Monday, November 30, 2015

‘Cats win!!! Linfield slays the Red Dragons 38-22 to move onto the National Quarterfinals



#17 Levi Altringer came up with a beautiful toe tapping TD for the 'Cats against Cortland State
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Football Photos Here.
After a rough 1st half of play, the ‘Cats used a suffocating defense and effective offense to pull away from a hard-nosed and talented Cortland State Red Dragon football team this past Saturday in the ‘Catdome. 

That 1st half was concerning because I thought Linfield was playing the game at Cortland State’s pace and the Red Dragon’s had extensive experience in gutting out close victories and Linfield had not been in that position all year long.  Going into halftime, I had a few people mention to me that some Linfield fans were wondering how badly the ‘Cats were getting chewed out by Coach Smith.  That just made me chuckle.  There was zero panic or coaches freaking out in that Linfield locker room.  It’s just not Linfield or Coach Smith’s way of going about their business.  In fact, here is what Coach Smith told his team before headed back out the field in the 2nd half:


video

That’s why Coach Smith is a leader of men.

That second half was what you’ve seen this Linfield team do all year to teams.  Special teams pins them deep, the defense forces short drives or create turnovers, and the offense delivers.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Ballgame. 

A big tip of the cap to Cortland State.  That was a well-coached, physical, talented, and clean playing group. They represented the Empire 8 well and this past weekend is what I love about division III playoffs…the chance to play someone when you have no idea what’s in store.  The staffs only get a small glimpse of film to build a game plan and you roll out your guys and let it rip.  It’s exciting, fresh, and you mix that in with a cold but beautiful late November Saturday and that’s about a perfect small college football experience.

Obviously, the injury to Sam Riddle was a big hold your breath moment for Linfield’s fan base.  Sam is one of the best QB’s in division III and a leader.  He came back out after the lower body injury for one last drive before half but the staff shut Sam down for the rest of the day and handed the keys over to Tommy Knecht. Other programs might have rolled Sam out there in that second half but there’s a reason why they didn’t.  The staff knew and trusted that Tom would be able to lead the offense and get points on the board with Sam sidelined.  Knecht and the Wildcat offense delivered on that trust to the tune of 24 second half points on the way to victory.  I don’t know what Sam’s status is going forward, I’ll leave that to the staff to disclose at the appropriate time.

With the victory, Linfield now advances to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year. Once again, Linfield will face University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in a rematch of last year’s 2nd round game.  This year’s game is like a mirror image to the 2014 game with now UMHB being the team to stub their toe in the regular season and goes on the road to play a top 5 team in Linfield. In reading the local Belton news, the Crusaders are relishing the opportunity to get some payback on Linfield from last season and previous playoff games.  We’ll get more in-depth about UMHB but this will be by far the best team Linfield has seen in 2015 and it’s going to take a monster effort by Linfield to knock off what is an ultra-talented football program.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

2nd half response: Cortland State challenged Linfield, as I expected, and I was impressed with how Linfield responded.  The Red Dragons were the team that won tight game after tight game but Linfield showed no sign of being shaken by a tight score and very uneven half of play.  Linfield when on that 24-0 run to blow the game wide open and did with a large helping of adversity as Sam Riddle left the game with a lower body injury.  Instead of retreating, the ‘Cats charged forward with a fantastic stretch of football.  It showed me what this team is made of.

Defensive effort:  The Linfield defense was top notch this past weekend.  The ‘Cats first defensive unit was freaking great once again on Saturday.  Beside one long TD pass by Cortland Sate in the 1st quarter, Linfield’s defense ate up the Red Dragon offense with speed and athleticism. You could tell that the Red Dragons had no answer for Linfield’s defense as their running game was nonexistent and they couldn’t get Linfield off balanced with the receiver screen game.  That left the vertical passing game as the Red Dragon’s only real option and Cortland State QB Steven Ferreira is probably still in an ice bath from the beating the ‘Cats put on the Red Dragon QB.

Passing attack: Linfield’s passing game was on-point against Cortland.  Sam Riddle cut up the Red Dragons for 172 yards and 2 TD’s on 17 of 19 passing before leaving the game and Tommy Knecht followed that up for another 106 yards on 10 of 16 passing and two more touchdowns.  I thought the Wildcat receivers were excellent on the ball and ran some great routes to shake Cortland defenders.  The ‘Cats will need that passing game again next week against the Cru.

