be very interested to see what our ‘Cats bring to the table on Saturday. Our defense has been excellent all season long, but our offense has been uneven at times as well as our special teams. I still haven’t felt like Linfield has played their peak football this season but they’re going to have to do that if the ‘Cats plan on derailing a Bruin team full of confidence and belief.

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory.


Limit the George Fox Rushing Attack: While the Bruins offense can get it done the air, it’s on the ground where Fox thrives.  GFU is average 181.3 rushing yards and 12 total rush TDs per game behind their veteran and big offensive line. While the Bruins use a trio of running backs (Riddell, Garcia, and Swilley), it’s Schroeder who is the key to the Bruin rushing attack.  The Bruin QB is currently tied for the conference lead with 6 rushing TD’s and averages 47.8 rush yards per game.  Linfield putting the clamps on this aspect of the Bruin offensive attack will be crucial to the outcome of the game.

Special Teams Rise to the Challenge:  With the ‘Cats and Bruins being so evenly matched on both sides of the ball, this game could very well come down to who gets it done on special teams in terms of flipping fields or making a huge momentum-swinging play. While Linfield’s kickoff team has been a rollercoaster ride this season the rest of the special teams unit has been very solid during the course of 2017. Linfield is going to have to be stellar in doing the little things. I’m talking about clean snaps, ball handling, staying in lanes, solid blocking/tackling.  Doing Football 101 the right way.

Establish a running game: This is much easier to write than actually do in practice. The Bruin rush defense has been up to the task all season long in only allowing 114.7 rush yard per game. Even though GFU has been a brick wall with outstanding defensive line and linebacker play, Linfield has to find their footing in rushing the football and force the Bruins to respect the run so the ‘Cats can open up other aspects of the attack. If Linfield is unable to move the chins on the ground, it’s going to be a long day for the Wildcat offense.

‘Cats offensive line holding up:  Linfield’s offense line is a bit banged up and I’m not sure what the lineup is going to look like on Saturday. Regardless, much of the outcome of this game is going to rest on the broad shoulders of the Wildcats offensive line.  In George Fox, Linfield will see the 2nd best defensive front and linebackers that the ‘Cats will play against all season.  (Call GFU’s front seven “second” best isn’t a slap, as UMHB’s 2017 front seven might be the best collection of defensive talent I’ve seen in my 24 years of following Linfield football).  Fox is big, physical, and athletic up front.  Linfield’s offensive line has to make meet the challenge and do their best to create lanes for the ‘Cats running backs and keep our quarterbacks upright in the pocket.

Blanket the Fox receivers:  There has been lots of talk about the Bruin rushing attack but Fox has a group of playmakers on the outside and in the slot that can break open at a drop of the hat. Seniors Brad Lander and Lane Hadley are each outstanding targets in their own right with 5 touchdowns each and junior Kenny May is a burner who can fly downfield. If the ‘Cats can bottle up the rushing attack, the Bruins are going to see if Linfield’s secondary can stand up to the task. Our defensive backs need to have a huge day.

TAKE CARE OF THE BALL:  Weather right now is looking like it’s going to be a soaker and a chance it’s going to be a windy day as well. Ball security would have been a huge story in this game on a dry day but with the potential of a bad weather day, this aspect of the ball game will only be amplified. The ‘Cats not only need to make good decisions with the football but secure that baby up tight at all times.

Maximize every scoring opportunity: The Bruin defense has been excellent all season long but they get even tougher in the red zone in only allowing 6 red zone touchdowns and five field goals in 18 opposition trips on the season. The ‘Cats offense have to make good on every chance to get points up on the board in what I think will be a tight ball game. Bottom line, if Linfield gets opportunities, the ‘Cats have to make good on them.

Overall

‘Cats by 3. Saturday is going to come down to some very basic things. Which team is going to execute their game plan more consistently, who is going to be the more physical team, who tackles better, and who makes more plays. Linfield is going to need an all-hands on deck approach on Saturday to knock off this worthy challenger. I have a feeling the ‘Cats are going to be up for the challenge but it sure won’t be easy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

‘Cats Win!!!! Linfield blazes a trail in 49-14 win at Lewis & Clark.

It was a party in the Endzone for #6 Chidubem Nnoli and #87 Jacob Calo
Photo Courtsey of JD Humburg of Oregonlive.com: View Photos Here

It wasn’t the prettiest of victories for Linfield but there were some very good developments along the way in the ‘Cats 49-14 road win over Lewis & Clark.  The Pioneers are an improved program and gave the ‘Cats offense some issues early in the first half as Aiden Wilder made his first collegiate start at quarterback for Linfield.  Starter Troy Fowler was out due to illness so it was Wilder’s opportunity to show he could command the Wildcat offense behind center.  It started off slow for Wilder and the ‘Cats as four of the first five possessions the ‘Cats had to punt it away, but as Wilder settled down, the ‘Cats offense started to produce in TD’s in four of the next six possessions.  During that stretch, Wilder went 11 of 12 passing for 159 yards, 2 TDs against 1 pick. While it took more than a quarter to find that groove, once he did, Wilder showed he can be someone to move this offense effectively.

