Monday, September 3, 2012

TIMBER!!!! 'Cats cut down the Oaks one last time in 30-9 victory.

Swat! The good news is that Linfield opened up the 2012 season with a convincing 30-9 victory in the series finale vs the Menlo College Oaks this past Saturday at the ‘Catdome. The even better news is that Linfield didn’t even come close to playing their best football and was still able to suffocate an athletic Menlo squad. For 14 consecutive seasons the ‘Cats and Menlo have faced off with the ‘Cats walking away as the victor in all 14 contests. As I mentioned last week, those 14 wins haven’t always been easy.  Menlo typically fields teams that have talent throughout the roster but Linfield kept knocking out victory after victory over the Oaks. The win also marks the end of Linfield matching schemes with the architect of the “Fly” offense, Mark Speckman. With the loss, Speckman’s final record in competing verses the ‘Cats ends at 3-12. You better believe the ‘Cats defensive staff popped a bottle of sparkling cider after beating Speckman one last time as that defensive staff will never have to pour those hours into prepping for the Fly offense anymore.

The reason why Linfield is ending the series is that the ‘Cats were to replace Menlo (NAIA) with George Fox starting next season (2013) but since GFU backed out of their initial commitment and pushed their program launch to 2014, the ‘Cats inked a 1-year deal with Case Western Reserve University (DIII) out of Cleveland, Ohio during the 2013 season. With the way in-region DIII games are increasingly emphasized in the playoff selection criteria, Linfield needs to play a full 9-game D3 slate and can no longer be playing the non-D3 likes of SOU, Menlo, WOU, etc. While Linfield was ultimately perfect over the ‘Oaks I can’t say that I’ll miss playing them for various reasons.

As for the actual contest on Saturday, this 2012 Linfield team has a huge upside. Granted, there were some glaring errors and mistakes that had some in the ‘Catdome sighing with frustration but those mistakes are not items that cannot be corrected. Yes, the mistakes stunk, and kept the game from being blown open by an even greater margin, but I didn’t see any glaring weakness in the ‘Cats game in all three phases. If the players on this team continue to strive to get better, tighten up their performance, and are able to execute on game day this could be a banner year in the ‘Catdome.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly:

The Good:

-Offensive Line Play: The ‘Cats offensive line started four sophomores and one Senior and I thought this group played very good football. Inns was hit just a handful of times on the day and remained upright in the pocket. I’m sure the staff and o-line feels there is much to improve upon but this offensive line is promising.

-Rushing Attack: Josh Hill looked fantastic on Saturday in rushing for 117 yards on 6.3 yards per . The Senior running back was brilliant between the tackles in making great reads in the zone and showed his great change of direction is as strong as ever. J-Hill is going to be a work horse this season for Linfield but the RB’s showed they have depth with Senior back-up Steven Nasca and Freshman Johnathan Schafer getting a big round of applause late in the game for showing off his hard-nosed running style.

-Punt Team: Josh Repp and the ‘Cats punt team had a great day in the office in setting up a Linfield Safety on pinning Menlo on the 3 yard line and Repp laid out another beauty that was “this close” to getting downed at the 1 yard line. Good snaps, good coverage, and great leg work by the Senior punter.

-Defensive Backs passing first test: All pre-season the question about the ‘Cats was how Linfield was going to replace a star-studded secondary that graduated last season. This group of defensive backs passed their first test with flying colors in swarming to the ball, being great tacklers, and snaring a key interception in the 3rd quarter that set up a short Linfield touchdown.

-Defensive Play making: 14 Tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, a safety, and a 79-yard fumble return for touchdown. The ‘Cats defense showed off that speed and power people have been talking about in the pre-season. Linfield pre-season All-American Tyler Steele was a beast once again.  Linfield is going to be seeing better offensive lines in the upcoming weeks but it was a hell of a 1st game for the ‘Cats defense.

-(Bonus Good) New Bleacher set-up for Student Section: Linfield set up a new bleacher configuration in the South End Zone for the Student Section and I have to say that I loved it. Linfield has a long tradition of couches in the end zone but students stop bringing the couches into the stadium years ago and the configuration of just the rail with those little bleachers made it hard to see the game if you were not right in the front row. The new setup looked great and allowed viewing for any student/fan in those bleachers.

-Taking Care of the Football: One of my keys on Wednesday write up was winning the turnover battle and Linfield did that with 4 takeaways to zero. Inns made good decisions on getting rid of a few balls and not forcing it. A great sign of maturity and the Running Backs kept the ball off the ground all game. 

The Bad:

3rd Down Offensive Conversions:  3 out of 12.  Not good at all on 3rd down for the 'Cats offense.  I'm not too worried about this as the 'Cats missed some golden chances on 3rd down due to some plays this offense typically hits.  However, they need to be much better on 3rd down moving forward in order for this team to reach the goals they have laid out.

Missed opportunities to post up early points: Linfield had two golden opportunites early in the game to get some early points and missed out on a missed field goal and then a botched snap/hold on the next field goal attempt. The ‘Cats have to get that ironed out moving forward.

Penalties: Linfield had 10 total penalties totaling 98 yards on the day that almost single handily kept Menlo in the contest until the early 4th quarter. Physcial mistakes happen so I’m not upset about a hold call or an inadvertent facemask flag but the unsportsmanlike flag, jumping off sides when you’re over the ball, and the two plays I single out below are areas Linfield need to correct as the road gets rougher moving forward.

The Ugly

Two roughing the kicker flags on punt return: Linfield was and will continue to be aggressive on getting after punters this season. They have the skill and athletes to put pressure on and are not going to change. However, seeing the defense quickly turn Menlo away to only give the Oaks more life on roughing the punter calls was hard to stomach. In a tighter game these could have been critical mistakes. I’m sure the Linfield staff and players will get this cleaned up moving forward.

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