Red Zone offense: The ‘Cats went 4 of 5 in the red zone against Cortland State and I loved the varity of ways Linfield put the ball into the end zone.  Johnny  Carroll has turned into a reliable fade target in the red zone, Levi Altringer just continues to be huge out of the tight end position, and I loved the play action game in the red zone setting up wide open TD tosses. The ‘Cats can just beat you in so many ways in the red zone.

Pressure:  8 QB sacks on the day.  That’s not a typo.  What I loved about this pressure day is that 7 out of the 8 sacks were racked up on the Linfield defensive line (2 – Hoff, 2 – Schwartz, 2 – McGovern, 1 – Farber).  As an offense, you’re hosed if Linfield can generate heat like that with their front four and leave extra defenders in coverage.  Watching tape, it was a pass rush clinic and what about that hurdle/sack by Hoff?  My goodness…

Tommy Knecht:  There are others guys that have had to step in for injured Linfield starters this post season but quarterback position is just different. You might be able to cover up a hurt DB or receiver but you can’t hide it when your starting QB goes out.  For the great majority of teams in Division III when your 1st string QB goes out, it means disaster.  Thankfully, Linfield is in the position of having a player of Knecht’s quality to come in and lead the offense.  Tommy was effective in that 2nd half of football with both his arms and legs and it’s a tribute to Tom’s mental toughness and preparation to be able to go into a pressure situation and lead.  

#2 Dylan Lewis and the 'Cats DBs were feasting on the Cortland State passing game.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Football Photos Here.
Linfield defensive backs:  There were some Empire 8 fans that were curious to see if Linfield’s pass defensive effectiveness was due to talent or lack of quality competition.  After Saturday, Empire 8 fans were pretty quick to tip the cap and say….yeah, Linfield’s defensive backs are pretty darn good.  Cortland State QB Steven Ferreira was only picked off twice all year long and the Wildcat secondary got him three times on the day.  I’ve been tooting our secondary’s horn all season long and they keep making me look good.

The Bad

1st half mistakes:  Linfield played an ugly 1st half of football.  Cortland State was a good football team but the mistakes I’m talking about are of the unforced kind.  Penalties that stunted Linfield drives or extended Cortland drives, blown assignments, bad snaps, etc.  The ‘Cats CANNOT have that kind of half of football this weekend against UMHB and expect to survive.

Last 3 minutes and change: The game was well out of reach when Linfield put a final dagger in Cortland Sate to push the Linfield lead to 38-10 with a little under 3:30 left in the game so it was a bummer to see the Red Dragons be able to get a quick TD, recover an on-sides kick, and get another quick score to close the gap to 38-22.  It didn’t mean very much but I would have liked seeing our young defenders offer better resistances on those last two Cortland drives.

The Ugly

Playoff Injuries:  Being able to absorb injuries during the playoffs is part of the deal.  The ‘Cats have already lost 1st team All-NWC Linebacker Jason Farlow and 1st team All-NWC guard Steven Nnabue before the Whitworth playoff game, DB/LB Wade Ransom was injured late against Whitworth, and now the NWC Offensive Player of the year Sam Riddle is questionable after a lower body injury sustained during the 2nd quarter against Cortland State.  You hate seeing these guys put in all that work and performance to only get sidelined.  However, football is a team sport and when someone goes down the next man has to be ready to step up and we have seen Ryne Furmark put in two solid games at guard, Linebacker Jake Reimer take on more snaps and lead Linfield in tackling against Cortland State and Tommy Knecht come in and lead Linfield to 24 2nd half points to seal a 2nd round playoff win.  That’s what great teams do when injuries hit.  Next ‘Cat steps in and steps up.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015 Playoff Round 2 Preview: Linfield (10-0) vs Cortland State (9-2)


Welcome to our Thanksgiving Day special edition playoff game preview.  I’m typing this with a cup of hot coco (with mini marshmallows) sitting next to me while my wife and daughter are baking some cookies in the kitchen and the dogs asleep by my feet.  Not a bad way to spend your Thanksgiving morning.  Speaking of being thankful, we Wildcat fans have much to be thankful for this morning as the ‘Cats are once again playing football on Thanksgiving weekend and get to do it in the ‘Catdome.  That’s a double win on so many levels.  As we know, the ‘Cats moved on from the first round in a dominating 48-10 win over Whitworth in the opening round of the playoffs.  With the win Linfield now host the champions of the Empire 8 conference the Cortland State Red Dragons out of Cortland, New York.  The Red Dragons are an impressive football team as Cortland State is big upfront and have a number of play makers lead by the arm of their quarterback, Steven Ferreira.

