|The 'Cats Defensive Front is going to have to bring a hard hat this weekend vs Hardin-Simmons|
Before we break down some important stats for the upcoming Linfield vs. Hardin-Simmons game, let’s pause and just appreciate the fact that football is back! It was a great opening weekend for Division III football and it couldn’t have gone better for the NWC. This weekend four NWC teams battled it out on the field and three came away victorious (who other than Lewis and Clark to prevent the perfect opening weekend?).
Now to the stats!
Due to the fact Linfield was on the bye this last week, we will focus on the three truths the stats tell us about Hardin-Simmons.
The Truth: They live to run the ball.
The Stats Breakdown: In their last game the Cowboys amassed 33 first downs and 21 of those first downs came on the ground. Clearly Hardin-Simmons trusts its ground game to pick up the important yards. This approach makes sense considering the Cowboys gained an impressive 344 yards rushing at an even more impressive 5.8 yards per rush. It’s important to note that Hardin-Simmons doesn’t rely solely on one runner but instead have a two headed monster in 205 pound Bryce Johnson (23 carries/173 yards rushing/2 TDs) and 215 pound Tevin Mitchell (29 carries/169 yards rushing/1 TD). This weekend the Cats will have to key on those two playmakers in order to slow down the Cowboys’ potent office. Gang tackling will be paramount.
What To Watch For: The majority of Hardin-Simmons first down rushes came on rushes to the left side of the line. Look for more of the same on Saturday. Linfield will need to own the left side of the line to find success.
The Truth: They need to score to win.
The Stats Breakdown: Although this truth seems obvious it is worth discussing. In their opener the Cowboys’ offense was prolific in gaining 534 yards of total offense and running an incredible 100 offensive plays. Unfortunately, their defense surrendered 506 total offensive yards (342 passing) and their special teams played the role of a revolving door in allowing two return TDs. Last year Hardin-Simmons ranked second in total offense but an abysmal 236th in total defense. It appears as if very little has changed. This weekend if the Cats can slow down the rushing attack of the Cowboys and limit their ability to score, then it will put tremendous pressure on a questionable defense to contain Linfield’s dynamic offense.
What To Watch For: The Cats should be able to break a few big plays on Saturday, especially in the secondary. Look for Linfield to take some early shots down the field to break the game open with some quick scores causing it be too much for the Cowboys to bounce back.
The Truth: Their pass game is suspect.
The Stats Breakdown: Against Willamette the Cowboys passed for only 190 yards. This isn’t all that surprising considering their commitment to the run, but a paltry 4.6 yards gained per pass play simply is not enough for success. This meager average has plenty to do with their pass selection. Last week the Cowboys rarely threw the ball downfield and instead focused on array of screens and shovel passes. A tenacious front seven for the Wildcats should have little trouble disrupting such plays; thus, forcing Hardin-Simmons into situations where they need to throw deep. Additionally, the Cowboys completed 10 out of their 15 passes to two players. Outside of the Jessie Ramos (5 rec/70 yards) and Colton Brewer (5 rec/55 yards) no other Cowboy had more than one catch. Linfield’s superb secondary should look to shut down these options and force the Cowboys’ quarterback to look elsewhere to make plays. Throw in three interceptions from Hardin-Simmons’ quarterback and it’s not hard to see why the Cats will hope to force the Cowboys to rely on the pass this coming weekend.
What To Watch For: The Cowboys will run a number of screens to their slot backs so the Cats’ linebackers and defensive linemen need to be ready. The Cats will need to stop the run on early downs to force Hardin-Simmons into uncomfortable throwing situations which could lead to turnovers for Linfield. I’m thinking the Cats snag at least two interceptions.
Again, due to their bye week we will cover a few statistical trends for the Cats in a series of quick hits.
Quick Hit #1: Last year, Sr. running back Josh Hill was averaging 177 all-purpose yards per game before he endured a season ending injury. I don’t know about 177 yards on Saturday, but I fully expect a big game from Hill.
Quick Hit #2: Last year the Cats scored on average 12.6 points in the third quarter. Although, the offense will look different with a new quarterback, hopefully Linfield hasn’t lost their ability press the gas pedal coming out of halftime.
Quick Hit #3: When it comes to taking down the strong runners on Hardin-Simmons the Cats will need to fly to the ball as a team and gang tackle. Luckily, the stats show that Linfield is disciplined enough to do just that. Last year, the Cats amassed 314 assisted tackles which was 44 more than their opponents combined total. On Saturday Linfield will need all 11 players charging to the ball carrier.