Monday, November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

The Ugly

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


DS said...

I gave the offensive line a Popsicle prize at halftime when it appeared obvious to me they were carrying the torch.

Chris said...

Great game. My 6 year old had a new password to enter his room... Linfield beats Hardin Baylor!

Unknown said...

Let's hope he doesn't have to change it after Saturday.