The Empire 8 is a darn good football conference.  D3football.com ranked the Empire 8 conference the 3rd best conference in division III this season (NWC is ranked 8th) and it was a battle royal to win their conference championship this season.  That is one thing that Cortland State has as a true advantage coming into this game over Linfield and that’s being tested in tight games.  The Red Dragons have won two overtime games and have won five games by 7 points of less this year against a list of quality opponents.  Cortland State’s strength rests on the diversity of their offensive attack, physicality, and the ability to turnover teams while on defense while not giving the ball away.

The Red Dragons are coming into this weekend’s game with the 5th best turnover margin in the county at a +18 (Cortland with only 10 (3 picks/7 fumbles) turnovers while forcing 28 turnovers (12 picks/16 fumble recoveries)) and that’s a surefire way to be a dangerous football team.  While the defense has been an impressive takeaway unit, the Cortland State quarterbacks Steven Ferreira has been an outstanding playmaker.  Ferreira has completed 67.1% of his passes for 2,895 yards, 26 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. That’s pretty stinking good.  Typically when you see that high of passing percentage you might think, Cortland is just running a dink and dunk passing attack but that’s not the case as Ferreira is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt and 14.2 yards per completions (Sam Riddle averages 8.9 per attempt and 15.3 yards per completion) which tells you that Cortland will stretch the ball down the field and attack you with three receivers (Wagner, Mannix, and Smith) that have 40 or more catches each.   

There are only 8 division III football games being played this weekend and that means 16 teams that are left playing are quality football teams. Make no doubt that Cortland State has all the tools to fly across the country and knock off the ‘Cats if Linfield doesn’t play a high quality brand of football.  But this weekend is what I love about playoff football.  You have two teams and programs that have never met, know little about each other, and are playing for their playoff lives.  It’s exciting and why these players put so much into their off season training for moments like this weekend. 
I’m fired up to see how the ‘Cats respond to a big challenge this weekend in the ‘Catdome

Get To Know A Wildcat

#13 Johnny Carroll, Sophomore, Receiver
Hometown: Bend, Or., High School: Mt. View High

Favorite place to eat in Mac: The Grain Station

Favorite Movie: Nacho Libre or Dumb and Dumber

Favorite Music: Hip Hop and Rap, or anything with Rihanna

Favorite TV show: The Office

Favorite Book: The Bible

Class I Most Look Forward to: Marketing with Michelle Nelson

iPhone or Android: iPhone

CPU Homepage: ESPN

Personal Mantra: Hakuna Matata

Social Media of choice: Insta

Car or Truck: Truck

Xbox, PS3, or Wii: Xbox

What first inspired you to play football: My family, they always encouraged me to try play as many sports as possible and find out which one(s) I really love. I still can't even choose...

Favorite Coach Smith Saying: "Someone’s got to go to jail"

Favorite part of playing at Linfield: The bonds I have made with people that I know will last long past my playing days.

Post Linfield aspirations: Find a job that i know will have the power to impact people’s lives in a positive way day in and day out.

Wildcat11’s Keys to Victory

Be ready to go this distance:  Linfield has to have a mindset of being ready for a four quarter game.  The days of rolling everyone in their path have come to a close and now it’s time for big boy football. With only 16 teams left in the country, you know everyone has the ability to rise up and win. Linfield has dismantled team after teams this season but Cortland is unlike anyone the ‘Cats have played this season as the Red Dragons are battled tested and have the firepower to stand toe-to-toe with the ‘Cats. Linfield has to be ready for a full 60 minutes of football.

Run the Football: When the ‘Cats can run the football, the Linfield offense is hard stop.  Cortland runs a 3-4 defense with some big bodies upfront and the ‘Cats have to find a way to be effective against a defense that’s only allowing 3.4 yards per rush.  We’ve seen it time and again that if the ‘Cats can run the ball the rest of the offense will open up.

Limit the Red Dragon Big Play: The Linfield secondary and linebackers have a big challenge in containing the Cortland State passing attack.  The Red Dragons have hit 62 passing plays of 20 yards or longer with 15 of those being touchdown connections.  Cortland State will throw a number of short passes and receiver and running back screens but they’ll take a number of shots down the field to a very good trio of receivers.  It will be the secondary’s biggest test to date.