Defensively, the ‘Cats did what they’ve been doing all season long and chewed up the opposing offensive line and turn a team one-dimensional.  The Pios did have one legit drive against the ‘Cats in the 1st half but Linfield provided a major assist in giving a second opportunity to L&C on a missed field goal/roughing call the kicker call.  Pioneer QB, May, did put the ball on the money to his lengthy TE in the back of the end zone for L&C’s only score against the ‘Cats first defensive unit.  Besides that blemish, the ‘Cats defense made it miserable on the Pios in forcing L&C to give the ball back to the ‘Cats in 9 of 10 of their first possessions.

Overall, this was not the most emotionally involved I’ve seen this team during the 2017 season.  The team was still fired up to play but I could tell that edge wasn’t there but I’m not going to be overly harsh on that aspect of Saturday.  The ‘Cats handled their business, had a number of new faces make great contributions (even more so than in the blowout against Willamette) and set the table for another big NWC showdown in the ‘Catdome this weekend. We’ll talk plenty about George Fox, their outstanding 2017, and what I think should be a hotly contested game this weekend on Wednesday. Until then, let’s talk about the good, bad, and ugly from this past Saturday up on the hill.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Red Zone Offense:  The Wildcat offense made the most of their trips to the red zone in going 5 for 5 and all of the trips converting for the touchdown. It was the ‘Cats best red zone performance of the season, with four scores coming via the ground and one score through the air.

3rd down offense/defense: Both the Wildcat offense and defense had a good day in the office as the Wildcat defense turned away the Pioneers early and often on third down in holding L&C to only 4 of 14 on third down opportunities (including 8 three and outs).  Once the Wildcat offense got rolling the ‘Cats converted on 9 of 14 third-down chances.  That is how you win football games.

Rush Defense: The Wildcats defensive front was once again stellar against the rush in limiting the Pioneers to 72 rushing yards on 34 attempts (an average of 2.1 yards per rush).

Offensive Responses: While it was not fun to have the Pioneers score two touchdowns against the Wildcat defense, what I did like was the response by the Wildcat offense in shutting down any Pioneer momentum by marching right back down the field and answering with a touchdown of their own. That is a quality you like to see with any football team and I hope the ‘Cats can continue with that kind of trend.

Offensive line shuffle: The offensive line did an admirable job in having to shuffle the starting line up once again with starting center Gabe Mojarro and right tackle Ryne Fuhrmark both out of action as they recover from injury. Will Heck slid over from guard to center (where he started in 2016), offensive guard Matt Matteo logged his first start of the season at right guard, and tackle Cody Mitchell had his second consecutive start at right tackle. While injuries stink, the experience Matteo and Mitchell are receiving will only lead to improved depth upon Mojarro and Fuhrmark return to the lineup for the Wildcats front five.

Youth being served on offense:  Out of the 7 touchdowns scored this past Saturday, five of the touchdowns were scored by sophomores (Wilder, Nnoli, and Torgerson) and two by freshmen (Kimball, and Marshall). The ‘Cats have a truckload of young talent and we’re seeing that youth establish itself more and more as the season progresses.

#17 Kyle Kimball catches what the coaches hope will be one of many touchdowns for the 'Cats.
Photo Courtsey of JD Humburg of Oregonlive.com: View Photos Here

The Bad

Giving up 4 sacks: While I thought the retooled offensive line overall played a solid football game the one area where I thought we could have done much better was on protecting the quarterback.  I do put one of the sacks on not getting rid of the ball soon enough, 3 of the 4 sacks killed Linfield drive opportunities and this needs to get better in a hurry as the ‘Cats will be facing a much better defensive front this upcoming Saturday.

Kickoff Team: This group is still not playing very good football.  L&C started drives off of kickoffs as followed: 43-yard line, 25-yard line, 35-yard line, 21-yard line, 41-yard line, 34-yard line, 48-yard line, and 23-yard line.  Starting field position of the 34-yard line or more on 5 of the 8 possessions.  This is putting the defense and Wildcat offense in a bad position as it shortens up fields for the opposing offense and makes the field longer for the Wildcat offense. The kickoff team has to get better in order for this team to get to where they want to go.

Giving away a TD:  Look, the Linfield defense has been great all season long but there have been a few times where the defense has been their own worst enemy in the red zone in getting needless penalties to allow the opposition another crack at it.  That happened again on very benign and inadvertent contact on Lewis and Clark's placekicker on a missed field goal attempt in the 2nd quarter. The kicker collapsed upon the light contact and got the flag and L&C cashed in a few plays later.  The ‘Cats can’t give teams new life when a drive gets snuffed out.

