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

--------------------------------
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:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

2017 NWC Pick 'Ems and Power Rankings: Week 4

The 'Catdome should be packed this Saturday.
The pick ‘em post is back after a week off.  Fox played last week while everyone took a powder but a single team playing isn’t enough for a pick ‘em post.  This non-conference season has been a little strange as it has told us a lot so far about Whitworth, Fox, L&C, Linfield, and Willamette but not too much about PLU, Pacific, and Puget Sound due to various reasons. 

Getting off the Linfield/Whitworth angle you can point to Fox as a legit contender in 2017.  For those that haven’t been around that probably seems remarkable that Fox is playing great in the 5th year of reinstating the program and 4th year in playing.  However, those that have been around the NWC for any significant time, this year isn’t that surprising as Pacific did something very similar in 2013 in their 4th year back as a program. Regardless, Fox has done a great job 3 games in and have served noticed heading into conference play that they’re going to be a handful in 2017.

Lewis & Clark showed some first signs of real progress since Jay Locey took over with the Pios winning their first game since the ex-Linfield Head Coach took over in 2015. The Pioneers knocked off Poman-Pitzer 40-29 on the road and could make a legit move in climbing out of the NWC basement in 2017.  And the most likely candidate to slip into the basement is Willamette. While the Bearcats have not been bad in their first two games but their performances haven’t inspired either. 

On the extended breaks were PLU, Pacific, and Puget Sound on various reasons.  PLU and Pacific were due to circumstances out of their control and UPS built in their schedule with a two week bye so their coaching staff could spend that time spamming high schoolers with their 5th offer letter from Puget Sound Football.  It’s hard to really get a gauge on all three of these teams. Yeah, UPS played twice but one of those games was against the living dumpster file known at Occidental but lost to a La Verne team who got blanked 53-0 by Whitworth. We’ll find out quick as PLU and UPS hook up for their rivalry game and the one-time upstart Pacific faces the current upstarts in George Fox.  The opening weekend should offer some clear lines where the 2017 NWC season is going.

Northwest Conference Games of the Week

Lewis & Clark (1-0) over Willamette (0-2) (at L&C):  Confidence is a heck of a thing and the Pioneers picked up a truckload of it with that first win. I’m not just basing this off of L&C getting a win but the fact the team the Pioneers beat, Pamona-Pitzer, won their season opener against Rhodes College.  That same Rhodes team beat the Bearcats in a wild shootout the week prior to kick off the season. It get dangerous when you play the “x team beat y, and y beat z, so x should beat z” game but it at least tells me that the Pioneers are ready to compete with Willamette and take back the Wagon Wheel trophy to the hill.

George Fox (2-1) over Pacific (0-1) (at Fox): What we’ve seen the previous two weeks out of Fox is exceptional defensive play. I’m still not sold on their offense but the Bruin defense has been good.  That will probably spell doom for Pacific, who in their only game, could only muster up 130 passing yards and 3 picks when you have one of the most explosive receivers in D3 with Kobe Williams. I just don’t think the Boxers are very strong behind center and that is going to get exposed this weekend in Newberg.

Pacific Lutheran (0-1) over Puget Sound (1-1) (at PLU): This will either be a statement game for PLU or a toss-up game where either team could win in the 4th quarter.  I think PLU QB Cole Chandler is a heck of a player but just doesn’t have very many weapons around him to fully utilize his skill set.  I talked up how good PLU’s defensive secondary was going to be and CLU hung 280 passing yards and 2 TD’s on the Lutes. So that is the match-up that will determine the game, what I think could be a good defensive backfield in PLU vs the pass first and pass later Puget Sound team.  Who wins that battle is going to walk away with the victory.

Wildcat11's 2017 NWC Power Rankings Week 4:

1. Linfield - Until proven otherwise

2. Whitworth - Have a chance to prove it this Saturday

3. George Fox - Bruins are going to challenge Whitworth and Linfield for the conference title.

4. Pacific Lutheran - Two weeks off so we'll see what if PLU found someone for Chandler to throw the ball to.

5. Pacific - The Boxers have also been on an extended break so we'll see how they look this weekend against the surging Bruins.