Pressure:  While the Red Dragons have hit a bunch of big playas on the year, they will also take their lumps in giving up sacks.  Cortland State has allowed 42 sacks on the season and Linfield has to be able to add to that number to help disrupt the timing of the passing game and hopefully force mistakes from a quarterback that doesn’t make many.

Decision Making/Take Care of the Ball: Linfield was brilliant last weekend in only being penalized twice for 10 yards and not making any huge mistakes with the ball.  As established above, Cortland State has been a tremendous takeaway team this season so it’s imperative that Linfield keeps the football protected and make good decisions with it.

Special Teams: Linfield is facing a special teams unit with some weapons.  Kickoff return man Dylan Peebles was a 1st team All-American in 2014 and is currently returning kickoffs for 26.4 yards per kick return and has housed a 97-yarder earlier this season.  Pinning Cortland and having the ability to flip the field with punt and kickoff returns could have a critical impact on the outcome of this Saturday’s game.

Overall.

‘Cats by 10. I’m expecting a competitive football game in the ‘Catdome this weekend.  From the little I’ve seen from Cortland State, they’re a big and well coached team with guys that can break it open for the big play.  With that said, I truly believe if the ‘Cats bring an “A” effort to the ‘Cats, Linfield is going to find success and break open a tight game for the 2nd round victory. Go ‘Cats!!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield is the gift that keeps giving in 48-10 playoff win over Whitworth.

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.

video

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

The Good

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
Rushing the football:  The ‘Cats rushing game was huge against Whitworth as the ‘Cats netted 201 rushing yards off of 50 carries.  The ability to hammer away at the Whitworth defensive front was big as the body blows softened up the Rats guard for the Wildcat head shots (passing game). Super impressed with the offensive line’s effort and running back Spencer Payne’s elusiveness and toughness.

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.

The Bad

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 

The Ugly

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.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Linfield Bracket Pick 'ems and more!

Let the playoffs begin!
Hi everyone!  So this is a first on ADvantage ‘Catdome.  I figured that since (509)Rat and I have skin in the game in terms of the playoffs, that we would give you our Linfield Bracket game picks. Along with that, I go on my yearly rant about the NWC All-Conference team, and (509) and I collaborate on a final 2015 NWC Power Rankings.  I doubt we’ll do a pick ‘em post next week but it was a pleasure having (509) chip in once again. I hope that he’ll have the time to contribute next season as well as the pick ‘em post is my favorite post of the week.  So thanks (509)Rat for keeping this blog on its toes and for the weeks of entertainment!

Linfield Bracket Round One Games:

#2 Linfield (9-0) over #22 Whitworth (9-1) (at Linfield): (509)Rat says Linfield: It doesn't matter how much extra prep Whitworth got last week, Linfield has too much talent. Whitworth should do a better job of running the football, mostly because it can't be worse. Kolste actually had a pretty good game for the Pirates in round 1, but if he doesn't get enough time to establish parts of their vertical passing game Whitworth will again struggle to move the ball. This game is close if "Crisco hands Linfield" shows up. That's probably their best chance of slowing down Payne and getting some short fields to work with. Deep down that has to be Cat fans' biggest fear, but it won't matter until later rounds (UMHB, St. Thomas, etc.)

#21 Salisbury (7-2) over #25 Cortland State (8-2): It seems like Cortland State has been living on the edge all season long while Salisbury put together a year where they knocked off Wesley, scored 91 points in a game, and are headed into the playoff with an offense (flexbone…think George Tech) that is going to be a pain in the butt anybody in the playoffs to deal with. Should be a good game but I’m seeing the Seagulls moving on in this one.

(509)Rat says Salisbury: I equate this to Fly-Sweep Willamette teams getting into the playoffs and causing people problems. You don't see the flexbone every year if you are Cortland State and I expect Salisbury to get off to a quick start because of it. Cortland State will score (and probably eventually adjust on Defense), but Salisbury has the ability to hold on to the ball and keep that offense off of the field, which plays right into the Seagulls' hands. 2008 Willamette had no business hanging w UWW on paper, but a short week of prep for a unique and unfamiliar offense can give even the best teams in the country problems.

Huntingdon (9-1) over Hendrix (8-2) (at Hunt): You have to be impressed that Hendrix has reached the playoffs in their 3rd year.  It will be a great experience for them but it’s only going to last one weekend.  Two of the D3football pundits are taking Hendrix here and they’re probably right but I’m going with my gut and taking the Hawks.