The Ugly

Nothing: Playing up on Palatine Hill is a good time.  Lewis & Clark does have a nice backdrop with all the trees and their stadium has been polished up a little bit.  Granted, the Pioneers have almost minimal crowd support but it was a beautiful Northwest day in October and the ‘Cats won another football game. It was a good day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

2017 Game 5 Preview: Linfield (3-1) at Lewis & Clark (2-2)

Team, Excellence, Attitude, Class
Time for another road trip in the great state of Oregon as Linfield will fire up the bus and hit the road for a short drive up to Palatine Hill to face the Lewis & Clark Pioneers.  Linfield is currently riding a win streak against the Pioneers dating back to the early 1970’s. The Pioneers have come close to knocking off the ‘Cats over the years but since the 26-20 victory in 1996, Linfield has defeated the Pioneers over the last 19 years by an average of 52 points per game. It’s been pure domination.

However, times are changing up at Lewis and Clark.  Head Coach Jay Locey and his staff are in their 3rd year in taking over a program in the gutter and has slowly but surely are turning the nose up on the fortunes of the Pioneers.  The first real signs of life for Lewis & Clark was registering the first win under Coach Locey with a 40-29 road victory over Pomona-Pitzer back on September 16th.  The Pios followed that up with their first conference win over Willamette since the 2000 season. The momentum was finally derailed last week up at Puget Sound in a 35-13 loss at Puget Sound but the 2017 season has already been a success on many levels for Lewis & Clark.

The Pios offense leans on a nearly 50/50 pass to run ratio out of the shotgun and putting up a respectable 320 yards per off. Leading the charge for Lewis and Clark is an improved offense with Freshman QB Sawyer May calling the shots for the Pioneers.  May has a nice touch on the football and has shown an ability to extend plays with his legs while looking for a capable group of receivers led by Sophomore Heisman Hosoda who has pulled in 18 receptions for 295 yards and 3 TDs.

L&C is splitting up the running back duties with a thunder and lightning combo with senior Erik Hawkins being the lightning (5’ 8”, 180lbs) portion of the duo (44 rushes, 177 yards, and 44.3 YPG) and bruising freshman Michael Abraham (6’ 2”, 230lbs) acting as the Thunder (45 rushes, 135 yards, 33.8 YPG, and 2 TDs). May is also someone who can pull the ball down and run but has also fumbled the ball three times so far this season.

Over on Defense, we’ll see another 3-4 defensive front with a number of active linebackers. The Pioneers did bring back a great majority of their defensive starters but are currently giving up 30.5 PPG and allowing 401.8 yards per game as well. It’s an improved group but they are still giving up the second most points in the conference and have yet to play the top end of the NWC.

For Linfield, Saturday is another opportunity for this team to put another foot forward and continue to grow. I still think this 2017 Linfield isn’t near their ceiling of what they could be, but over the past weeks, the ‘Cats have taken significant steps towards the finished product. Linfield still has many areas where they could tighten up their game and other areas (i.e. kickoff coverage) where Linfield can’t wait much longer to get on the stick. Again, I think this Saturday again comes down the mindset and maturity. The Pioneers are improved and the roster is improved significantly from just a few years back.  Even with that said, if Linfield puts in a strong week of practice and shows up on The Hill on a mission, our ‘Cats should be an animal that the Pioneers haven’t seen up to this point in their season.

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Another opportunity to get better:  At Linfield, you only get nine guaranteed chances to play football per season and this team has the chance to build towards something great. Each week you can see the improvement, guys getting more settled in the role, leadership continuing to emerge, young players earning more opportunities to make their mark, etc, etc. This Saturday is another chance for this group to take another step towards who this team will ultimately be. Seize the moment and keep on playing Linfield football for four quarters.

Be physical at the point of attack:  That is one of the biggest strengths of this 2017 Linfield football team is our physicality on the line of scrimmage, the way our backers fill holes, and the way our receivers have been getting after it on the perimeter in the blocking game. If the ‘Cats want to take control of Saturday’s game and put it away as quick as possible, Linfield has to bring it in terms of establishing the brute force nature of this team. Let ‘em know.

Run The Hill: Linfield’s offense is going to see another 3-4 front this week out of Lewis and Clark.  Andrew Werst is a big and tough defensive end that will need to be dealt with on the line and the Pio linebackers are active. However, L&C is giving up 164.8 rushing yards a game and they haven’t seen the front line or RB talent of Linfield up to this point. The ‘Cats have to make them pay early and often on the ground.

Don’t give up big plays: For as incredible as our defense has been this year every now and again an offense can use Linfield’s aggression to their advantage and pop a big play.  If the Pios are going to put points up on the board against the ‘Cats, then let’s make L&C earn it and not give them an easy one on a blown coverage or assignment.

Make ‘em pay in the passing game: Linfield’s passing game has improved dramatically since the first game of the season and we know if the ‘Cats can get rolling in the rushing attack, Linfield is going to eventually take their shots deep throwing the ball.  Linfield needs to connect on these plays and put the pressure on the L&C defensive backfield to not overcommit to defending the run for fear of giving up the big play.

