|Let's get it on!|
I’ll be curious to see what adjustments Whitworth will make on both sides of the ball on Saturday. The Rats have been a fast starting team on the season but have also shown the ability to keep battling and come back from adversity as they did to both Pacific and Willamette late in the year. As much as the Whitworth coaching staff probably didn’t enjoy getting down in those games they have to feel good about seeing their players respond and get the job done in both of those circumstances.
While Whitworth appears to be a pass heavy team, the Pirates have remained very balanced on the season in rushing the ball 405 times while piling up 409 passing attempts. As I stated earlier this season, the improvement in the rushing game has made this offense much more dangerous and harder to stop that last year’s version. Duke DeGaetano is a heck of a running back with his vision, speed, and toughness. Whitworth quarterback, Ian Kolste will be the man behind center once again and Kolste has punched in a heck of a 2015 in throwing 18 TDs to only 6 picks, and 2,635 yards (263.5 a game) and completed 62.2% of his passes. Kolste has two all-NWC targets to throw at, DeGaetano out of the backfield, and it appears that Whitworth’s most explosive pass catcher, Anthony Fullman, might be healthy enough to play after missing all of his senior year due to injury. Linfield is going to have their hands full in slowing down this offense.
On the flip side, the Whitworth defense has shinned all year long in only allowing 18.6 points per game, piled up 30 takeaways (18 picks, 12 fumble recoveries), and have sacked opposition quarterbacks 43 times on the year. The Whitworth offense was good in year one of the Sandberg era but it has been their defense that has put Whitworth in the position to receive a playoff bid and get a chance to knock off the Wildcats.
So you have to think that Whitworth will be better prepared and have a clearer understanding what’s waiting for them when they come back to McMinnville. Heck, Sandberg talked about that in his weekly video chat that this will be his team’s 3rd trip to McMinnville in 2 years. Reading between the lines, Sandberg is saying that his players will not be in awe or intimidated about playing a football game at Linfield. That’s fine and Whitworth shouldn’t be at this point. They are a good football team and fully capable of applying pressure on Linfield this weekend. However, with that said this Linfield team will be primed and ready for Saturday. There isn’t going to be any overlooking or resting on the idea that Linfield put in on the Rats during the regular season so this weekend should play out the same. This team already knows from past experience that beating the same team twice during the regular season is difficult and poses a new set of challenge and adversity the second time around. I just don’t see Linfield coming into this weekend with their guard down.
Wildcat11’s Keys to Victory:
Start Fast and Finish Strong: Both Linfield and Whitworth are fast starting teams that love to jump out to fast leads and apply pressure. It’s critical that Linfield can quickly workout Whitworth’s adjustments and counterpunch with intensity and physicality on both sides of the ball. Both teams are loaded with talent and it’s going to come down to who is able to execute and perform in those critical moments that can change momentum and impact the course of a game.
Run the Football: Linfield has work so hard on becoming a team that can run the football consistently and the reason was for the playoffs. It’s no mistake that teams that can consistently run the football and play great defense advance deep in the NCAA playoffs and win championships. The Whitworth defense only allows 3.1 yards a rush so the ‘Cats have a big challenge to get it done. If the ‘Cats can get their rushing game off, it’s going to cause all sorts of issues for Whitworth
Limit Whitworth’s run game: If you let Duke DeGaetano get going, the Whitworth offense is going to be tough to stop. The Whitworth running back is averaging 4.1, 85.0 yards per game, and 11 touchdowns. Griffin Hare is a nice change of pace back and Kolste does have the ability to pick up yards with his legs. The ‘Cats cannot allow Whitworth to get going on the ground.
Linfield pass protection: Whitworth has been fantastic in getting to the opposition quarterbacks this year and Linfield’s offense line has been equally fantastic in keeping defenders off of Sam Riddle. Linfield will be putting the ball up in the air and not allow Whitworth to get to Sam will be critical to the success of Linfield’s offense.
3rd down defense: Whitworth is very much a team that thrives on tempo and rhythm. The Rats love to move the chains and pick up yardage in chunks and the fastest way you can slow any offense down is getting them off the field on 3rd down. Linfield’s 3rd down defense (24% conversion rate) has been lights out this season and will need to be great once again on this down of defense.
Special Teams: The ‘Cats have made play after play after play on special teams this season. The Linfield special teams could be huge this game in flipping the field and setting up Linfield with optimal starting field position. Whitworth has been a very good special teams unit as well so it should be a great match up.
Decision Making/Ball Security: When two good teams get together, turnover and decision making can make all the difference in the world. That is exactly the line I used in the regular season preview and it holds 100% true this week as well. Our players have to be fantastic decision makers away and on the football and Linfield is playing a great takeaway team so ball security will be of a huge importance.
‘Cats by 10. Whitworth is a dangerous football team and will be playing this weekend with nothing to lose. They know Linfield is the favorite and they probably prefer it that way. Linfield has all the pressure and expectations on them and they wouldn’t want it any other way. This Linfield team has earned every piece of goodwill based on their performance during the regular season. But that’s done and gone. Now it’s win or go home. There’s no style points in the playoffs, just go out with your teammates and put it all on the line. You have to love it and Linfield is going to thrive. Go ‘Cats!