|Linfield's Eric Igbinoba caught 3 touchdown passes for the 'Cats against Whitworth|
|Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield vs Whit photos here|
Man, the ‘Cats looked sharp on Saturday in dismantling Whitworth in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. The ‘Cats exploded in the first half in racing out to a 31-3 halftime lead as the ‘Cats would cruise the rest of the way to advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs for the 7th consecutive year.
The game started almost identical as the regular season match-up as Whitworth would take their opening possession and march down the field to take an early 3-0 lead. And that was as good as it was going to get for Whitworth as Linfield used a persistent rushing attack and big passing strikes to score on 5 of their first 6 possessions of the game. On the other side of the ball, Linfield’s secondary took away Whitworth’s vertical passing attack as the Rats could only check down in the flats and unsuccessfully attacked Linfield with a heavy dose of receiver screens. Linfield again limited the effectiveness of the Whitworth offense on 3rd down during most of the game while the ‘Cats offense went 7 of 8 on 3rd down conversions during the first half of play. There were many other contributing factors in why Linfield jumped all over Whitworth but getting the Rats off the field and Linfield’s ability to extend drives and piled up the points were huge factors in the thoroughness of the ‘Cats victory.
In the lead up to the game, one of the Whitworth players mentioned that their coaches told them that it’s hard for a someone to beat a good team twice in the same season, and while I think there is much truth in that, Linfield is a program that knows how to get it done in rematch situations. The ‘Cats have demonstrated year after year after year, that while regular season rematches present challenges, it’s something this Linfield program doesn’t fear.
So now the ‘Cats are onto the 2nd round of the playoffs against a tough and well coached Cortland State (New York) team from the East Region. The Red Dragons are 9-2 and the champions of a tough Empire 8 conference. Cortland State thumped the Salisbury Seagulls in the 1st round 41-21 and punched their ticket to the ‘Catdome. We’ll talk more Red Dragons on Wednesday but my early look at them and colored me impressed. Their big, athletic, and well coached.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Team Readiness: The ‘Cats answered the question if Linfield would be ready for a rematch with Whitworth with a resounding “yes”. All year long, I’ve been able to tell just where this team is at mentally within the first few minutes of being in the locker room pregame. There was zero doubt that this group was locked in and ready to take the fight to Whitworth.
1st half offensive attack: Linfield’s offense in the 1st half was masterful. Linfield piled up 353 first half of yardage using an attacking rushing game and going over the top of the Whitworth defense with the passing attack. To me, the most impressive drive of the day for Linfield was the ‘Cats last possession of the half, where the ‘Cats raced 60 yards down the field in 39 seconds (!!!) to set up a 24 yard field goal with no time left in the half. I had a flashback from the 2004 season watching that drive.
Pass Coverage: Once Whitworth’s Duke DaGaetano went out in the 1st quarter of play, the Rats had zero rushing attack to lean on so it was all up to Ian Kolste’s arm to move the ball on Linfield. Kolste passed 52 times against Linfield (that has to be a record) for only 175 yards off of 29 completions. That’s a lot of completions against a defense but the great majority of those were check downs or receiver screen passes. Kolste had minimal success against the ‘Cats when he tried to test the ‘Cats deep and was picked off twice. The most telling stat of the passing philosophy of the two teams was passing yards per completion. Whitworth averaged 6.0 yards per completion, while Linfield averaged 17.3 yards.
Coverage/Special Teams: Whitworth’s average starting position was their own 21 yard line off of 8 kickoff return attempts. I can’t overstate just how big a weapon that is for Linfield. The ability to pin teams has been such a major piece of the game for Linfield over past years and it once again was a critical ingredient for a Linfield victory.
Wildcat Receivers: What a day the Wildcat receivers had with regards to making plays on the ball. Not a single Linfield receiver received All-NWC recognition and I hope these guys took it personal as they’re a talented group of guys that seem to have found their identity late this season. Multiple ‘Cats had outstanding efforts on key receptions throughout the day. If this group can keep making plays for Sam Riddle in the passing game, the offense is going to be hard to stop.
3rd/4th down defense: I mentioned it in the opening paragraphs of the review but with the nature of the Whitworth offense (death by a thousand paper cuts), 3rd down was going to make or break this Wildcat defense this past weekend. The Rats converted some 3rd downs late with the game well out of reach but earlier in the game, the ‘Cats turned Whitworth away time and again as Linfield built their surmountable lead.
|Marcus McGovern had two sacks for the 'Cats defense.|
|Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield vs Whit Photos Here|
Tackling: The ‘Cats had a great day in the tackling department. It not sexy to highlight tackling but if your defense can’t consistently tackle people; they’re never going to be able to stop anybody. Linfield had a lot of snaps where the Rats put their players in space and Linfield did a great job in being fundamentally sound in keeping Whitworth offensive players in front of them as others rallied to the football.
Decision Making/penalties: Linfield was penalized for a season low 2 times for 10 yards. I thought Linfield was fantastic with their decision making as whole. No silly drive killing flags, no bad decisions away from the football, no forced passes, etc, etc. If this Linfield team isn’t going to make mistakes, good luck in trying to beat them.
Nothing: There is nothing that standouts out even if I wanted to be super nitpicky. The ‘Cats performed good to great in just about every aspect of the game this past weekend. Kudos to the players and staff for being ready to go
Again…nothing. It was a perfect late November day for playoff football in the ‘Catdome. Yeah it was cold but nothing a warm jacket couldn’t fix. The sun was shining and the ‘Cats were rolling. Pretty hard to beat that on a Fall Saturday afternoon.