Kick off team pin them deep: I’m throwing down the gauntlet for Linfield’s kick off team this week.  I want to see some pins between the 10-20 yard line this week and no returns past the 35-yard line. This group has a truckload of talent, and I know the coaching is there.  It’s a matter of the players deciding that they’re going to get the job done.

Overall.

‘Cats by 21. Lewis & Clark is in a much better place in year 3 of their Jay Locey era. They are getting better players and retaining them.  The Pios are on a path towards respectability and while they will compete hard this weekend, this Linfield team should be way too much for them to handle.  The ‘Cats will have more size, talent, speed, depth, and unless Linfield comes into the game asleep at the wheel, should eventually seize control and open up a sizable lead.  I can’t wait to see this Linfield team have another chance to compete.  They are onto something special in the ‘Catdome.

2017 Linfield vs Willamette Mini-Highlight


U mad?

Monday, October 9, 2017

‘Cats Win!!!! Linfield runs all over Willamette in 55-14 win in Salem.

Winners!

That was a mauling. Linfield’s offense cut up the Bearcat offense on the ground and through the air and the ‘Cats defense suffocated the Willamette offense on the way to a 55-14 victory. The game started off a little uneven as a ‘Cats offense started off strong in scoring a TD on their first possession but Willamette was able to answer thanks to big kickoff return and catching the ‘Cats with their pants down on a 4th and 2 when Willamette went play action and Linfield didn’t noticed the Bearcats tight end streaking down the field all by himself. However that excitement didn’t last too long as Linfield would take command and build a 31-14 halftime lead before pouring it on with a 24 point 3rd quarter before getting the young ‘Cats extended varsity minutes.

It continues to be encouraging to see the Linfield offense find their footing as Troy Fowler has established himself as the starting quarterback and Fowler is showing growth in the role behind his skillful and bruising offensive line. Along with Fowler, there are a number of Wildcat skill players who have also been establishing themselves with significant roles in this offense as Linfield put up their most productive game of the season against the Bearcats. The offense continues to show explosiveness as Linfield had nine plays of 20 yards or more on the day and the big play is going to be the calling card of this offense.

Flipping it over to the other side of the ball and what can you say about the Wildcat defense? They played an inferior offense and the Wildcat defense did what you should against a group that can’t measure up and that’s dominate them.  Linfield only allowed 9 first downs on the day, and besides giving the Bearcats two plays, the 'Cats boxed up the Bearcat offense like a birthday present.  It was another impressive performance and even more so with the ‘Cats missing some critical personnel on the day defensively. 

All the ‘Cats have to worry about is focusing on getting better each day and putting their full attention on an improved Lewis & Clark. Yes, there are challenges down the road but Linfield is on the right path and keeps getting better and better as the season progresses. Linfield cannot divert their attention from the task at hand and need to bring the hard hats to work this week and get ready for the short road trip up to the hill to face the Pioneers.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Great Team Win: That was 100% a team victory in all measures. The offense continues to find their rhythm as a group and the defense was their typical sledge hammer wielding selves as Linfield had a bit of unevenness in the first half but came around in the 3rd quarter to put the game with no questions and give our vast and talented young ‘Cats an opportunity to get some time under their belts as at least 75 players took varsity reps in the 41 point victory.  

Rush Attack: The ‘Cats rushed for a net total of 331 yards which is the 15th best in single game team history. Linfield pounded the ball 38 times at an average of 8.7 yards per carry. The big fellas up front did a great job in handling the Bearcat 3-4.  Leading the charge was Sophomore Chidubem Nnoli who had himself a day. Nnoli racked up 197 yards on just 13 carries and 3 Touchdowns. The effort was the 6th single game best in Linfield history and 2nd single game best for average yards per carry with 15.2 yards per carry. Nnoli possess a great combination of vision, decision making, and top end speed. All of that was on display in all three of Nnoli’s TDs and Chidubem seems to get better as the season moves along.


Defensive physicality: Linfield’s defense was once again punishing up front and at Linebacker. The ‘Cats only yielded 2.2 yards per carry off of 38 attempts by the Bearcat offense. Linfield’s defense line was once again inverting the Bearcats offensive line at the point of attack and the ‘Cats Jason Farlow continues to play like a man possessed at his Linebacker spot.  The senior linebacker continues to be a moving brick wall that smashes offensive backs as Farlow piled up 13 tackles, 8 solo, a forced fumble, and the topper was a 35 yard pick six off the deflection from Rover, Wade Ransom.

3rd down defense: The ‘Cats have been stingy on 3rd down all season long and this weekend was no different.  The ‘Cats held Willamette to 3 of 16 on 3rd down and had the Bearcats on lock in both the ground and through the air.

Offensive air explosiveness: Linfield passing game looks sharper and sharper as we move along this season. Quarterback Troy Fowler is starting to develop that needed timing and connection with this speedy group of receivers and the result was another solid day in the office for Fowler. The Junior QB threw for 170 yards on 11 of 18 passing and two more TD’s against zero interceptions. While the deep balls are starting to connects, what I’m happier about is some of those longer sideline comebacks are getting completed and that will make this offense even more versatile.


