|Kennedy Johnson ran around, over, and through PLU for two Punt Return|
|Photos Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Football photos here.|
Yet another soaking wet football Saturday for your Linfield football team as the ‘Cats fends off the Pacific Lutheran Lutes 38-10 up in Puyallup. With the victory the ‘Cats win the Northwest Conference title outright (7th consecutive, 13th in last 16 seasons), locked up the program’s 24th undefeated regular season, and ran Linfield’s winning streak over PLU to 16 games.
The game itself was a mixed bag. Linfield had some outstanding performances and bursts of dominate play but the ‘Cats also had a dud of a second half offensively and some periods of poor tackling which is uncharacteristic from what has been an incredible defense this season. But I’m not worried about. This team has set the bar so dang high this season that anything less than a completely dominating victory doesn’t feel fully satisfying. 99.9% of division III football programs would fall all over themselves to be at that point as a football program and I think there’s a good lesson that can be learned from Saturday in terms of readiness.
For PLU, they played with some spunk this past weekend. They don’t have the Jimmy or Joes developed yet but if the Lutes were a stock, I’d purchase some as I think they’ll be back in the NWC mix next season. I’m not saying they’ll be title contenders but they’ll make noise and be a team the conference is going to have to contend with.
So let’s talk playoffs. It was both predictable and surprising all mixed into one. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that Linfield will be hosting Whitworth this Saturday at noon in the first round of the playoffs. I detest conference rematches in the first round of the playoffs but we all know how the NCAA works in terms of D3 playoffs and nothing is going to change about it. Whitworth was on the bubble but I think everyone around the ‘Catdome knew that the Rats would be getting in and come back to McMinnville. This isn’t new territory for the ‘Cats as this is Linfield’s 6th consecutive season with a round one rematch with a regular season foe (Whitworth, Chapman, PLU (x2), CLU (x2)). Linfield understands that beating a quality team twice in the same season is difficult but a feat this program has accomplished time and again.
|Sam Riddle and the 'Cats will have the challenge of facing an outstanding Whitworth Defense in round one|
|Photos Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Football Photos here.|
What was surprising was the potential 2nd round game for Linfield/Whitworth. Most fans were pretty much coming to peace with the idea that the selection committee would be paring the ASC schools (Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor are also in a 1st round rematch) with the NWC schools in round two. It happened last year as the ‘Cats were shipped off to UMHB in the 2nd round and seemed like a distinct possibility this year as well. But the committee threw the NWC and ASC a bone and split up these two conferences on opposite sides of the quadrant and set up 2nd round games with teams that are unfamiliar with each other, and that’s what the playoffs should be all about. The NWC winner will get a shot at either Salisbury or Cortland State and the ASC winner will get either Huntingdon or Hendrix. It’s cool for all programs involved to have a chance to take on opposition they would probably never get to see during a regular season.
I’m not someone who gets too deep into Linfield’s path to the Stagg Bowl. The only thing I’m concerned about is Whitworth and the challenges of playing a very good football team and conference opponent again. Throw out the result of the first game because Saturday will be a new day with new challenges. This weekend is the start of what everyone that follows Linfield football has been waiting for since the end of the UWW game last year. The Second Season. Let’s Go!
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Special Teams: Outstanding day for the special teams unit. Kennedy Johnson and the punt return team supplied the TNT with two huge punt return for touchdowns in the first half and I thought out coverage teams were great in getting to the ball and not allowing PLU to flip the field on the ‘Cats. Special Teams has been outstanding all year long and Saturday was another great effort by this group.
Pass Coverage: The ‘Cats pass defense held PLU’s QB for 8 of 25 passing for 86 yards on the day and picked him off once. The ‘Cats had multiple chances at more picks with deflections and put PLU’s passing game in total lockdown mode. Yeah, the ‘Cats gave up the trick play TD and PLU wide receiver Ben Welch has bragging rights over every QB in the NWC season as he threw the only TD against Linfield’s defense in NWC play this season. That’s how good our secondary/LB’s has been this season in coverage.
3rd and 4th down defense: The ‘Cats held PLU to 4 of 15 on 3rd conversion tries and 0 for 3 on 4th tries. On a day when the offense was scuffling along in the 2nd half, the ‘Cats ability to turn away PLU on 3rd and 4th down was big.
Pass Protection: The ‘Cats didn’t put it up in the air a ton this past weekend but when they did the ‘Cats offensive line was tremendous in keeping PLU’s blitz happy defense off of Sam and allowing Riddle the time he needed. The ‘Cats offensive line has only allowed 5 sacks in 250 passing attempts this season. Any coaching staff in American would be thrilled for those type of protection numbers.
2nd half offense: That 2nd half just wasn’t up to the standard that this group has set. This group knows they are much better than that performance and I’m not worried about it. The ‘Cats offense will be ready to go this weekend against Whitworth.
Tackling: Holy smokes, our tackling stunk at times this past Saturday and that has been a strong suit with this defense all season long. If the ‘Cats want to make a deep playoff run, our tackling effort against PLU needs to be the outlier and not the trend as we head into this weekend.
Penalties: The ‘Cats were not penalized a ton but penalties killed the ‘Cats most promising drive of the 2nd half and another penalty started a Linfield drive before it started and set up PLU with their best field positioning of the 2nd half. Again, Linfield has to clean that stuff up.
Weather: For the players, weather is something they have to rise above, block out, and not let it affect their focus or effort of the task at hand. It’s now the playoffs and it’s going to be cold, wet, windy, etc. But I’m just the video guy and I hated standing in that crap again with another garbage bag wrapped around my camera and interfering with what I’m trying to do for the program. All the weather people said that this was going to be a very wet fall season and they haven’t been wrong. I’m going to go do a dry weather dance tonight for hopes of a beautiful November afternoon for the Whitworth and Linfield players as these programs get together again in what should be a dandy of a football game.