Thursday, November 9, 2017

2017 Game 9 Preview: Linfield (7-1) at Pacific (4-3)

Wait, it's the end of the regular season already?
And off we go! Your Linfield Wildcats will wrap up the 2017 regular season a stone’s throw away from the ‘Catdome as Linfield will travel up to Forest Grove to face the Pacific Boxers. This should be a good football game between two programs that pride themselves on playing a physical brand of football.

The Pacific Boxers have had a bit of a strange 2017 season as the Boxers non-conference season was rocked with Pacific finding out the day they were supposed to board an airplane to Southern California that their September 16th game against the Occidental Tigers was called off by the hosts due to low roster numbers.  It was a bad situation for everyone involved as the players were robbed of over 10% of their season and a number of Pacific families were left hanging with airplane tickets and time off work with no game to go see. That has left the Boxers with an 8 game season which the Northwest Conference hasn’t seen since 2005, when Lewis & Clark canceled the remainder of their season due to low roster numbers right before the start of NWC play.

With that said, the 2017 Boxers play a competitive brand of football in which has seen Pacific lose three tight games on the year.  The Pacific victories have been tight as well until the Boxers were able to able to land a 28-point win over Willamette last weekend.  Regardless, Pacific is more than comfortable in getting in a phone booth with a team and slugging it out until a victor can be declared.

On offense, the Wildcat defense is going to see a team featuring the top rushing attack in the NWC in Pacific, as the Boxers average 211.3 rushing yards per game (4.9 yards per rush), and the top rusher in the conference in Senior Running Back Brandon Boyd.  Boyd has been the workhorse for the Boxers in averaging 138.6 rushing yards per game (6.7 yards per carry) and 8 touchdowns on the season.

As much as the Boxers want to ground and pound the opposition, Pacific is capable of putting the ball in the air.  Leading the Pacific aerial attack is Junior quarterback JT Greenough.  The Tigard native is completing passes at a 59.1% rate and averaging 179.6 passing yards per game. Easily, the top target for the Boxers is the explosive Kobe Williams. The sophomore receiver has top-end speed and is not only a dynamic deep threat but is dangerous in Pacific's wide receiver screen game.

The Boxers will attack Linfield with throwing a ton of different formations at the Wildcat defense and have no issues in going four wide or bringing in extra offensive linemen and try to ram it down your throat.  It will not only be a physical challenge for this Linfield defense but also a schematic one as well.

Defensively, the Boxers are another 3-4 base defensive team that the ‘Cats will be facing.  The Boxers have been solid all year on defense in only allowing 23.0 points per game.  Pacific hasn’t been a one-man show on defense as the Boxers top three tacklers all represent all three levels of the Pacific Defense. The top tackler on the team is senior linebacker Ina Teofilo who has piled up 35 total tackles on the year, followed by sophomore safety Kolby Kikolaisen with 34 total tackles, and that’s followed by defensive line stand out, Xavier Harvey, who has stacked up 32 tackles on the year.  Harvey is also leading the team in tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (4.5).

While the Boxers are allowing 180.7 rushing yard per game, where this defense has been outstanding on 3rd down.  Currently Pacific features the 7th best 3rd down defense in the entire country (Linfield is 23rd) in only allowing a 3rd down conversion rate of 25% on the season (Linfield’s outstanding defense gives up 3rd downs on 28% of the time). It’s a pretty interesting stat as the Boxer defense, while solid, doesn’t jump out in any other statistical category in the Division III rankings.  However, that is a pretty darn good area to be good at and one to give Linfield fans concern as the ‘Cats haven’t exactly been gangbusters on 3rd down with only having a 36.7% conversion rate. For fans watching this weekend, 3rd down will play a major role in the outcome of this game.