Creating Turnovers: The Linfield defense continues to turnover teams with one forced fumble and two interceptions. The turnovers led directly to 10 points for the ‘Cats and if the Linfield defense can continue to force turnovers it will only make this team harder to beat.

The Bad:

Blown coverage: After the game, Linfield DC Jackson Vaughan talked to the team and relayed a conversation that Head Coach Joe Smith and him would have about coaching defense. Coach Smith told Coach Vaughan that sometime playing defense in football is like being a pitcher. You can throw nine excellent innings but make two bad pitches and be down 2-0 in the ninth. The Linfield defense made two REALLY bad pitches against the Bearcats in what was clearly blown coverage.  The result was essentially the 14 points that Willamette put up in what was otherwise an absolute dominate defensive performance.

Red Zone Turnover: I’m being picky here but this is the second week in a row where the ‘Cats fumbled deep in the red zone and turned it over. That can’t continue to happen if the ‘Cats have aspirations to be the team they are working to become because if this is a habit it will burn the ‘Cats in a game where points are at a premium.

Kickoff Coverage:  Like the red zone turnovers, this is a part of the Linfield game that needs to improve in a hurry or it will wind up hurting the ‘Cats in a bad way.  The kickoff team was not very good against Willamette. In years past, some of the best Linfield teams all had outstanding kickoff coverage.  The formula was the kickoff team would pin a team on the 20 yard line or deeper, Linfield’s defense forced a quick punt, Linfield’s offense would be set up in excellent field position, score on a short field, rinse, repeat, blowout victory for Linfield. We have dudes on that kickoff team and it’s not a matter of talent.  It’s a matter of executing, having pride in the job, and this group deciding they’re going to be a weapon for Linfield football and not just a weak spot that makes fans hold their breath every time the ball gets kicked off.

The Ugly:

The fall of Willamette:  The current state of the Willamette football program is a cautionary tale for healthy and top football programs around the country.  When it comes to athletic programs and their fan base the worst word you can use is apathy.  It’s one thing for a fan or student base to be angry over the performance of your team and even the direction of the program. But it’s a killer when fans, alumni, and students just don’t care. I’m a total outsider to Willamette football, but from this outsiders perspective it looks like nobody (besides their coaches, players, and a small amount of fans/family/alumni) cares about Bearcat football.  I can clearly remember when the Linfield vs Willamette game mattered. Just look at this photo from 2009 but now a typical Willamette grandstand looks something out of scene of a post apocalyptic television show..  According to the box score, this was the highest attended game of the year for Willamette and if that’s the case then I feel bad for their players who put in countless hours to run out to a near empty house game after game.

This program use to compete yearly for the NWC title, had a roster over 100 players, and an identity as a program. Now that program just seems adrift at sea and has the conferences smallest roster and could possibly have their first winless record in program history. Who knows what the reasons are.  It could be a combination of lack of administrative support, coaching turnover, change of campus culture, etc.  Whatever it is, if you are part of a good football program you better take note (even us at Linfield) at how quickly it can slide from the penthouse to the outhouse if you take your eye off the ball and just assume you’ll be good based off of past accomplishments.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

2017 Game 3 Preview: Linfield (2-1) at Willamette (0-3)



Yeah, we're not the best of friends but we can still get together for some fun.

And here we go. Coming off the satisfying and critical 38-9 victory over Whitworth, Linfield is packing the bags and loading up the Wildcat Wagons for a short trip through the valley to Salem to face off against a longtime foe, Willamette. This is when you start to get a real rhythm for the season as there are no more bye weeks and you head into the heart of conference play. While last Saturday in the ‘Catdome was exciting and fun, there is no time to start becoming self-congratulating as our 2017 Linfield Wildcats are still forging the identity and are still a long ways away from being a fully realized product.

Yes, we have seen the talent that this roster possesses but I think it’s obvious that this team isn’t a finished product. To me, if this team was Luke Skywalker, they just shot the torpedoes down the shoots to blow up the first Death Star but they’re not the polished Jedi that strolled into Jabba’s stronghold in ROTJ and said if you don’t release my friends now, you’re finished. Coach Smith and his staff have to continue to do their best Yoda and train this team until this group is ready to face their own Vader.

Standing in our young padawan’s way this Saturday is the Willamette University Bearcats. Don’t let Willamette’s record fool as the Bearcats is a solid team that is going to be ready to give the hated Wildcats all they can handle in Bush Park. The Bearcats have started off the season slowly at 0-3 but have been competitive in all three of their games. For the past few years, the Bearcats have struggled offensively but have been a solid group on defense, but in 2017, the roles are reversed for Willamette as the Bearcats have found solid offensive play but haven’t been nearly as stiff on the defensive side of the ball due to youth. The result has been a Willamette team that has competed hard in all three of their games but haven’t been able to walk away with any victories.

