By Sam Horn, Sports Editor
Linfield has been at the forefront of Division III collegiate football all season long and deservedly so. The Wildcats from McMinnville have stifled opposing offenses and have spread fear among secondaries nationwide.
Linfield is averaging a whopping 56 points per game while only giving up 11.7 points per game. Linfield has cruised to three easy victories so far this season, tallying 168 points altogether.
This team is ranked second in the nation for a reason. While the Wildcats are looking unstoppable so far this season, they, like all other teams, have their weaknesses.
Pacific Lutheran University will exploit those weaknesses this weekend when they face the Wildcats on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. during their Homecoming game in McMinnville, Ore.
Linfield has been strong both offensively and defensively, but penalties have been the Achilles heel of this team. The Wildcats have racked up 21 penalties over three games. That’s an average of seven penalties per game.
Even though Linfield has savagely beaten opposing teams to a bloody pulp during these first three weeks of the season, its opponents have played a more disciplined version of football. Linfield’s opponents have 16 penalties combined.
Their opponents might think if they can’t beat the Wildcats on the scoreboard, they can beat them in the field of discipline. It might boost their confidence after a blowout loss. Maybe.
Even though PLU has been flagged 17 times for holding calls, pass interference calls and everything in between, they make up for it in another area. That area is defense.
PLU ranks sixth in the nation in sacks with 10. Three defensive players — Dalton Darmody, Joel Anthony and Kyle Bennett — lead the team with two sacks apiece.
It doesn’t matter who the Wildcats opt to double-team. The Lutes’ defense is going to find a way to get to the quarterback. Even if they don’t sack Linfield quarterback Josh Yoder, the Lutes’ defense might be able to force Yoder into a bad pass. That can only mean good things for the Lutes.
The scary thing is that Darmody is the only senior out of the three sack leaders. Anthony is a junior and Bennett is a sophomore. The Lutes should be able to have a steadfast defense for years to come.
Even if the Wildcats’ offense can score at will, their offensive line has shown spots of uncertainty. The five men in front have given up six sacks and that’s been against mediocre teams. The three teams that Linfield has faced so far have tallied just 12 combined sacks this season. The Lutes have 10. Do the math.
The Wildcats will need to get their offensive line sorted out if they plan on stopping the Lutes’ lethal pass rush. To Linfield head coach Joseph Smith, I say “good luck.” You’re going to need it to find a victory against PLU.
Linfield might have looked like a perennial title contender early on in the season, but those dreams have to stay at the bedside this weekend. The Wildcats have to focus on not committing as many penalties, getting more pressure on quarterback Dalton Ritchey and giving Yoder enough time to throw in the pocket.
That’s an extensive to-do list. Prepare for a rude awakening, Linfield. I hope your Homecoming dance is at least somewhat redeeming.