6. UPS - Big weekend for the Loggers.

7. Willamette - Better be ready this weekend for Lewis & Clark.

8. Lewis & Clark - Getting that first win in the Locey era might be the launching pad in crawling out of the NWC basement.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

2017 Game 3 Preview: Linfield (1-1) vs Whitworth (3-0)

You Ready?
After a week off to reassess this 2017 Linfield team and shake off a tough loss to the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor, the ‘Cats are back and kicking off Northwest Conference play with a giant football game. Coming to town is the undefeated and red-hot Whitworth Pirates who have lit up the competition and filled their roster with confidence that this is the year they could dethrone the ‘Cats as the top team in the NWC. The Rats have good reason to be confident, as their offense is led by one of the best quarterbacks in Division III in Ian Kolste who is paired with a deep and fine receiver group.  The Kolste led offense has been on a blistering pace in putting up 554.0 yards per game and tacking up 52.7 points per contest.  In watching Kolste, he’s in total command of the offense as he has a full grip on where his receivers are at all times and knows if his primary targets are not available, he can quickly unload to his always present release valves. It has been impressive to watch.

In all the talk about the Whitworth offense, what has truly made the difference and turned the Rats into a scary team has been the turnaround of their defense.   In the previous three seasons under the Sandberg era, the Rats defense has been the suspect at times in allowing 28.5 points per games from 2014-2016. So far this season, Whitworth is only allowing 7.7 points per game as the Rats defensively switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front. The switch has been just what the doctor ordered for Whitworth as the Pirates defense looks much more physical at the point of attack and has done a fantastic job in keeps points off the board.  You pair the turnaround of the defense, with an electric offense, and solid special teams and you have a legit contender to come knocking for what Linfield has owned since 2009.

For the ‘Cats, I’m stating the obvious that this is big. The playoffs for Linfield started just as soon as the clock vs. UMHB hit 00:00. The path to reach the long term goals for this Linfield team is now much narrower than at the start of the season. The ‘Cats have had two weeks to grow from an UMHB game where Linfield’s staff was truly able to gauge where the roster needs to be fine-tuned before NWC play starts. What we do know is that Linfield’s defense has a chance to be very good.  Our defensive line can create pressure without the need to bring extra bodies and leave the secondary more exposed than needed.  That is a big reveal so far this season.  Along with that, our linebacking corp has lived up to the hype with their combination of experience, speed, and physicality.  Linfield is going to need our front line of the defense primed and ready to go because our emerging secondary is going to get their first real challenge in the passing game this weekend.

Offensively,  I know that the game vs UMHB felt like a step backward but Linfield, myself, and our fans need to realize that UMHB defense is the cream of the crop in Division III and the reason the Cru will be heavy favorites to repeat as Champs. There was no hiding from where this offense must improve upon but I’m incredibly confident that our offense is going to continue to grow as this season moves along and is going to become an explosive group. We have skill and talent bubbling all over the place, it’s mostly a matter of getting this group firing on the same page play after play after play. When this happens, the 2017 Linfield Wildcats are going to be a nightmare to deal with. But we all know that needs to start happening this Saturday in the ‘Catdome.  My gut feeling is that the identity of this offense is going to be a run-first offense and burn you with big passing plays. That’s where this offense needs to go to reach the potential that’s on the roster and once they get there....look out.

I’m fired up for Saturday. This is a gut check moment for our ‘Cats to see if they can answer the call and face a program that’s has been circling this game for about 3 years. Whitworth is a worthy challenger and Saturday should have a playoff game atmosphere.
  
Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Playing to this Roster’s Potential: This team is close to forming up like Voltron but they need to forget the Linfield teams of year’s past and just find their own identity and let it rip.  That’s been the beauty of Linfield football for the past 60 years.  Each team upon itself had its own unique skill set and personality. That’s what this 2017 team needs to decide; just who they are and jump into the fight with that identity as a shield and a weapon.

PRESSURE: The ability for Linfield’s front four to make Ian Kolste uncomfortable is paramount in this game. If Linfield can’t move him off his spot and can’t put him into the turf time after time, it could be a long game for the Wildcat defense.  Kolste internal clock is excellent but there are times where he’ll hang onto the ball to let the routes develop downfield. The ‘Cats defensive line has to be the hammer and have the gas pedal down to the floor the entire game.

Establish the Running Game: I’m sure the Whitworth coaching staff has been preaching it for two weeks that if the Rats are going to win, they have to limit the ‘Cats rushing attack. They’re right.  Linfield must be able to gash the Rats defense on the ground in order to control this game and set up the big play passing attack. If Linfield can get North/South and challenge the Whitworth safeties to get more involved stopping the run, the rest of the offense is going to open up for the ‘Cats.  

