Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Third-Round Matchup: Linfield College

Take a look around D3 football, it's tough to find a more consistent program than Linfield College. I understand that Mount Union has seemingly won 132 Stagg Bowls since 1993, and that St. Johns has had the winningest coach in college football history. Or that nobody has a higher winning percentage than Wittenberg. Even so.... for decades now, you can set your clock to the Wildcats putting a very talented product on the field year in and year out. Even the most casual D3 football fans are well aware of Linfield's 57 consecutive winning season streak (1956 - present). Which is the longest in college football history (regardless of division). The Wildcats have accomplished this while completing in the fifth all-time toughest conference (Northwest Conference) in the country, according to Want some more consistency? In that 57-year span, LC has managed to win 35 conference titles (that's more than any WIAC football school). Linfield has also made the playoffs nine times since 1999, while winning the Stagg Bowl in 2004. Of those those nine seasons, they've lost in the first round only once! During their time in the NAIA, the Wildcats made the postseason 15 times from 1961 to and 1994. Even more impressive is they played in the championship game six of those 15 seasons, winning it three times ('82, 84 and '86).

I know, I know...what Linfield has accomplished in the past has little to do with this Saturday's game. So, looking at this year's team, the Wildcats come into this quarterfinal game with a perfect 11-0 record and are ranked third in the country. Of the four No. 1 seeds in the playoffs, Linfield has - by far - the toughest road to Salem. Two weeks ago the 'Cats barely escaped a first-round exit against a vengeful Pacific Lutheran team, 27-24. Meanwhile the other three No. 1 seeds won their first-round game by an average of almost 43 points. That's not to say that Linfield is inferior. What I am saying is that Linfield's geographic location can probably be blamed for the tough game, considering that only 6.2% of D3 football programs share the same timezone as Linfield. With the NCAA trying to save money on traveling, Linfield gets the misfortune of playing a team in close proximity in the first round. Rather than the weakest team in their region, necessarily. In round two they beat the perennial powerhouse North Central College. The only reason why NCC came to McMinnville this early was because the Cardinals lost twice in the regular season. Many, including myself, thought this would be a very tough game for Linfield. However, the 'Cats took care of the Cardinals 30-14 in what was considered a down year for North Central. Still, I'm sure coach Joe Smith wasn't crazy about seeing NCC in the second round.

Defensive End Brynnan Hyland

Usually I start with the offense, but in Linfield's case, I'm eager to elaborate on their defense. The Wildcats have a young man who just may be unblockable. Brynnan Hyland leads the country with 17.5 (16 solo) sacks this season. That's almost 1.6/game. The 6'2" 240lb junior defensive end only had one game this year where he didn't plant the QB in the ground. That was against Pacific Lutheran two weeks ago. As a team, LC has 60 sacks on the year (59 according to the NCAA). That's 12 more than any other D3 team!!! In fact, four Wildcats have six or more sacks on the season: Mark Randall (6), Brian Dundas (7), KeAlii Poomaihealani (9), and Hyland (17.5). So if Hyland isn't going to beat you, odds are someone else will. I suppose it goes without saying that Linfield also leads the nation in Tackles for Loss with 121 (11/game). The next closest is Wartburg with 104. I counted 10 different 'Cats with five or more tackles for loss this year. I say why not just let LC's front six take turns lining up next to the opposing team's running back? The stats suggest they'll be spending most of the time in the backfield anyway....why deny the inevitable? Eight different members of the Wildcats' defense were mentioned on this year's All-NWC list. Looking at what Linfield has accomplished thus far, it's hard to imagine that they've been without their preseason All-American DT Tyler Steele. As a junior, Steele lead the team with 13 sacks last year. Steele suffered a season-ending knee injury during week three of this year. Linfield's leading tackler this season is Dominique Forrest with 78 tackles (38 solo). The 5'11' 210lb linebacker also leads the team with four interceptions, along with 8.5 tackles for loss (second on the team).  In fact, the NWC named Forrest the Defensive MVP this season.

Senior Quarterback Mickey Inns
Linfield's offense is lead by quarterback - and NWC Offensive MVP - Mickey Inns. The senior has thrown for 3041 yards (276.5/game) and 29 touchdowns with six interceptions this season. Those 3041 yards is the 12th most in the country for quarterbacks. Linfield doesn't have one wide receiver that can beat you... but rather they have three. All of whom have 45 or more receptions on the season. Deidre Wiersma has 55 receptions for 617 yards and seven touchdowns. Charlie Poppen has caught 51 for 801 yards and nine TDs. Finally, Lucas Jepson has 621 receiving yards on 45 receptions with four touchdowns. All three receivers are mentioned in the All-NWC team. In fact, just like the defense, a total of eight offensive Linfield players made the all-conference team this season. It goes with out saying that Linfield's passing game is what makes this offense dangerous. The Wildcats are averaging about 41.8 points per game, which ranks them seventh in the country. At the start of the season Linfield displayed a very balanced offensive attack, but that all changed when all-conference running back Josh Hill - much like Steele - had a season-ending injury in week three. The senior was averaging over 133 yards per game before getting hurt. Taking Hill's place is 5'7" 190lb freshman John Shaffer, who is averaging a little over 42 yards per game with seven touchdowns. Based on these lopsided stats, it's easy to see that Linfield's running game hasn't been exactly the focal point of its offense since Hill's injury. But rather it's a complimentary weapon to their potent passing game (i.e. their passing game sets up their run, not the other way around).

2012 Statistics (National Rank)
Linfield Rushing Offense: 132.6 ypg (140)
Oshkosh Rushing Defense: 89.7 ypg (17)

Linfield Passing Offense: 317.6 ypg (15)
Oshkosh Passing Defense: 197.7 ypg (99)

Linfield Total Offense: 450.2 ypg (32)
Oshkosh Total Defense: 287.3 ypg (25)

Linfield Rushing Defense: 79.4 ypg (10)
Oshkosh Rushing Offense: 263.3 ypg (14)

Linfield Passing Defense: 210.8 ypg (149)
Oshkosh Passing Offense: 237.9 ypg (66)

Linfield Total Defense: 290.2 ypg (29)
Oshkosh Total Offense: 501.2 ypg (9)

When I first filled out my D3 bracket I had Oshkosh winning this game. After reading up on Linfield, and attending the Oshkosh/Bethel game last week, my confidence level in Oshkosh has subsided a bit. Bethel ranks 109th in passing offense this season and just tore a part Oshkosh's secondary in the first half last weekend. Given that the Wildcats have the 15th best passing offense in D3, I thought to my self, "Jeesh!! If Bethel can have this kind of success in Oshkosh, I'm afraid to see what Linfield will do when they go to McMinnville next week." Bethel wide receiver Mitch Hollstrom torched the Titans for 133 yards on nine catches, along with two touchdowns last week. However, Oshkosh's defense managed to do a complete one-eighty after the half. They held the Royals to just 41 yards of offense in the the second half!! Earlier in the season, when they hosted Platteville, Oshkosh has faced a very similar spread offense to Linfield's. UWP ranks sixth in the country in passing (344.7 yards/game), and ninth in scoring (41/game). In that matchup, the Titans held Bryce Corrigan to just 203 yards passing, 0 TD's and three interceptions as they won 34-13. I know Oshkosh is capable of playing a shut-down defense, but the question is: Can they do it consistently?


  1. Very thorough and thoughtful analysis. On Saturday, we tear up all the paper and play the game on the field. (Field turf with rain and wind as I write this)

  2. That can't be good for a team that passes a lot.