Monday, November 25, 2013

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield eliminates PLU with an opening round 42-21 dismissal at the ‘Catdome.

#55 Alex Hoff and the 'Cats defense feasted on the 'Lutes once again.
(Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2013 Linfield Football photos here. )

It was a picture perfect late November day at the ‘Catdome that saw Linfield come out of the tunnel ready to play.  The ‘Cats wasted no time as the Wildcat offense took the game’s opening possession and drove 76 yards in 9 plays to take the early 7-0 lead.  That was just the beginning of the 1st half avalanche that saw the ‘Cats defense force a Dalton Ritchey fumble that resulted in a TD, Linfield going on another long TD drive (73 yards off of 10 plays), and a blocked punt that capped off the 1st half scoring as Josh Yoder found Evan Peterson from 6 yards out.  The crazy thing is that it could have been worse.  Linfield had a legitimate chance on going up 35-0 as PLU rolled the dice on a 4th and 1 from their own 30 that was stuffed by the ‘Cats defense.  The Lutes defense put that threat to bed with back-to-back sacks and PLU was able to mount last ditch drive that resulted in no points but gave PLU a little sliver of momentum.

At the start of the 2nd half, PLU turned that sliver into a 2x4 of momentum with a big TD to start the 2nd half.  The ‘Cats offense came up empty on their next few possessions and PLU once again struck early in the 4th quarter to cut to lead to 28-14.  This was a critical moment of the game.  Would Linfield have an answer to the run by PLU?  It was time to see the mindset of this Linfield team in a “gotta have it” moment.  Well, Linfield had the answer in the form of a 12 play, 76 yard touchdown drive.  The ‘Cats offense beautifully mixed the run and pass to push the score to 35-14.  Linfield’s defense turned off the lights on the next possession as Rover Mike Nardoni (who quietly had a monster game) picked off Ritchey to set up Linfield’s final score of the day.  The Lutes would tack on a garbage time TD to get a little close but it was too little, too late.  42-21. Ballgame.

That sums it up perfectly for college football fans in the state of Oregon this past weekend.

I think this win was especially satisfying for Linfield fans considering how close PLU played Linfield in both the regular season game and playoff game of 2012.  I think Coach Smith summed up the difference extremely well in talking about how in 2012 Linfield was content in absorbing what PLU was dishing out with regards to PLU’s defensive attack.  The Wildcat offense struggled in handling the PLU pressure style attack.  The difference is that Linfield turned into the aggressors this season in their style of play and the results were evident. In 2013, Linfield is flat better than PLU.  There’s no wiggle room for woulda, shoulda, coulda’s from the PLU camp.  While Linfield has won 14 straights games again PLU, this one has to hurt considering how good PLU is, to only find out twice, that Linfield is that much better.

Incredible that this program hasn't lost to PLU since 2001.

So Linfield is moving on to the 2nd round of the playoffs for the 5th consecutive years as the ‘Cats will host a team the ‘Cats have never played in Hampden-Sydney Tigers out of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (Virginia area based).  I love playing new teams.  It’s so much fun to get to measure up against teams from the other side of the country.  We’ll dig more into the Tigers this week so let’s get to the breakdown.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Being ready to compete:  I wish every Wildcat fan could have come and sit in the corner of the locker room to truly feel what the pre-game atmosphere was like from our players.  This team has such a quiet confidence.  There’s no hooting or rah-rah but rather a bubbling intensity that circulates among the various position groups.  Coach Smith could sense it in his pre-game talk that his squad was ready. 

Balanced Offensive Attack:  This is probably the most balanced the Wildcat offense has been in a number of weeks between the pass and run.  The ‘Cats did rush the ball 44 times but opened up the passing game with 26 attempts.  The result was a handful of big offensive pass plays and 3 touchdown passes.  The ‘Cats offense did a great job in utilizing a number of their weapons.

3rd and 4th down defense:  Your key stat of the day. 

PLU’s 3rd down offense: 4 of 13 

PLU’s  4th down offense: 1 of 6

I mentioned last week I wasn’t worried about the Wildcat’s 3rd down defense and this group proved me right.  The Lutes threw everything at the Linfield defense but the ‘Cats turned PLU away time and again.

Red Zone perfect:  Six red zone trips for the Wildcat offense and six touchdowns.  You can’t do better than that and Linfield is going to be hard to beat if other teams can’t keep the ‘Cats from scoring TD’s in the red zone.

Defensive Physicality:  Man, I thought Linfield’s physicality on defense was fantastic.  PLU had two weeks to prepare of this game and threw a number of different looks at Linfield but the one thing they couldn’t change is how Linfield would take it to PLU at the point of attack.  That Linfield physicality is why that conversion rate for PLU was in the 20’s.

Linfield Linebacker, Dom Forrest, was all over the 'Catdome. In fact, he was handing out popcorn to fans at halftime.

Wildcat Receivers making plays:  I think the Linfield offense knew they needed some big plays out of the ‘Cats receivers on Saturday and they delivered.  Linfield has some key first down catches from the likes of Balsiger, Nelson, and Meng.  Then you had Evan Peterson abusing his one-on-one match-up in the red zone for two TD’s.  Lastly, Charlie Poppen was an animal.  Here’s your video proof.

Special Teams Impact:  I HATE the shield punt blocking scheme but I LOVE it when other teams run it against Linfield.  The ‘Cats coaches called a perfect time to go for the block in the 2nd quarter as Jordan Giza slid in for a clutch block to set up Linfield’s 4th TD of the game.

Response to PLU’s run:  I already talked about it above but that was a great response by Linfield in the 4th quarter to PLU’s big run.  Linfield is going to face more adversity against better teams in the near future but it’s nice to know that the ‘Cats have the ability to counter.

Our Fans:   It’s the start of Fall Break on campus which means Linfield is a ghost town but props to the core fans and the students that turned out on Saturday.  The small group of students in the south end zone was giving their best as was the entire Linfield fan base.   Linfield needs another big effort this Saturday.

The Bad

3rd quarter lull:  I would have rather seen Linfield come out of the half and finish off PLU right there in the 3rd quarter but it didn’t happen.  Tip of the hat to PLU for the fight and it worked out well enough for Linfield. 

The Ugly (for PLU)

Dalton Ritchey’s 15th turnover vs Linfield in 4 games.  PLU’s QB is a play maker, can be effective running the football, and has good chemistry with his receivers.  The problem for PLU is that Linfield’s defense feasts on Ritchey’s inability to make good decisions with the football.  Linfield stat guru, Tom McFadden, floated this tidbit to me this morning and I couldn’t believe that it’s been 15 turnovers over the past 4 games against the ‘Cats.  Wow. The Beaverton Bakery is jealous of that kind of turnover production.

We'll send you home with something from the "Made In Oregon" store for the trip back.

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