'Cats switch out the turf for the grass Saturday
At first glance, Saturday’s matchup between No. 3-ranked Linfield and the University of Puget Sound is lopsided. The Wildcats are 7-0 this season and riding a 23-game win streak in the Northwest Conference. The Loggers have lost 17 straight games dating back two years.
Linfield coach Joseph Smith didn’t disagree that the Loggers weren’t a good football team, but all his comments about Puget Sound were positive.
“They haven’t had the success they’ve certainly wanted to have,” Smith said. “They have a former Linfield coach working with them, and we have a lot of respect for what they’re trying to do. They’ll be ready.”
Smith was referring to Puget Sounds’ special teams and defensive backs coach Thomas Ford, who graduated from Linfield in 2004 and later coached for the Wildcats for two seasons.
Still, it figures to be a very one-sided game Saturday. The Wildcats have hit a new level on defense a week after holding one of the best offenses in the nation — Willamette — to 108 yards in a 45-10 win.
“If a team is not very good, I’ll tell (players) they’re not very good,” Smith said. “I believe we do not play to the level of our opponents. … We are making our own goals and it’s relative to our own potential.”
Smith said how the Wildcats handle success is another measure of their potential.
“How we handle things when we have it easy are all measures of a mature, battle-tested team,” he said. “We have to use these weeks to prepare for the Mary-Hardin-Baylors and the St. Thomases and the Mount Unions.”
With two weeks remaining in the regular season for the Wildcats, the biggest thing on the table Saturday is a chance to clinch at least a share of the Northwest Conference championship for the fourth straight season.
“We felt that since day one that we controlled our destiny and we still do,” Smith said.
Puget Sounds’ home field
Perhaps the Loggers’ best chance of slowing Linfield might be its wet and muddy grass field. A sodden turf slows players down, and Smith said Linfield has never played exceptionally well in Tacoma.
“It presents some difficulties that way,” Smith said.
To prepare, the Wildcats practiced this week on the grass fields on the other side of the railroad tracks on the Linfield athletic fields.
“It helps for when you go up there you’re not shocked by their field,” defensive back Kyle Wright said. “It’s pretty crappy this time of year anyway.
It’s nice to simulate it. We play on turf the whole year and this is the only time we play on grass. It’s different for the guys.”
Smith said playing on grass changes the type of cleats players have to wear.
“So many of our guys have these fancy, molded speed cleats and they’re useless in the mud,” Smith said. “A lot of our guys found that out (Monday). Some of the kids will have to go down to the second-hand store to pick up some cheap cleats. And that’s an issue, do you really want to spend a bunch of money for one game? That’s a quandary.”
The footing issue isn’t so much a worry as it is a small nuisance you have to plan for, Wright said.
“You just have get used to it during the week and not make it an excuse for anything,” he said.
Inns playing well
Since the Pacific Lutheran game Sept. 29 when he was 17-of-31 for three touchdowns and two interceptions, senior quarterback Mickey Inns has been on a tear.
“Mickey took some hits in this game that really affected him,” Smith said. “Since that game there’s been a renewed focus.”
Inns has completed 64 percent of his passes in the last three games and thrown 10 touchdowns.
He’s been awesome the last couple of games,” Smith said. “He’s playing at an extremely high level.”
Some good news
The Wildcats, ranked No. 3 by D3football.com, are the No. 1-ranked team in the West region, per the first NCAA regional rankings, which were released Wednesday. That could mean a No. 1 seed in the NCAA playoffs if the rankings hold up.