My fear this weekend is our ‘Cats thinking that they’ve made it after blowing out Whitworth and seeing that Willamette lost to L&C. I’m telling you that there are teams in the NWC that will not win very many games but there are NO terrible teams in the conference this year.  Willamette fits that mold.  Willamette could easily be 2-1 or 3-0 right now but the breaks didn’t happen they’re sitting on 0-3.  They’re not a bad football team and have a number of dudes that can play well and are athletic.  This Linfield team is not even close to a football team that can just roll out on a field and phone it in.  This group has too many things they need to improve upon and also have many things to prove to themselves.  If our ‘Cats decide to fart around it could become an ugly and hotly contested football game. I hope our Wildcats still understand this group needs to bring the fire each and every weekend.

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory:

Ready to handle your business: I’m looking forward to seeing where this Linfield team is at this weekend in terms of readiness. It will be a single to if their team is growing into the contender they could be or if they’re a group that is still in need of figuring out just who they are. This will also be interesting as this will be the first full roster travel game and this Linfield team will have to show they can handle playing on the road as well.

Fast offensive start: Linfield has not exactly been lighting the world on fire against Willamette in the first half of game during the Glen Fowles era.  Since Fowles took over, the ‘Cats are averaging 15 first half ppg and three times has been held to 10 points or fewer in the first half on 3 of the 5 games: 2012 -10 pts, 2014 – 7 pts, 2015 – 7 pts.  The ‘Cats offense has struggled during the years at times with the Bearcats 3-4 base defense so it’s imperative for this growing Wildcat offense to start the game off on the right foot and get points on the board and not allow the Bearcats to hang around too long or could face making it a tight game late.

Eliminate the Bearcats Rushing Game: Running the football isn’t their offensive strength but the Bearcats are about a 60/40 ratio on offense that leans more on the pass.  However, The Bearcats lean on the rush game to break off some yardage and to set up their play action passing game.  The Bearcats run a lot of shotgun single back and gun two back formations and lean primarily on senior running back Joey Thurman and junior Matt Stone to carry the bulk of the load but QB Mathew Castaneda will also carry the rock often for Willamette.  Linfield’s front four have to void out the Bearcat rush game in order to allow the ‘Cats safeties to hang back and not have to be overly involved in the rushing attack.

Establish the rushing game early and often: We all know it by now. In order for the ‘Cats offense to be effective, Linfield has to get the sticks moving with the rushing attack.  Willamette will counter with the 3-4 look and bring all sorts of pressures and movement and Linfield’s offensive line has to be up to the task of sorting out responsibilities and getting physical at the point of attack. If Linfield can get the rushing attack going, we know that Linfield is going to be able to take their shots in the passing game.

Another challenge for our Defensive Backs:  The strength of this Willamette football team is their receiver corp. The Bearcats have a very solid group of seniors that run clean routes and do a great job in competing for the football. Willamette has 4 players who currently have 10 catches or more and five different receivers who have caught a touchdown.  I remember watching Willamette’s first game against Rhodes and was immediately impressed with the decision to go with Mathew Castaneda at quarterback this season.  The Sophomore throws an accurate football and is efficient with his decision making and is a great pairing with his senior-heavy receivers. The Wildcat DB’s will have their work cut out of themselves once again and will need to bring that same playmaking ability they showed last week versus Whitworth.

Keep mistakes down to a minimum:  Linfield needs to put the emphasis on finding the line between their aggressive style of play without loading up on too many penalties and taking care of the football.  If the ‘Cats can play a clean football game and not give the ball away, it will go a long ways to bringing home the victory.

Win on Special Teams: Willamette has always done a good job on special teams but the ‘Cats should have the more talent the deeper we go into the roster. These groups have to make their mark on this game and pin the Bearcats deep during kicking situations and could make a big impact on the return game. However, this is the type of game where Willamette could very well roll the dice on special teams and do the unexpected. Keep your eyes in the backfield and be ready for anything.

‘Cats by 14. I don’t know if Willamette is going to win very many football games this year but they’re going to compete in all of them. I expect them to look at this as a pride game coming off the loss to Lewis & Clark. I’m sure it was frustrating so the motivation for Willamette to get to work this week had to be there in spades.  If Linfield is focused on the job at hand and does show that continued growth in the offense, then I expect Linfield to slowly but surely put this game on ice. However, if Linfield is peaking down the road and not ready to roll then our ‘Cats could get their hands full with what I expect to be an inspired football team.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A letter from Coach Smith

I'm fortunate enough to get included in group communications from the Linfield coaching staff to its players and there are times when you read something that is so impactful that I feel compelled to share it those that read this blog and follow Linfield Football.   

Earlier today, Linfield Head Coach Joseph Smith sent out the letter below address to his players and coaches about the mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas.  These shootings are a nightmare that this country can't escape from and Coach Smith's thoughts and words are something to hold onto and can provide light during these dark times.  It's a letter that I hope these players will one day look back on as they are raising children, in our flawed but wonderful and proud nation, and remember the most important job you can ever have is that of raising a child and releasing them into this world to make a positive and uplifting impact on their future communities and lives of their fellow citizens.