(509)Rat says Huntindon: I'm basically ignoring the early season loss to Birmingham-Southern. Since then, Huntingdon has been beating opponents in a much more convincing fashion than Hendrix. A win would be huge for a Hendrix program in their 3rd year of football, the problem  I have is picking a program with such little big game experience to go on the road and win in the playoffs.

#13 Mary Hardin-Baylor (9-1) over #12 Hardin-Simmons (9-1) (at HSU): Now this should be a barn burner. Most people, including myself, saw UMHB’s loss to HSU a wake-up call for the Cru as they beat their next two opponents by a combined score of 134 – 34, while HSU dropped one in the mud to ETBU.  Some people think UMHB is going to roll over HSU but I think the Cowboys passing attack is going to give UMHB problems again and this could come down to who has the football last.  I’m expecting UMHB to win but I wouldn’t be surprised if HSU found a way to get it done again.

(509)Rat says UMHB: Lightning isn't going to strike twice for the Cowboys. The Cru couldn't stop Jessie Ramos, he had 223 receiving yards including a last minute 57 yd TD reception. I have to think UMHB is talented enough and their coaching staff smart enough to not let that happen again. For Hardin-Simmons to have a shot, they are going to have to hold UMHB to less than 21-24 pts. The Cru will surprise some and win comfortably, moving one step closer to a rematch of last year and a preview to next year’s game...

Wildcat11’s 2015 All-Northwest Conference Team Rant/Review

So the NWC office release the 2015 All-Northwest Conference team awards this week and to nobody’s surprise Sam Riddle (off), Alex Hoff (def), and Joe Smith (coach), were the top award winners for the conference.  I’ve been pretty critical in the past of how the coaches put together this team for having time and time again overstuff the 1st team selections.  While each coach is looking out for their guys, overstuff the 1st team hurts the Northwest Conference when it comes time for regional and All-American recognition. 

If you are listing three 1st team running backs (for example), how can you ask SID’s, coaches, media members to separate one of the NWC players from all the other players from around the country when we can’t even do it in our own conference? What typically happens is that these people think that if a certain player isn’t good enough to stand alone in their own conference then there is no way they would stand alone on a regional or national level. And ultimately it winds up hurting that player, his program, and the conference in terms of national perception. This just isn’t 2015 thing but the coaches have done this over and over and over and over again throughout the years. I mean the NWC coaches named Whitworth QB Joel Clark (who was good) a 1st team QB in 2005 along with Linfield’s Brett Elliott!! Brett was the NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR and considered one of the best D3 QB’s ever but nope…Joel Clark and Brett are put on the same level by the NWC coaches.


OK….I feel better now.

This year the All-NWC team was done well for the most part.  We have three 1st team running backs and I’m sorry but Spencer Payne is the best running back in the NWC and it isn’t even close. If the NWC coaches could draft any RB in the conference, there would be no hesitation by any of them to choose Payne.

I thought Riddle was the clear choice as offensive POY. Yeah, other QB’s in the conference had better stats but Sam was only playing 2 ½ quarters of play for most of the season and Linfield didn’t need to chuck it 45 times a game, especially when the ‘Cats were up by 40 a half. When Riddle threw it, he was the most effective QB in the conference and the biggest duel threat in the NWC. Easy choice and it also makes up a little for the NWC coaches botching not naming Riddle 1st team QB last year when they named QB Dalton Ritchie and left Riddle on the honorable mention list.  That still pisses me off.

I’m good with the Logger WRs getting 1st team.  A lot of their numbers are a product of the Air Raid style offense but Miller was fantastic after the catch and Schon had a ton of success against anyone in the NWC not named Linfield. Suyematsu really came on his senior year for Pacific and no problem with that choice. Totally agree about the offensive line choices and the Rats Freshman kicker was outstanding.

On Defense, Hoff is a no brainer, should be in the running for defensive player of the year in D3. I like the Ryan kid from Willamette on the D-Line more than Bajema from Pacific even though Bajema had more stats. I like the first three LB selections a lot but not in love with the choices of Kodama and Bresser. I’d take all the guys on the 2nd team list over those two.  Wrapping it up, the Linfield defensive backs dominated the NWC. You can’t argue with those picks and if you don’t, you’re wrong.

So enough of that.  (509)Rat and I put together a final 2015 NWC power ranking where we each give our thoughts on each program.  I think the NWC is going to be on the upswing next season not only within conference play but also in terms of Non-Conference action. 

