|Bryan Cassil gave the 'Cats a big lift against the Bearcats.|
|Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.|
Even after the loss, there is not a single doubt in my mind that Linfield is the best team in the Northwest Conference but what we all found out is that if Linfield takes for granted the opposition and puts out an inferior effort, Linfield is going to get upended. I could sit here and recite all of the conference and regular season winning streak numbers that ended Saturday (it was a HELL of a run) but what’s more on mind was how this happened and how our ‘Cats will respond from here.
That response is what’s going to make or break Linfield’s 2014 season. This Wildcat team is so much more than what they showed this past weekend but they can’t rely flipping a switch or reputation to earn themselves this year’s conference title. In front of Linfield is a UPS team that has played the top tier of the NWC tight for long stretches of time and then the conference final against Pacific whose program thrives on what Willamette did last Saturday to Linfield. Our Linfield Wildcats still control their own fate and now is the time we’ll get to see what this year’s team is made of.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
4th quarter fight: A lesser team would have checked out when Willamette went up 24-7 at the start of the 4th quarter or would have folded when Jones bused that 98 yarder to make it 31-14 but the ‘Cats refused to go out like that. Linfield stormed back into the game with a stretch of inspired play to get back into the ballgame and get multiple shots at completing the comeback.
Special teams spark: The Linfield special teams provided a huge spark in that 4th quarter with a huge kick return by Bryan Cassil, some great punt return work by Jordan Giza, and a critical forced fumble and recovery by the Linfield kickoff team. It was great to see that unit elevate their game.
Penalties: Linfield was penalized 9 times for 75 yards against Willamette and the most critical were the five times Linfield was called for defensive offsides. On four of those defensive offsides penalties against Linfield, the ‘Cats turned two 3rd and 6 downs into a more convertible 3rd and 1 (Willamette’s first two TD drives), or Linfield extended Bearcats offensive drives (Willamette’s FG possession at the end of the 1st half and Willamette’s 3rd TD drive). And the 5th defensive offsides was during Willamette's last drive on a 3rd and 1 which allowed the Bearcats to burn off more clock which might have been the difference in a last ditch drive by the 'Cats. I’m understating it when I say the flags against Linfield were a huge ingredient in Saturday’s loss.
Not Taking Care of the Football: You can’t turn the football over four times and expect to beat good football teams. Linfield has been great all season in taking care of the football but failed to do so against Willamette.
Losing 3rd Down: Both the Wildcat defense and offense wasn’t able to get it done on 3rd down. That was huge considering the methodical tempo of the Bearcat offense. The Linfield offense was only able to convert at a rate of 5 of 12 chances on 3rd down, while the ‘Cats defense allowed Willamette to go 8 of 16.
Assignment breakdowns/execution: The coaching staff is way more qualified that I am to get into specifics about this topic but I’m pretty confident when I say that Linfield wasn’t sharp in assignments on either side of the football. It was the little things that killed Linfield this past weekend. Have to be sharper.
Not being ready to go: Willamette came into the ‘Catdome inspired and ready to play and Linfield wasn’t. I hate typing that but I think that’s fair to write. It’s disappointing as heck but Linfield has an opportunity to either sulk and let Saturday’s set back affect them the next two weeks or our ‘Cats can turn Satuday into a springboard for better things. That’s not up to our fans, me, or even the coaching staff. This is 100% up to the players on the roster and what they decide to do. Rise up or lay down. I know where I’m putting my money. Go ‘Cats!