Win 3rd down: The Pirates currently sit #3 in the country in 3rd down offense in converting at a 57.8% clip (26 conversions on 45 attempts) and the Rats defense is allowing teams to only convert 18.8% of the time (9 conversions on 48 attempts – 4th in D3). That’s where these games with Whitworth has been won or lost since the 2014 season.  The ‘Cats defense has to have answers on 3rd down and Linfield must be in short yard situations during the game in order to get that conversion rate high and keep giving the ‘Cats offense the advantage.

Makes Plays on the Football: Needless to say but the ball will be in the air early and often against Whitworth.  I’m sure the Rats will try to show a run game to keep Linfield’s defense honest but the ‘Cats defensive backs are going to have their first real challenge.  Our DB’s have to rise to the occasion and be aggressive when that football gets put up in the air.  On the flip side, our offense has to do better as well on the deep ball and make those big plays that this offense needs.

Cash in on every scoring possibility:  Whitworth is going to score. I think Linfield’s defense has a chance to keep the Rats down but they are going to get points up on the board so it’s imperative that Linfield coverts on every possible opportunity to get the ball into the end zone or split the uprights. The ‘Cats can squander points on Saturday if they want to win.

Own the Field Positon Battle: Gonna have to get it done in this department.  Linfield can ill afford to give Whitworth short porches to operate offensively and the ‘Cats offense can spend the game pinned deep in their own territory. This ties back into winning on 3rd down but also on our special teams to be lights out.  Whitworth has some dudes that can hurt you in the return game do a great job in coverage. The ‘Cats special teams have to rise to the challenge and own this phase of the game.

Overall

‘Cats by 3. I’ve done lots of typing here but ultimately, like it is every game, it’s up to the players to execute the game plan and get it done. While Whitworth won’t have the physicality of UMHB, if Linfield sleeps on Whitworth’s ability to move the ball and job they’ve done on defense this season, then this game is lost before it begins. The Rats are legit and Linfield must put it together this weekend if the ‘Cats want to become the team they want to be this season.  I’m a believer and when the dust settles on Saturday afternoon it’s going to be a great day in the valley. Go ‘Cats!

Monday, September 18, 2017

UMHB boat race the 'Cats in 24-3 loss at the 'Catdome



Jason Farlow (#35) and the 'Cats defense played tough against the Cru's offense
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.
That was tough.  We knew what UMHB was all about coming into this game, a defensive juggernaut with a play making offense, and the Cru lived up the hype in a slowly suffocating 24-3 defeat for Linfield. After the first drive of the game where Linfield was effective in moving the ball and missed a wide open shot at a TD, the Crusaders defense put a lock on the Wildcat offense for the rest of the day in limiting the ‘Cats to just 141 yards of total offense in a text book butt whooping on that side of the ball. I hate writing that but it’s what happened.  The Crusader defensive line created chaos all day with their ability to penetrate and shed blockers like they were a passing breeze. The result were 9 punts on 11 offensive possessions and 5 three and outs. That was about as dominate performance on a Linfield offense that I’ve seen. 

Flipping over to the other side of the coin, the Linfield defense balled.  However, the Wildcat's defense made one early game mistake on an assignment and UMHB made the ‘Cats pay on an untouched 74-yard TD run on a veer option keeper on the Crusaders second play of the game.  Once that dust settled, the Wildcat defensive performance was outstanding. The ‘Cats physicality up front was impressive as well as their ability to pressure the QB on passing downs.  UMHB also tested the ‘Cats defense often on the edges and Linfield’s speed on the outside was up to the task.  The Wildcat defense flew to the football and didn’t allow the Cru’s short passing game break for significant gains.  The outcome of the game left over the 3,200 fans in attendance disappointed in the end results, but at the same time, hopeful that this team does have the talent and skill to develop into something electric as the season progresses.

On a side note, I loved the changes that the athletic department put into the Linfield game day experience.  “Streak Street” has some real potential just right outside the stadium, the student section rebranding was great, and all the new signage and additional booths, including a beer garden were a smash hit.  My only request is they either crank up the volume on that 3rd down siren or just cut it off all together.  The low volume on that siren doesn’t inspire at all.  Make that LOUD.

