Tuesday, November 14, 2017

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield knock out Boxers in 35-7 victory in Forest Grove.


That was satisfying. After weeks of enjoying but gaining a few new gray hairs the Wildcats started to put the whole dang thing together in what was a dominating 35-7 victory over the Pacific Boxers.

I didn’t want to bring this up in the game preview but since Pacific rebooted their program, Linfield hasn’t exactly burned it up on the road against the Boxers.  If you do look at just the final outcomes, it looks like the 2011 and 2016 games were comfortable wins but they were not crisp games as the ‘Cats had some struggles to put Pacific away quickly in those contests and we all know that Linfield had to fight off the Boxers in 2013 in a tight battle.  However, this past Saturday was a slap-down from the opening kickoff to the end of the game. It was a vintage Linfield football game where the ‘Cats use a quick strike offense to surge ahead and the defense bludgeons the opposition into submission.

It was fun to watch the confidence of the team grow after having it shaken, but not broken, in weeks prior. As I wrote about last week, you could see the offensive unit take a step forward last week in the second half against Puget Sound and the ‘Cats carried that momentum over into this past Saturday as they moved the ball quickly and effectively against Pacific.   Pass pro was mostly solid on the day, receivers were mixing it up in the run game with their blocking, Nnoli was making guys miss or bowling them over into the end zone, and our receivers were making plays on the football.  It does make me wish the offense had one more game to continue that upward swing before the playoffs but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. The sudden productivity of the offensive unit is a welcome and exciting development to counter what is an outstanding Linfield defense.

Speaking of the defense, what can you say about this group? They have been so freaking good from the opening game down in California, to standing toe-to-toe with UMHB, and then to locking up the Northwest Conference offenses and throwing away the key. In seven conference games this Linfield defense only allowed 8.6 points per game, 66 yards of rushing per game, 151.6 yards passing allowed per game, 12 picks, 11 fumble recoveries, 26 sacks, and only allowed 1 rushing TD. This Linfield defense out prepared, out skilled, out quicked, and out toughed everyone in the Pacific Northwest in 2017 and Pacific was just the latest victim.

The Boxers were only able to put together 147 total yards of offense, which is better that Puget Sound last week so at least they had going on for them.  Really, it wasn’t a case of the Boxers being bad on offense but what Linfield’s defense did to them was what the ‘Cats have done to NWC offenses all season long and that’s bury ‘em.

With that said, everyone got the news of the playoffs and what the road for the ‘Cats will look like.  If you’re surprised that the ‘Cats are playing Hardin-Simmons again then I want to talk to you about a real estate opportunity I have in Parkland. This is not shocking and I’m actually thrilled to be hosting a home playoff game in 2017.  The Cowboys are a GREAT football program and will give Linfield all the ‘Cats can handle and more.  We’ll have plenty to talk about on Thursday but for now let’s get to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from an excellent win over the Boxers.

The Good

A balanced offense: Linfield’s offense looked good. Really good. If it was for the two red zone turnovers in the first half, the ‘Cats offense might have been able to punch in 5 touchdowns in the first 6 possessions but ultimately has to settled on those 3 first half TD strikes.  The Offense found that balance they’ve been craving all year long with 151 yards rushing and 219 passing yards that equaled out to Linfield hitting a 6.3 yards per play average.  The offensive line seems healthier and guys are feeling more comfortable and growing into their roles on that side of the football. The growth couldn’t have come at a better time.

Generating Pressure: Linfield defensive line’s play was game altering as they never allowed the Boxers to get comfortable in the passing department.  Linfield stacked up 5 sacks and the constant pressure was heavy on the Pacific coaching staff’s mind.  The Pacific offense was so worried about Linfield’s heat that their passing game was a collection of check downs and screens for the big majority of the game and a huge reason why Pacific only went 11 of 28 for 71 yards throwing the ball.

Creating turnovers: The Linfield defense forced 4 turnover against the Boxers on Saturday, including 3 forced fumbles and recoveries.  Anthony Guttadauro came up with a big pick late in the first half to halt Pacific’s only offensive action in the half after a big punt return by the Boxers.  Then all three of these fumble recoveries were critical as Linfield turned each of them into touchdowns and allowed Linfield to put the game to bed early in the 3rd quarter. 

Development of the passing game:  Linfield quarterback Wyatt Smith continued to impress in his second start of his young career in going 10 of 14 for 188 yards and 3 TD strikes.  To me, his best and most eye opening throw wasn’t the touchdown throws but was a strike on 1st and 10 in the 3rd quarter from Pacific’s 22.  It was a play action pass where Smith dropped a dime over bracketed coverage to Kyle Kimball to set up a first and goal on the one. It was a big time throw and further proof that the passing game is going the right direction.

3rd down defense: The Wildcat defense was suffocating on the day in only allowing Pacific to go 2 of 15 on 3rd down conversions (13%).  The Wildcats forced six 3 and out possessions during the game and gave the Pacific punter a sore leg for making him kick it so much on Saturday. 

The Bad

The Penalties, man:  As much as I love this team and how hard they have grinded there is a part of this team that need to grow up and lean to walk away from those guys on the other team that have nothing else going on than to try to act tough and bait an altercation. Linfield had five personal fouls/unsportsmanlike penalties. FIVE. That just not what we do in this program. Walk away and let your play do all the talking. This team will be better off if/when we leave that garbage behind us.
Red Zone Turnovers: I don’t know I the pick on the first possession was a red zone turnover (looks like it wasn’t in the stat sheet) but it was close enough so I’m going to count it.  With that said, I’m not going to be too upset on that DB jumping that route and making that pick. It was a great read by that player.  As for the Nnoli fumble, well, Chidubem has been a warrior carrying the football this season, and in fact, that might have been his first fumble on the season (stat nerds correct me if I’m wrong).  So, I’m not going to get bent out of shape on these two turnovers but this game could have even been put out reach even earlier if we don’t give the ball back in those situations.

Letting Pacific score a rushing touchdown: I think the defense breathed new life in the Pacific touchdown drive with about 45 penalties. Not to take away too much from the Boxers on that drive as they converted a few times to keep that one alive but goodness the ‘Cats assisted on that one. I’m not even that upset that Pacific scored but the selfish reason why I hated to see a rushing TD is that was the FIRST RUSHING TD that the Wildcat defense allowed in NWC play this season. The ‘Cats defense came *this close* to not allowing a rushing TD against anyone in the NWC. There is no stat on that in the archives but I have to imagine that would have been a rare feat if the Wildcat defense would have accomplished that.

The Ugly

Nothing: What can be ugly about this football team wrapping up another undefeated NWC season, going 8-1 overall, being regarded as a top 10 team, and going back to the playoff? Well, nothing can. We’ll talk about this later but I’m so dang proud of this program for what they’ve accomplished so far in 2017 after all the departures off of last year’s team.  It wasn’t pretty for good chunks of the year but it has been a group of hard-nosed players that expect to win each Saturday they hit the field and I’m excited to see how far our ‘Cats can take it in the second season. Go ‘Cats!

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