|Looks be another prefect October Saturday in the 'Catdome|
51 points scored.
408 offensive yards gained.
36 rushing yards allowed.
Three sacks and an interception.
47% completion percentage allowed.
Most would see those statistics and think the team that posted them won in a dominant fashion. But those are the stats posted by Linfield this weekend against Whitworth and anyone who was at the game could tell you it was far from a dominant effort (during stretches of game the Cats were dominant but certainly not throughout). These numbers provide an important lesson: sometimes number do lie. That’s a strange thought for a column that’s predicated on the analysis of numbers, but it’s true. At times the best way to understand something is just to observe it and get a feel for it. On Saturday there were times when you could see and feel Linfield struggle against a proud, but clearly inferior opponent. A team that has National Championship aspirations should expect more and I imagine few players felt like Saturday was their best effort. However, I do believe this team has a champion’s mindset and will take this stumble and turn it into a confident stride down the second stretch of the season. Securing the 58th consecutive winning season should be just the beginning for this Cats team as long as they commit themselves to excellence and continued improvement each week. This coming Saturday they will get an opportunity to prove their resolve and dedication to greatness against a lesser, but high-powered Lewis & Clark team.
We will explore two truths the stats tell us about Linfield and then one truth the stats tell us about the Pios. Finally, we will finish with a couple of quick hits on the upcoming game.
The Truth: Linfield needs to win the line of scrimmage.
The Stats Breakdown: At first glance it appears Linfield delivered a supreme effort on the ground, as they posted 219 yards rushing with four rushing touchdowns at 5.2 yards a carry. However, as you pull back the layers one can begin to see the Cat’s struggles on the offensive line. Remove a late 53 yard scamper by back-up quarterback Matt Yarbrough and Linfield is left with a mediocre 3.8 yards per carry average. That would make this the third game in a row where Linfield has registered a yards per carry that falls below four yards. Against playoff teams Linfield can only expect rushing the ball to become more difficult and, thus, must work to improve their push at the line of scrimmage. Their final four conference games should give them a good opportunity to do just that. An additional improvement is needed in pass protection. Over the past three games, the Cats have surrendered ten sacks; this number amounts for nearly three sacks a game for the opposing defense. Those sacks have cost Linfield an average of 22 yards a game and made for difficult down and distance situations. A few of these sacks can be attributed to one of Linfield’s strengths: Josh Yoder’s ability to scramble. However, at times Josh’s faith in his ability has kept him from throwing the ball away in imminent pressure situations. On the other hand, the overall line play could improve to remove some of this pressure. Simply put, Linfield is too talented to let up at the point of attack.
What To Watch For: I know this all sounds very critical but let me remind you of my perception of Linfield as a team: this team can win a National Championship if it plays to the height of its ability. Consequently, I believe the Cats will refine their offensive line play, determine schemes to better control the line of scrimmage, and limit the number of negative plays they allow. Next weekend I am looking for the offensive line to open gaping holes for Linfield’s running backs against a Lewis & Clark team that is conceding 165 yards per game on the ground. I’m also hopeful Linfield will keep their quarterback upright against a Pios team that has had minimal success getting to the QB (seven sacks on the season).
The Truth: Linfield is forcing teams to be one-dimensional.
The Stats Breakdown: Any follower of football knows that the best teams tend to have some semblance of offensive balance. It’s not that run-centric or air-raid offenses can’t be effective; it’s more that they are heavily vulnerable to break down. If a pass heavy offense suddenly can’t move the ball through the air, then they lose all ability to move the ball. The same goes for run-centric teams. Linfield has been able to force teams that would prefer to be balanced into situations where they can not do so and be successful. The Cat’s explosive offense is registering points so fast (25 points on average in the first half alone) that opponents are forced to alter their offensive plans in order to catch up. The Wildcat defense has also aided Linfield in limiting other teams’ options on defense as they have been down right nasty against the run. Just this past weekend the Cats held Whitworth, a team whose offense is predicated on the run, to one yard per carry and only 36 total yards rushing. On the year Linfield is curbing opponents’ rushing output to the tune of 61 yards rushing per game and a mere two yards per carry average. Additionally, the Cats have foiled opponents’ attempts to gain first downs on the ground (out of the 68 first downs Linfield has given up, only 19 have come on rushes). Linfield’s ability to unsettle their opponents’ game plan has kept teams from finding any major success against the Cats.