So where do the ‘Cats go from here? Well, the playoffs for Linfield started as soon the clock hit 00:00. If this Wildcat team has aspirations to make the division III playoffs then the margin of error is razor thin.  That means the path runs through the NWC and the goal of winning the conference championship and the automatic qualifier.  But this is far from a shoe-in for the ‘Cats.  Coming to the ‘Catdome in two weeks is the best Whitworth team that I can remember.  Yes, better than the 2007 team that went undefeated in the regular season, beat Linfield, and hosted a playoff game.  What has made the Pirates so dangerous this season is not entirely their electric offense (52.7 PPG through 3 games) but it’s their new found defensive prowess.  The 2017 Rats defense is only allowing 7.7 PPG and combine that with their pinball like scoring offense and you have a dangerous football team.   I think our defense is tremendous but Whitworth is going to probe and test our defensive secondary like the previous two games couldn’t and our young offense is going to battle another excellent defense as well.  If the ‘Cats don’t fix what has hampered them the first two game, Linfield will be looking at a 1-2 start and behind the 8 ball in terms of this programs long term goals. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer but I’m just laying out the clear facts of this season. The 2017 Wildcats have a chance to be excellent but the maturation process has to be accelerated.

Success for this 2017 team isn’t going to come in a flashy video promo or a new game day experience at the ‘Catdome. Nope, success for this team is going to start Monday afternoon and it will come dressed in overalls and a hard hat in the form of hard work and attention to the smallest of details. The ‘Cats have two weeks to figure it out and I’m looking forward to the response.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Tremendous defensive effort: You take away the blown assignment long-TD run by T.J. Josey and the Linfield defense pretty much squared up the Crusaders offense until the late 4th quarter drive where the exhausted defense gave up the their only sustained drive of the night.  I thought the ‘Cats defensive line front played a fantastic game in terms of creating stalemates on the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback.  There was a little bend at times up the A gaps but overall, the ‘Cats defense was as advertised, fast and physical. 

#98 Tony Kraus racked up one of Linfield's 7 tackles for loss against UMHB.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.

No Turnovers/Low Penalties: The ‘Cats certainly didn’t hurt themselves on Saturday and that is a marked improvement over the opening game down in Chapman.  That was even more impressive considering the defense the ‘Cats offense was facing with the Cru.  I know this is a bit of reach in trying to find silver linings in getting bullied offensively but eliminating turnovers was a positive takeaway.

‘Cats legs: Freshman Punter Colton Ramos continues to impress (but has been kicking way too much for any Wildcat’s liking).  Ramos assaulted the football on Saturday with an average of 42.2 yards per punt, including a beauty that should have been downed at the goal line. Place kicker Willy Warne continues to show his growth and should be a critical weapon for the Linfield offense this season.  Warne was 1 of 2 on attempts this weekend but nailed a 51-yard attempt right at the end of the first half in a pressure situation.


The Bad

That kickoff return for a touchdown:  Any momentum the ‘Cats had going into the half down 10-3 evaporated on a 95-yard kickoff return by Bryce Wilkerson to start to second half.  Linfield didn’t even get a finger on Wilkerson as he split the coverage team like a hot knife through butter. It sucked because I thought our special teams had a solid day in coverage up to that point. UMHB had three big plays against Linfield and this was an ugly critical one.

Not making enough plays on the ball: Linfield had a few big of opportunities to make plays on balls on the air to possibly stem the tide of the game but couldn’t convert and it cost the ‘Cats. We have dudes that can get behind defenses and the speed to keep up with receivers but we had to be better on winning the ball.

Not in-sync offense: It was a pressure cooker of a test for this offense and the ‘Cats couldn’t find answers offensively.  Linfield blew a great opportunity during the first drive to strike for the touchdown but overthrew a wide open Tyler Torgerson, missed the field goal, and could find their foothold against an iron curtain defense after that.  For most of the game it seemed that our receivers would be zigging and our QB’s would be zagging in terms of the passing game were not one the same page.  I still feel this group will find themselves as they get more game action together but there is no chance to breathe with Whitworth coming into town.

34 yards of rushing: 29 rushing attempts for a net total of 34 yards. The Crusaders flat owned the attack on the line of scrimmage. The ‘Cats HAVE to be a threat in the rushing game if this offense is going to be productive for the rest of 2017.  It kills me writing this, because I love this group of guys and still believe they have the potential to be excellent, but they have to gel and get better or Linfield is going to struggle to finish 3rd in the NWC.

The Ugly

Being Kept out of the End Zone: For the second game in a row, the Crusaders have kept the Linfield offense from scoring a touchdown.  That stings.  Look, we’re talking about the best defense in the country at our level and possibly the best defensive line I’ve seen since watching DIII football but it sucks that our offense has been completely neutralized by the Crusaders.  To put it bluntly, UMHB physically owned us at the point of attack and UMHB’s speed at Linebacker cleaned up any hope of out flaking the push upfront. Saturday was a gauge to see where this offense is at and the result was a Christmas list length of items for the ‘Cats to try to fix in a hurry before Whitworth’s steamroller of a team comes to the ‘Catdome.