-11

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Gentlemen,

I write this to you, with a deeply saddened and heavy heart. The event in Las Vegas, which deliberately caused such death and injury, is hard to look at.  It strikes so close to home for me, as I am a strong fan of country music, and my family could have easily been at that concert.

The people that were shot down without mercy were just like you and me. They were our fellow Americans.  

I would ask each of you to take a few minutes this afternoon and quietly keep all those that were affected in your thoughts and prayers. This was a tragedy on a large scale, and the pain and suffering that has been inflicted will continue for years and years to come.   Lives were ended, and lives were ruined.   Lives were forever altered negatively in a way that people did not deserve or earn. These were our friends and neighbors running in terror for their lives.   While there were many acts of bravery and self-sacrifice amidst this event that will come to light, one cannot get past the heinousness of such a crime.  For this was no foreign terrorist.  This was homegrown, home raised, product of our culture.

I believe people are endowed with an amazing ability to adapt and overcome.  History has shown us many examples of an individual overcoming great obstacles and rate limiters.  I do not believe we are a completely powerless victim of our surroundings and upbringing. 

However.  I also believe strongly that we are greatly influenced by our environment.  Yes, genetic predisposition plays a great role in our development, but the power of the environment one is raised in, should not be underestimated.

We are all responsible for our own actions and the consequences of our decisions and behavior.  But I also believe we are responsible for the influence we have upon others in our lives.  Especially the role you have as a parent.  I hope that all of you will be able to experience being a father.  However, it is not a temporary experience.  It is a job you will have until life separately you permanently from those in your charge.    

You will always be the parent. 

As a parent, you will have played a part in every success and failure they experience.   

I believe this continues for their entire life. The foundation you lay initially, as well as the continual attention you give toward their development, will greatly influence how they function many years after they leave the home.  

I believe the single greatest problem in our society today, is the lack of parenting that is being given toward America’s youth. At no time in our history, has parenting been as absent, and unfocused as it is today.

We are turning out too many youths into this world, ill-equipped for its demands.

Today, 58 people are dead, and over 500 are physically wounded.  Hundreds more will carry that terror with them the rest of their lives.  This is avoidable and should not have happened.  It happened because one man decided not to carry his share of the load.   He was not around.  He had no hand at all, in raising the child he brought into this world.  He allowed chance and circumstance to raise his son, and infuse its value system and thought patterns into that boy.  That boy grew up…and became a mass murderer.

In this program, you are a Man of Action.  You DO the HEAVY Lifting.    That means you do the heavy parenting.  You do the grunt work.  It is not exciting.  It is not popular.  But it is necessary.    You show up.  You show up every day.

Coach Smith 

‘Cats win!!! Linfield soars to a 38-9 thumping of Whitworth in ‘Catdome.

#2 JD Lasswell had two huge TD grabs for Linfield including this 65 yard yard strike in the 2nd qt.
Photo Courtsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Photos Here.

In a recent Whitworth coaches radio show, the host, Bob Castle, talked about a conversation between Castle and Whitworth head coach Rod Sandberg where Coach Sandberg stated he has seen the gap between Linfield and Whitworth “narrowed”. Coach Sandberg’s reply to Castle was, “this team has big goals and it’s beyond just Linfield.” You know, there’s nothing wrong with an NWC team having goals going “beyond Linfield” and, that’s cool. However, the only thing I saw narrowing about Linfield and Whitworth this past Saturday was the distance between Linfield’s defense to where Pirate QB Ian Kolste was setting up in the pocket.

After two weeks of having to digest and mull over a tough 24-3 defeat of Mary Hardin-Baylor, it was gut-check time for the 2017 Linfield Wildcats and our guys responded with a thunderous route of a high flying and highly confident, Whitworth Pirates. You could tell early in the day when players were doing their individual walk about on the field, before the gates open to fans, that the Pirate players were feeling themselves, and they had every reason to be, they were 3-0 with statistically two of the best units in Division III.  Confidence had to be skyrocketing for the Pirates about this being the year Whitworth would knock off the ‘Cats.  Linfield however had different plans. We’ve talked about it over and over again how this Linfield roster is extremely talented and it’s just a matter of when they start putting it together. Whitworth, found that out first hand on Saturday, that Linfield has a brute force defense and an offense that is growing before our eyes.

For Linfield, the story of the game was pressure.  Linfield brought it in spades as the ‘Cats were able to harass, knock down, sack, and made Whitworth QB Ian Kolste about as comfortable as if Kolste had a sharp rock in his shoe.  Along with the pressure, I cannot state enough how well the Linfield defensive backs played.  The ‘Cats defensive backs blanketed a fantastic Whitworth receiver corps like a snuggie in December. The result was Linfield only yielding three field goals to Whitworth and keeping the Pirates out of the end zone for the first time since True Religion jeans were still a thing.

