Monday, September 15, 2014

‘Cats Win! Linfield puts the 2nd half squeeze on Chapman in Orange County

Tavon Willis and the 'Cats offense came alive in the 3rd quarter.
Photo Courtesy of Dan Harris: (View the Linfield vs Chapman Gallery here)

Damn, I love winning a tough road game.  That was nerve wracking, tense, and thrilling all wrapped into one this past Saturday night as YOUR Linfield Wildcats pulled out a 21-14 victory over a fine challenger in the Chapman Panthers. 

Yeah, the 1st half on number of fronts was one to forget for Linfield as the ‘Cats offense sputtered, miscues on special teams, and some ill-timed drive extending penalties left Linfield in a 14-7 halftime hole.  Chapman deserves much credit for that 14-7 score as the Panthers executed a good game plan that had the ‘Cats on their heels.  However, there was no panic in the ‘Cats locker room at half.    Coach Smith, as usual, was right in that all his team had to do was execute better, play in the moment, and Linfield’s play would eventually turn for the better.

And turn it did, as Linfield’s defense put the hammer down on highly experienced offense and the ‘Cats offense showed a flash of what I think could be as the ‘Cats put up two quick touchdowns in the 3rd quarter to give Linfield the lead and eventual final score at 21-14.  Saturday night was a major gut check for Linfield and instead of rolling over and letting Chapman run away with it, the ‘Cats kept grinding and trying to get the right mix of talent on the field to get the job done.

I think that Linfield learned a lot on Saturday.  First, this team found out they truly have a chance to an elite team but right now there is much work to be done.  The offense showed in that 3rd quarter they can move the ball in a hurry.  This offense is going to continue to grow and improve but that has to happen sooner rather than later.  Defensively, the ‘Cats defense line was masterful in creating chaos and forcing Chapman from trying to have any sort of drop back pass game.  There are areas where the defense needs to get tuned up as the level of difficulty increases this weekend down at Redlands but defensive unit had a solid 2014 debut.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good

2nd half response: Great composure for a group with so many new and young parts in the locker room.  Linfield knew that the longer they waited the harder it was going to be to overcome Chapman.  Once Linfield took that 21-14 lead with 1:57 left in the 3rd you could feel the Panthers tighten up as the ‘Cats started to enforce their will.  Winning on the road against quality opponents is hard but Linfield once again found a way to get it done.  Exceptional resolve.

Defensive Effort: The Chapman offense returned a large bulk of their starters from a group that scored 45 points a game while putting up 500 yards per contest in 2013.  Considering the ‘Cats only had 4 defensive starters returning, Linfield defensive effort was great against Chapman.  The defensive effort is what kept the ‘Cats in the game while the Offense worked through some early game issues. 

3rd quarter offensive response: It happened in a hurry as the ‘Cats offense and quarterback Sam Riddle tied up the game with a 75 yard drive that only took 1 minute and 26 seconds.  On Linfield’s very next possession once again the ‘Cats went 75 yards and this time in only 34 seconds off a huge 73 yard Riddle to Charlie Poppen bomb set up a short Riddle rushing blast.  In that two minutes you could see what is possible for this Wildcat offense.

Kicking Unit:  Our sophomore kickers were freaking first rate great.  I don’t think Linfield punter Kevin McClean was planning on 7 punts but his play was clutch.  McClean boomed his punts for an average of 44.1 yards per punt and 6 of those within the 20.  That’s not a fluke as McClean is a talent.  Also, kicker Cayman Conley was great on kickoff in getting all four of his kicks high and at the goal line and kicker Michael Metter executed on those PAT’s.  It was only a first game but it was a heck of a start for the ‘Cats leg men. Also props to Junior long snapper Hunter Durante. Long snappers never get singled out unless they screw up but Durante was throwing gas back to McClean and that was good to see.

Pass Protection:  I though the ‘Cats offense line and backs had a great night in pass pro.  The pressure on the Wildcat quarterbacks was minimal at best for most of the ‘Cats 33 passing attempts and should be a big strength with this year’s O-Line. 

Defensive Line Pressure:  The ‘Cats defensive line made the defending SCIAC offensive player of the year’s night miserable as Linfield sacked Chapman QB Michale Lahey six times and continually hammered him during the night.  Chapman threw the ball 28 times but most of that consisted of boots outside of the pocket. Anytime Lahey set up in the pocket it was open season as Defensive End Alex Hoff racked up 3 sacks and Defensive Tackle Marq Randall added 2 of his own.  During that last drive of Chapman I had no doubt Linfield would come through because there was no way the Panthers could run a traditional 2-minute drill and have their QB setting up on long developing pass plays. Great debut for this defensive line.

Instagram Photo Courtesy of Linfield SID Kelly Bird: (View Linfield Football Albums Here)

Guys stepping in and stepping up: The ‘Cats had a big number of new faces coming into the game and then even more players assume larger responsibilities when we lost some key contributors to injury. The response was great as a number of guys walked out onto the field and owned the moment and situation. It speaks well for where this team is headed.

The Bad

1st Half Jitters:  I don’t need to spend a lot of time on this.  The ‘Cats had some spotty play in the 1st half with missed passes, dropped passes, turnovers, extending drives on bad penalties, etc, etc. Learn from it and move on.

Open field tackling: While the defense played a heck of a game one glaring sore spot with me was some open field tackling on the perimeter.  Chapman was dumping the ball out in the flat on a number of occasions and let their crafty and speedy running backs get to work.  The 2nd half was much improved on this front but the Linfield defense needs to sharpen this up.

3rd down conversion: Going 3 of 11 on 3rd down just isn’t good enough.  I’m not typing anything the offense already knows.  Linfield needs to be able to improve on their conversion rate, move chains, and that will lead to more points.

Rushing Attack: 21 attempts for 76 yards (3.6 per carry):  I didn’t want to put this in the “bad” category because I think Chapman’s whole defensive game plan was to take away the running game and Linfield didn’t put too much emphasis on pounding the ball.  However, 76 rushing yards on the ground needs to be a 1st quarter or 1st half stat and not a game total.

The Ugly

Penalties: 10 for 107 (four Chapman drives extended by penalties) Rough night on the penalty front.  On both of Chapman’s 1st half scores, the ‘Cats at some point of the drive turned the Panthers away on 3rd down to only see the drive continue on either a roughing the punter or roughing the passer penalty.  I love the aggressiveness but you work so hard in getting that stop to see it continue on a penalty can be a killer. 

Onto another HUGE road game this week at Redlands.  Let’s Go ‘Cats!


Chris said...

My wife had to take our 3 month old from me as I watched the game. My passion was just too much for the little guy. Great win. I'm excited. We beat a quality team on the road despite some mistakes that will be fixed. The sky is the limit.

Unknown said...

Thanks WC. Love the write up. These Cats have some room for improvement and it will be exciting to see how high they can take it this year! Catdome!