Wildcat11 & (509)Rat’s Final 2015 Northwest Conference Power Rankings

1. Linfield

Wildcat11: 7th consecutive NWC championship and the largest average margin of victory spread in the history of the Northwest Conference (49.3). People will say that the NWC is down this year and I won’t disagree but Linfield was pretty stellar this season. Don’t expect Linfield to fall off in the near future either. Along with the present, the future for the ‘Cats is pretty bright.

(509)Rat: The class of the conference, will continue to beat up on the NWC for a few years as Whitworth continues to recruit well and PLU matures

2. Whitworth

Wildcat11: Fantastic year two in the Sandberg era for Whitworth. The defense made a huge leap forward and you have to think the Rats will only get better moving forward. The Linfield game in the Pine Bowl next year should be a doozy.

(509)Rat: You really can't ask for anything more from Whitworth. The first round exit won't be pretty, but I don't think anyone expected a playoff appearance for another year or two. Whitworth has been teetering on landing those borderline FCS kids (ie competing w/ Eastern WA for a few guys) that you need to win on a top 10 national type level...2 more years until I truly expect them to compete with Linfield

3. Puget Sound

Wildcat11: Just a few years ago, the UPS Student Paper was writing articles asking the question of if UPS should ban football. So you have to tip the cap to the Loggers for bouncing back and building towards this 3rd place finish and 5 NWC wins especially have the NWC coaches put them dead last at the start of the year.  I don’t know if they’ll ever be year contenders but I don’t see them back in the basement moving forward either. 

(509)Rat: Who'd a thunk? Is a 3rd place finish enough for them to upgrade that cow pasture? C'moooon alumni...

4. Pacific

Wildcat11: What a letdown year for the Boxers.  The Boxers where huge beneficiaries of Linfield falling asleep at the wheel last season, even so, following up their co-championship year with a 4th place finish and getting ran out of Tacoma to end the year had to really sting. They lose a ton of offense this season so I have no idea where the Boxers are going in 2016.

(509)Rat: The beginning of mediocrity if you ask me. Pacific benefited from some down years from a couple of the traditionally strong programs in the conference. Time to compete with the UPS's and Geroge Fox's of the world

5. PLU

Wildcat11: Hard year in the win column for Pacific Lutheran but they’re headed in the right direction and should slotted in a 3rd in the NWC at the start of the 2016 season.

(509)Rat: Should be able to top Pacific and UPS next year.

6. George Fox

Wildcat11: Solid 2nd/3rd year for George Fox.  They’ll  continue to put in work but where they go next year is all dependent on if they’re able to backfill some of their departing personnel.  BTW, I wonder what they’re going to rip off from Linfield next?  The Bruindome? Consecutive winning attendance streak? 

(509)Rat: Had some good non-conference results, surprising results really. I would not be shocked to see the Bruins end up as a program that ends up finishing higher than Pacific more often than not. John. Tully.

7. Willamette

Wildcat11: I like the defense but man that offense is terrible and I don’t see it getting much better next year. They’re on the downward slide and will be for the foreseeable future.

(509)Rat:  Can things get worse? Probably not, I mean, as long as Lewis and Clark has a football program

8. Lewis and Clark

Wildcat11: Should see some improvement in 2016 but who are they going to be better than in the NWC in 2016?

(509)Rat: I hope they have Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer on the schedule next year

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 Playoffs Round 1: Linfield (9-0) vs Whitworth (9-1)

Let's get it on!
It’s the best time of the football season…PLAYOFFS! We already discussed the match-up a little on Tuesday as Top 25 team and NWC runner-up Whitworth will be making a return trip to the ‘Catdome to face Linfield in round one of the NCAA playoffs.  A large portion of this blog post is going to mirror our game preview from one month ago as I feel Linfield’s keys to victory this weekend is the same formula that the ‘Cats used to run away from Whitworth during the regular season.  However, we all know that Whitworth’s coaching staff probably had a pretty darn good idea (Whit Head Coach Rod Sandberg is on this year’s NCAA National Playoff Selection Committee) that the Rats would be getting in back when the first regional rankings came out and I suspect the Rats had a running start into this week in terms of game planning and perpetration.   I mean, you really don’t have to spend the whole week preparing for Lewis & Clark (Whitworth’s opponent last week) and I’d have to think resources were put into Linfield game planning prior to this week.

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.

Overall

‘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!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield first half surge leads to 38-10 victory over PLU



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

The Good

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

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.