What To Watch For: Lewis & Clark is certainly a team that looks to pass the ball (last week they attempted 73 passes!), but they still want to run to keep defenses from simply harassing the quarterback on every play. However, if Linfield can post some points early on offense and stall the Pio’s run game it could lead to numerous opportunities for momentum shifting plays like interceptions and sacks. Additionally, this could create difficult third down and distance scenarios for Lewis & Clark, and Linfield has been spectacular on third down holding teams to a paltry 30% conversion rate. Look for the offense and defense to work together to force Lewis & Clark’s hand and make them a one-dimensional offense.
The Truth: It’s all about Keith Welch for the Pios.
The Stats Breakdown: If the Cats are the prime example of a team with multiple weapons, then Lewis & Clark is in many ways the antithesis. Their team’s success seems buoyed to one player: senior quarterback Keith Welch. The elusive Welch is a duel-threat quarterback and has achieved impressive statistics in his time at Lewis & Clark. This year he is averaging 385 yards of total offense per game and has accounted for an eye-popping 26 of the Pio’s 26 offensive touchdowns. He has even attempted nearly thirty more rushes than the Pio’s starting running back. Welch is not afraid to carry the load for Lewis & Clark as evidenced by his average of 13 rushing attempts and 48 passing attempts per game. In fact, Welch has been the key component in an astounding 72% of Lewis & Clark’s offensive plays. In comparison, Josh Yoder, Linfield’s duel threat quarterback has only been the key piece in 52% of Linfield’s offensive plays. However, Welch’s offensive production has been diminished by turnovers. On the year, Welch has eleven interceptions and three fumbles (although, only one was recovered by the opposing team). Altogether, Welch is the wheel that makes the Pio’s wagon go.
What To Watch For: Welch will throw, run, throw, and run some more this Saturday, but expect the Cats to be ready. This team has faced mobile quarterback already this year and limited CLU’s Cameron Deen, PLU’s Dalton Richey, and Whitworth’s Ian Kolste to a combined 55 yards on 37 carries (for an insignificant 1.4 yard per carry average). Look for Linfield to use one of their speedy linebackers to spy Welch all game and keep him contained. This should further encourage Welch to throw the ball downfield, which should lead to sacks and opportunities for turnovers. Although Welch will be the Pio’s main force on offense, I expect him to struggle against a defense designed to neutralize offensive speed and bring constant pressure.
Quick Hit #1: On the year, Lewis & Clark is averaging 8 points scored in the first quarter. A slow start against the high-octane Wildcats could spell early defeat for the Pios.
Quick Hit #2: Last Saturday, Linfield’s rushing offense was sparked by an eight carry, 65 yard performance by sophomore John Schaffer. Schaffer’s presence after recovering from an injury makes the Cat’s backfield rotation of Hill and Willis that much more lethal.
Quick Hit #3: Keith Welch is clearly the Pios main force on offense, but he has spread the ball pretty evenly to his receivers. The Pios boast three players with 25 receptions or more and each of those players has at least three touchdown receptions. The Cat’s secondary is going to need to be locked in on Saturday.
Quick Hit #4: The Pios have attempted 22 fourth down conversions on the year and converted on 11 of them (a 50% conversion rate). Against Linfield’s defense-allowing only a 31% conversion rate on fourth down- Lewis & Clark’s willingness to go for it on fourth down makes for an intriguing storyline.
Quick Hit #5: Josh Repp is going to be a real weapon for Linfield come playoff time. Last Saturday, the senior hit on three of four field goal attempts; two were booted from 43 yards out.
Quick Hit #6: Don’t sleep on the Pio’s defense. This year the unit has collected 7 sacks, 9 interceptions, and seven fumble recoveries (unfortunately, they are allowing 44 points per game). Consequently, if Linfield doesn’t come out sharp on Saturday, then the Pio’s defense could cause some unsuspected damage.