Flipping it over to the Linfield offense and we’re seeing growth. The game started off slow for the Wildcat offense but the ‘Cats finally hit that big play that has been teasing the fans over the past two games. Once Linfield broke that seal, the ‘Cats offense stared to find their footing in establishing their rushing attack that would set up more deep ball strike opportunities.  It was encouraging to see Chidubem Nnoli emerge as the ‘Cats featured back with the Sophomore breaking the 100 yard mark with 139 yards on 18 carries behind an offensive line that will only continue to solidify.

However, the offense still has plenty to work on but Saturday was encouraging and it feels like slowly the offensive identity for Linfield is emerging.

Moving forward, this victory is huge.  The ‘Cats fate is clearly in their own hands but Linfield will be sorely mistaken if they think they can coast the rest of the way.  There are challengers down the road that are going to be coming at the ‘Cats with both barrels and this Linfield team isn’t good enough yet to just roll the football out between the lines and think that is enough. I hope that lesson in 2014 that Willamette gave the ‘Cats is still fresh in the programs minds about sleep walking against anybody that lines up across from you.  Speaking of Willamette. We’ll be headed to the ‘Catdome Capitol this weekend to once again battle the Bearcats. Keep it rolling ‘Cats!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Ready to Play: No doubt about it but this group was ready to go.  At the beginning of the season it seems that some of the older players, but with less game experience, were a little hesitant to be heard too much.  But this Saturday was different. You’re starting to see new players, along with this strong senior class, take a more active role with leadership and setting the tone for this team.  For the players on the 2017 roster, it’s becoming more and more “their” team and that is only going to lead to better results.

Delivering the pressure: The ‘Cats defensive front brought the heat early and it set the tone for the rest of the game. Whitworth did throw the ball 60 times so there were plenty of moments when Kolste had a clean pocket but he was uncomfortable from the start as Linfield was able to get hits on the Whitworth gun slinger and move him off his spots.
Feeling the Rushing Attack: As the game moved along the ‘Cats offensive line started to wear on the Whitworth front seven and the ‘Cats rushing attack took control of the game. Linfield’s offensive line had a good day in the office with getting on bodies and creating space for the ‘Cats running back to churn out the yardage.  Saturday also produced the ‘Cats first 100 yard rusher in the season in Nnoli and I feel this aspect of the ‘Cats game will only grow over the next six games.

Blanket Coverage: Our defensive backs were nails on Saturday. They were on the hip of a very good group of receivers the whole game and racked up 9 pass break-ups and 3 picks in what turned out to be a coming out party for this unit. They played a big time game.
#37 Marquis Perrilliat had one of Linfield's 3 interceptions in the win for 'Cats.
Photo Courtsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.

Hitting the Big Plays: The ‘Cats only connected on 10 passes but they also averaged 23.4 yard per pass. We have guys that can fly down the field and that big play element to compliment the rushing attack finally emerged against Whitworth.  Fowler hit on 4 passing plays of 20 yards or more (63, 22, 37, and 42) and the home run ball was critical in this win over Whitworth.

3rd and 4th down defense: Whitworth came in the game in converting on 3rd down 57.8% of the time and would be a huge down towards the outcome of this game. Well, between the ‘Cats physicality up front and tight coverage the ‘Cats held Whitworth to a 35.2% conversion rate.  To go along with this, Linfield also turned away Whitworth twice on 4th down including a huge red zone stop late in the first half.

The Bad

Kickoff Coverage:  I wouldn’t put this in the “bad” category but the “still needs to be sharpened up” group. The ‘Cats coverage on 5 out of the 7 kickoffs was pretty darn good but the ‘Cats still have some growing to do as Whitworth was able to leak out on back-to-back returns and give the Rats offense solid starting position at their own 40 yard line. I probably wouldn’t even write about this if not for the TD return by UMHB two weeks ago.

Penalties: I love the aggressive nature of our team so penalties are going to happen.  That is part of the life but giving Whitworth 6 first downs on the 12 penalties for 93 yards is too many.  ‘Cats need to tighten this up moving forward.

Red Zone Turnover: Nitpicking here as the red zone turnover worked out for the ‘Cats with Jake
Reimer getting the 4 yard pick six, but the ‘Cats can’t have fumbles in the red zone with our specialized personnel groups.  Ball security is always a top offensive priority but especially when you’re sniffing pay dirt.

The Ugly

Whitworth offensive starters in on last series. This is not an “ugly” but more of a head scratcher.  The Whitworth coaching staff decided to run out their offensive starters down 29 point with 2:25 left and I was left curious on why risk the franchise QB to further damage when the game was salted away.  On top of that, with a 2nd and goal with 23 seconds left the Rats even called a timeout.  That’s not against the rules but makes you say “hmmmmm” when you try to punch in a late TD with your ones against another team’s back-ups.  The result was one more hit for Kolste to take and one more fitting forced turnover caused by the ‘Cats defense.

Game highlights by Linfield Athletics: