|With Texas in the behind the 'Cats, all focus is on a mighty good challenger this weekend.|
Another week of entertaining and exciting football is in the books. Once again the NWC had a solid week going 5-2 in non-conference play, and once again it was perennial doormats Lewis and Clark and Puget Sound that couldn’t get it done. Many of this week’s games were close and those experiences will pay off huge down the road for teams as they engage in crucial conference games later in the schedule. However, one game that was not even close to close was the Linfield season opener vs. Hardin-Simmons. Linfield blew open the season with a dominant win that showcased their diverse, dynamic offense and their steadfast defense.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check the game review in Monday’s game review.
This week we will explore two truths the stats tell us about Linfield and then one truth the stats tell us about this week’s opponent: Cal Lutheran. Finally, we will finish with a couple of quick hits on the upcoming game.
The Truth: Linfield has offensive playmakers everywhere.
The Stats Breakdown: Against the Cowboys, Linfield cruised to 651 yards of offense and 71 points. In the process, six different players scored touchdowns and the offense demonstrated balance by gaining 30 first downs (14 in the air, 14 on the ground, and 2 by penalty.) Three players rushed for over 50 yards (Running backs Josh Hill and Tavon Willis, as well as quarterback Josh Yoder) and five different players had multiple catches (Wide receivers Charlie Poppen, Brian Balsiger, Evan Peterson, David Sigler and running back Josh Hill.) The team’s ample amount of playmakers was also noticeable in their yards per play average. On passing plays the Cats averaged 10.2 yards and on rushes the Cats were able to gain an eye-popping 6 yards a carry. It’s important to remember that Hardin-Simmons’ defense isn’t very good but it’s also very clear the Cats will be difficult to stop when they have so many athletes who are able to make big plays.
What To Watch For: Look for the Cats to continue to spread the ball around and let their athletes make plays. This is not a team that relies on one player to carry them, but instead a team that will frustrate defenses unable to key on all of Linfield’s offensive options. I think Portland State transfer, Brian Balsiger (7 catches/80 yards receiving), is going to impress a lot of people. He’s got a big frame and can really go after the ball when it’s in the air.
The Truth: Linfield’s defense is elite.
The Stats Breakdown: I know, bold statement but its simply the truth. Although much has been made about Hardin-Simmons’ deficiencies on defense, don’t pretend for a second that they aren’t a talented offensive team. Last year they ranked second in the nation in offense and just last week they put up 534 yards of total offense, which included 344 yards rushing. This week Linfield’s defense flexed their muscle and showed just how good they are. The stat that most jumps off the page is Linfield shutting down Hardin-Simmons’ offensive strength by holding the Cowboys to just 60 yards of rushing on a meager 2.1 yards per carry. However, a deeper analysis reveals just how good this defense is. Although Hardin-Simmons was eventually able to put up respectable offensive numbers, the first half paints the truer picture of how this game went down. On their eight first-half drives, Hardin-Simmons was limited to 126 total offensive yards and only six first downs. Those eight drives included a Linfield goal line stand at the one-yard line and a punt block. Finally, five out of those eight drives culminated in three-and-outs for the Cowboys’ offense. These stats confirm that the Linfield defense is going to cause headaches for opposing offenses throughout the year.
What To Watch For: Look for the defense to come out swinging and give their offense a chance to claim an early lead. Linfield has incredible defensive depth, which allows them to play aggressive defensive football throughout the game without fear of players wearing down. This week, I expect more of the same suffocating defense Linfield displayed down in Texas. I’d especially look for this defense to continue to shut down the run game as Tyler Steele (2 tackles for a loss/ 1 sack) is once again playing the role of a wrecking ball in the middle of the defensive line.
The Truth: Cal Lutheran’s offensive emphasis may have changed.
The Stats Breakdown: This is more like a possible truth as one game may not be enough to support this claim; however, it looks like Cal Lutheran may be shifting their offensive focus from the pass to the run. Last year, in their game against Linfield, the Kingsmen threw the ball 55 times for 320 yards. In their opening game this year, the Kingsmen only attempted 23 (last year their lowest number of pass attempts in a game was 24) passes and gained an unimpressive 135 yards in the process. Instead of gaining yards through the air, Cal Lutheran focused their efforts on the ground with 41 rushes for 212 yards- an outstanding performance against a stout Pacific Lutheran run defense. This change may have much to do with the loss of wide receiver Eric Rogers who is now with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. It may also have to do with the transition of Middle Tennessee State transfer Cameron Deen who is lining up under center for the Kingsmen this year. Either way, it looks like the Kingsmen may now be a run first football team. This change works in the favor of the Linfield defense as they clearly showed last week that they can shut down premier rushing offenses.
What To Watch For: Look for CLU to come out and try to assert their running game. In fact, Cal Lutheran attempted rushes on about 75 percent of their first downs last Saturday. Unfortunately for the Kingsmen, I don’t see this working as Linfield’s defense is up to the task of dominating the line of scrimmage. Expect Linfield to force CLU into passing situations and determine whether or not the Kingsmen can effectively move the ball through the air (only 5.9 yards per pass completion vs. PLU last week compared to 12.4 per pass completion in 2012).
Quick Hit #1: Against Hardin-Simmons, Linfield scored on seven of their first eight offensive drives. I’m not sure they can replicate that performance against a CLU defense that is far superior to the Cowboys’, but a fast start will go a long way in this week’s game.
Quick Hit #2: Linfield’s offensive scoring drives ranged from 98 yards in two plays taking 25 seconds to 70 yards in twelve plays taking 4:22. Clearly, Linfield’s offense can both strike quickly and be methodical in their approach to moving the ball. This balance will be key come Saturday.
Quick Hit #3: In his first career start Josh Yoder showcased his diverse skill set as he posted a 350 yard passing performance with a 70 percent passing percentage and three TDs. He also added 54 yards on the ground (a handful of those yards coming on sack-saving scrambles) and one rushing touchdown. Josh’s dual threat ability makes an already potent offense even more difficult to defend.
Quick Hit#4: CLU doesn’t seem to be very explosive on offense. Their longest play from scrimmage last week was a 34 yard run. It will be difficult for them to get anything going this week against Linfield’s defense if they can’t generate some big plays.
Quick Hit#5: The Kingsmen allowed an alarming seven sacks against PLU’s competent defense. Although Linfield only gathered one sack last week (largely due to Hardin-Simmons prevalent screen game), they still have all the parts to uphold their reputation as a sack machine. I expect the Cats to blow past CLU’s offensive line and post their first multiple sack game of the season.