|The 'Cats offense has been hard to touch so far in 2013.|
(Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's work here. )
As an English Literature major, I think I have an increased appreciation for the drama and heroics that accompany the gridiron. These aspects of football were on full display this weekend across the country and made the enjoyment of Saturdays that much more exciting. There was unranked St. Johns beating second ranked St. Thomas on the road to get their first win over their rivals since 2009. Not to mention the fact that they won on a missed, last-second field goal. I can tell you, that’s the type of drama that rivals literary greats like Shakespeare’s Othello and Dumas’ The Count Of Monte Cristo. Additionally, we saw games in which players became heroes. For example, Brandon Snyder of Delaware Valley kicked a 25-yard game winning field goal as the clock struck double zeros to give Delaware Valley only its second 3-0 start since 2006. Heroics such as this measure up to those chronicled by Homer in Odysseus or Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird. Heck, this weekend even provided us with a twist ending no one saw coming: Puget Sound actually won a game! In the end, I hope you savored this weekend of football like a good book. The Cat’s certainly savored their weekend, as they devoured the CLU Kingsmen in a convincing 52-14 win.
That game has already been expertly examined in Monday’s game review. So make sure to check it out if you haven’t already.
This week we turn our focus to the Cat’s journey to Cleveland, OH as they take on the Case Western Reserve Spartans. We will explore two truths the stats tell us about Linfield and then one truth the stats tell us about this week’s opponent. Finally, we will finish with a couple of quick hits on the upcoming game.
The Truth: Linfield is worthy of its number two ranking but still has work to do.
The Stats Breakdown: There were a ton of positives for the Cats this last weekend. 655 yards of total offense, 52 points, a 5.3-yard per carry average for 283 rushing yards, only 14 points allowed. These numbers precisely demonstrate the extent of ability that exists on this Linfield team. However, this team does have room for improvement in a variety of areas. This Saturday, Linfield continued to struggle with its kickoff coverage. On the season Linfield has allowed an average of 27 yards per kickoff return, which ranks 219th nationally. Last year the Cat’s were marvelous on kickoffs, as they conceded a mere 16 yards per kickoff return- good for 35th nationally. Those extra ten yards make a massive difference as they equate to one additional first down the opposing offense must pick up. Furthermore, forcing a team to start at the 20-yard line vs. the 30-yard line can drastically impact the way in which that team approaches their play calling on a drive. Kickoff coverage needs to improve; for as good as Linfield is, the greatest teams are strong in all three phases of the game. Another improvement is needed on defense. Last week I stated that this defense is elite and Saturday’s performance only bolstered my belief; however, one sack in two games is not going to cut it for the reigning sack masters of college football. Obviously the loss of All-American defensive end Brynnan Highland (19 sacks in 2012) hurts and teams have been sure to include a high number of quick passes in their gameplan to negate the Linfield pass rush, but Linfield needs to get to the quarterback more frequently in order to continue their success.
What To Watch For: This is not a team that appears content with its current level of play- even if it has been exceptional. Instead, expect the senior leadership on this team to keep pushing this team on to new heights. Look for the special teams play to improve and for the coaches to find ways to get Linfield back to its habit of sacking opposing quarterbacks.
The Truth: Linfield owns third down.
The Stats Breakdown: Typically, teams dread third down and look to avoid it at all costs. Linfield, on the other hand, thrives on this down. Ranked number one in the country, Linfield has converted 20 of 27 third downs for a slightly ridiculous 74% conversion rate. The true beauty of this feat is that Linfield has been completely balanced in their approach to gaining first downs. Overall, the Cats have achieved first downs on 30 rushes and 28 passes this year. By staying balanced on offense, Linfield keeps defenses unhinged as they are unable to predict how Linfield will operate in third down situations. On defense, Linfield is holding opposing offenses to a respectable 41% third down conversion rate. Furthermore, the defense has limited opponents to an average of 17 first downs per game. In two games, the defense has allowed 13 rushing first downs and 17 passing first downs. If Linfield can continue to force teams to pick up first downs through the air, then they should encounter more opportunities to pick up sacks and decrease their opponents third down conversion rate.
What To Watch For: Look for senior quarterback Josh Yoder to stay hot and continue picking up crucial third downs. Also expect Linfield to keep defenses guessing by consistently picking up first downs on the ground and through the air. Lastly, I anticipate the defense will clamp down further on third downs as they improve their pass rush. This week, look for a defensive lineman (potentially senior Michael MacClanathan who has 11 sacks over the past two seasons) to assert himself as the Cats’ principal pass rusher.
The Truth: Case Western is inconsistent both offensively and defensively.
The Stats Breakdown: My research into the Spartans involved some rather agonizing film study (flashbacks to mediocre high school football) and I left with a muddled impression of the team’s capabilities. It’s not that Case doesn’t have the components to be an effective football team; they have a few talented runners, an offensive scheme (a no-huddle, hurry-up pistol look with read-option elements) that will require diligent prep, and a defense that has recently been the anchor of their team success. However, their performances this year have revealed undeniable inconsistency. The Spartans’ offense is centered on the run; yet, they have produced completely uneven rushing performances in three games this year: 99 yards in week one, 16 yards in week two, and 294 yards in week three. Couple these results with a pedestrian 3.2 yards per carry average for the year and Case Western’s offensive strength begins to look less dependable than a Ford. Furthermore, their passing game has been similarly erratic. The Spartans posted passing yardage of 246, 179, and 138 yards in weeks one through three, respectively. A major factor contributing to the inconsistent passing numbers may be the fact that Case Western is only completing 58% of their passes. Case’s defense has shown greater consistency but just gave up 567 yards of offense and surrendered 36 points in a loss to Frostburg State. That may be the most alarming aspect of the Spartan’s inconsistencies; they have all occurred against average and below-average talent.
What To Watch For: If the Spartans can’t come out and execute consistently on both sides of the ball, then expect Linfield to control this game from the get go. Linfield’s offense has been relentless and efficient in its pursuit of points and the defense has had little trouble keeping offenses off the board. I believe the Cats will continue to improve on both sides of the ball and expose the deficiencies of a Case Western team that hasn’t been able to get in a groove. Expect big numbers from the Linfield offense and a dominating performance from the defense.
Quick Hit #1: Last week, Linfield tight end, Westly Meng, scored a touchdown on a go route over the middle. The play was set up by a convincing play-action run fake. In the last few years, tight end has been an underutilized position for the Cats in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Linfield coaches find ways to incorporate the athletic tight ends on this roster. I think there are a lot of opportunities waiting in the play-action passing game.
Quick Hit #2: Case Western is currently converting third downs on 32% of their attempts. If they continue to struggle to stay on the field while on offense, then it’s going to be a long day for the Spartans. Linfield’s high octane offense will look to convert those potential extra drives into points and make this a blowout.
Quick Hit #3: I haven’t been shy about my feelings when it comes to senior running back Josh Hill. He’s my type of runner and I think he has next level talent. In two games this year he is averaging 106 all-purpose yards per game. Although he started last year averaging around 177 all-purpose yards, his production this year has only been hindered by the team’s plethora of talent and willingness to spread it around. I’m picking this week to be a huge game for Josh, as I think he finds big holes created by the offensive line and charges into the end zone for a multiple touchdown game.