For the ‘Cats, this is another big weekend as while Linfield did clinch the NWC title last weekend there is still too much work for this Linfield team to do before even considering the second season. Linfield HAS to be fully invested at the task on hand because this Wildcat team isn’t even close to being a team that can roll out and be conservative in how they approach and attack a game like this and expect a positive outcome. Really, this Linfield team has to look at this game as a playoff game and keep building on the momentum of the season as the ‘Cats have played a superior brand of defensive football and saw a spark of a dynamic offensive attack that could develop for this program.

To me, the talent on this roster hasn’t played their best football yet. There have been so many injuries and line up shuffling on the offensive side of the ball that has stifled the development of this unit but people watching last weekend saw something happening in that second half.  Was that just a flash in the pan or was that second half against UPS the foundation of an explosive offensive attack? We’re going to find out in less than 48 hours against a team that would love nothing to do than derail the end of Linfield’s regular season.

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Focus on Saturday: That’s all that matters and Linfield have to realize that the Boxers are going to go down in this season swinging with everything they got.  The Boxers have nothing to lose and everything to gain in beating Linfield and riding into the recruiting season with a big old feather in their cap.  The last thing this program needs to do is worry about who or where the ‘Cats are going to be in the first round.  No, this Linfield football team and staff need to have all eyes on Saturday and let it all hang out in order to keep this football team moving in a upward trajectory.

Take away the Boxer Rushing Game:  Yeah, we’ve already talked about how good the Boxers rushing attack is this year. Boyd is a fantastic back that does a great job in setting up his blocking and making quick and decisive cuts on the line of scrimmage and has the breakaway speed to bust one wide open.  This is the best running back that Linfield has seen since week 2 of the season against Mary Hardin-Baylor. I’m not overselling it, Boyd is good and if Linfield can take him away it will go a long way towards a Linfield victory.

Limit negative offensive plays: Negative offense plays (Tackles for loss, penalties, sacks) have been a killer for this 2017 Linfield Wildcat team. Linfield’s offensive line has to be outstanding with their communication and execution of blocking schemes and then has to win the one-on-one battles in front of them.  Keeping negative plays down to a minimum would be a huge positive for this offensive unit.

Win the turnover battle: Linfield is coming into this game as a team with a +7 turnover ratio (that means the opposition has turned it over 7 more times than Linfield has during the season) while the Boxers are a -5.  Pacific hasn’t been terrible in giving the ball away but their defense has only caused 7 total turnovers on the season.  Keeping this trend going could play a major factor in a Linfield victory.

Find an offensive balance: For most the season, Linfield has been a rush first football team but last week the ‘Cats were finally able to break loose in the passing attack for over 300 yards but had zero rush game to speak of. Pacific traditionally, and still does, a good job in their defensive passing schemes so the ‘Cats offense needs to find that balance. I’m telling you, that if Linfield can find a balanced offensive attack, this can be an explosive offensive football team.

Out special Pacific on Special Teams: We’ve needed this unit all season long and this weekend is no different. The ‘Cats have to be able to flip fields and be great in their coverage teams against the Boxers.  Every game it seems like this group comes through with some standout plays and Linfield will need more of the same in order to move on with the victory.

Put the pressure on: We’ve talked a ton about the Boxer rushing attack but Pacific is capable of throwing the football.  In passing situations, the Linfield front four has to get after JT Greenough, who is not a mobile quarterback.  If Linfield allows Greenough to stand up tall and deliver, he’s going to make Linfield pay.  The ‘Cats have to get guys on him in a hurry and move him off his spot in the pocket in order to disrupt the Boxers passing attack.


‘Cats by 10.  I’m coming into Saturday with full respect to Pacific.  Hanson stadium is not an easy place to win football games and Pacific is a prideful program with plenty of talent.  Our ‘Cats need to be razor sharp coming into Saturday and if they can perform up to the talent on this roster there isn’t a reason why Linfield can’t walk away from Saturday with a hard-earned and satisfying victory against a worthy opponent.

1 comment:

DS said...

Playoffs Saturday!