NO. 3 LINFIELD COLLEGE (7-0) AT PUGET SOUND (0-7)
1 p.m., Baker Stadium, Tacoma
Linfield leads, 25-12-1, and has won the past 22 games against the Loggers. Part of that was last year’s 73-7 rout in McMinnville, Ore. The last UPS triumph came in 1987 (21-20).
WHAT TO WATCH
All the achievements of Linfield football are well-documented – 57 consecutive winning seasons, a 64-5 league record since 2000 and now closing in on a ninth trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs in the past 13 seasons. And the Wildcats just keep reloading, even if they are beset by injuries. Running back Josh Hill (shoulder) is out for the season, but backups John Shaffer (5.3 yards per carry) and Stephen Nasca (3.8 YPC) are reliable performers. This might be the most complete offense in the conference, guided by quarterback Mickey Inns (136 of 235, 1,742 yards, 20 TDs).
As for the Loggers, they put in a good half’s work in last week’s 41-14 loss to PLU. The UPS front seven held its own against the Lutes’ rushing attack, and coach Jeff Thomas said it was a huge step forward in being competitive at the line of scrimmage. The team’s top priority this week is getting quarterback Braden Foley (129 of 243, 1,629 yards, 14 TDs, 15 INTs; sacked 19 times) straightened out. He has been holding onto the football too long and exposing himself to big hits – and turnovers. Thomas said it was because Foley wants to hit on passes farther down the field, as opposed to staying within the Loggers’ short passing-game framework. Foley accounted for all six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles) against the Lutes.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
If Linfield wins, the Wildcats not only lock up at least a share of the Northwest Conference title for a fourth consecutive season, but they also would clinch an automatic berth to the national playoffs.
TNT pick: Linfield, 56-21.
WHITWORTH (6-2) AT PACIFIC LUTHERAN (5-2)
12:30 p.m., Sparks Stadium, Puyallup
PLU leads, 48-19, and once held a 32-game winning streak over the Pirates (1966-2000). Whitworth has won six of the past eight meetings, although the Lutes escaped Spokane last season with a 20-17 win.
WHAT TO WATCHIt isn’t difficult to see what the key matchup is – Whitworth running back Ronnie Thomas (208 carries, 900 yards, 10 TDs), the conference’s leading rusher, against the Lutes’ front seven, which gives up 99.3 rushing yards a game (ranked 29th in the country). And when nose guard Mychael Tuiasosopo (32 tackles, 71/2 tackles for loss) is active and engaged, he might be the most disruptive interior-line force in the NWC. That allows inside linebackers Jordan Patterson (41 tackles) and Dalton Darmody and safeties Greg Hibbard (team-high 44 tackles) and Sean McFadden all the space needed for run support.
Speaking of rushing attacks, the Lutes have a three-headed lineup with running backs Brandon James and Niko Madison and fullback Cody Pohren. Coach Scott Westering said he has never had this kind of running-game versatility during his tenure, with Madison effective on outside sweeps, James as a threat running off-tackle or catching passes and Pohren effective as an inside hammer with deceptive make-you-miss skills. This is the Lutes’ final home game this season.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
In all likelihood, Linfield will capture the conference title and automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs over the next two weeks (possibly today at UPS). That would push the Lutes into the at-large selection category, which has not been kind to the NWC recently.
TNT pick: PLU, 38-27.