Loyola defense is getting job done in big way - best effort to date since 2004
Loyola's 'Wolfpack' defense has given up fewer points (77) in the first six games of the season than any defensive unit since the 2004 squad. The 2004 team was the last of legendary head coach Steve Grady's three-decade coaching tenure.
The excellent defensive play to date is far from serendipitous. New head coach RICK PEDROARIAS '84 made limiting opponents' scoring a top priority. The defensive staff, headed by coordinator MIKE GILHOOLY '88, has done a superb job of preparing the Cub stop squad to limit both point production and yards gained.
The metrics are impressive. Loyola is allowing just 12.8 points per game. Of the six opponents the Cubs have faced thus far, five had their lowest point outputs of the season against Loyola, and the sixth, highly ranked Santa Margarita Catholic, scored the second fewest points of its campaign against the Big Blue.
Fairfax, which was limited to seven points (with those points scored against the Cub reserves), was held 111 yards below its average total offensive output. Santa Margarita was held 142 yards below its total yardage standard. St. Augustine was limited to its second lowest total offensive yardage production while being shutout in its only scoreless contest by the 'Wolfpack'. Cathedral, which is averaging 410 yards of offense per game, was held 243 yards below its usual total. A pass heavy team, the Phantoms were held to 2.4 yards per passing attempt and a paltry 55 yards on the ground. Notre Dame was held 99 yards below its total offense average, and Bishop Amat was held to its second lowest offensive yardage figure, with the Lancer ground game averaging just 2.4 yards per carry on 37 totes.
The 'Wolfpack's' second half defensive efforts also have been remarkable. Loyola has relinquished just 28 points to all opponents after intermission - that is an average of 2.3 points allowed in the final two stanzas of six games to date. Taking out the seven points allowed by the reserves in the season opener, the Cub starters have allowed just 21 total points in the second half of six games, an average of 1.7 points. That is a stunning statistic.
Loyola has returned to its vaunted "50" defense which was employed with unparalleled success for decades through the 2004 season. Some questioned the wisdom of the move back to a 5-2 alignment in this era of spread offenses. Suffice to say the move back to the "50" was a brilliant gambit and has been a rousing success. The staff has successfully devised variations on the theme to handle teams that want to spread it out, as was exhibited in a highly effective game plan employed against Cathedral's prolific four-wide aerial attack.
Offense needs to grow
With the two best Mission League foes Loyola will face, Serra and Chaminade, headed to 1901 Venice Boulevard this Friday and on October 13, the Cubs cannot rely solely on the "Wolfpack' to hunt and destroy. The Cub offense needs to find ways to score. Loyola has scored points (47 combined) against Serra in the teams' last two meetings, but the Cavaliers' offense has scored more. With a vastly improved defense on the field this season, the challenge for the Cubs this Friday and next week will be for the offense to get on the scoreboard early and often and for Loyola's special teams units to win their battles as they did in impressive victories over Cathedral and Notre Dame.
Friday night preview
A look at the Cavaliers
Serra (2-3) has played a monster schedule heading into Friday's Mission League contest with Loyola at Smith Field, and head coach Scott Altenberg likely expects the strength of the Cavaliers’ prior opposition to have prepared them well for what the Cubs have to offer. Even Dorsey, whom Serra soundly defeated, 44-7, is expected to challenge for the Los Angeles City Section Division I title. Chaminade, to whom the Cavs lost, 37-32, last Friday, is ranked in the state top ten, City Section favorite Narbonne (Serra was upset by the Guachos, 17-14) is state-ranked and Punahou (the Buff n' Blue beat the Cavs, 56-42 in a point-a-minute extravaganza) is among the top teams in Hawaii. Serra beat a good Alemany squad, 38-20, on September 22.
Loyola will not face a better array of athletes during the regular season than the Cavaliers have to offer. There is loads of major college talent up and down the Serra roster. Among the big guns are senior linebacker Merlin Robertson (6-3, 220), who had 37 tackles, two interceptions and five tackles for loss heading into last Thursday’s game against Chaminade; senior WR/DB Bryan Addison (6-5,175), who was averaging 16.7 yards per catch; senior wide receiver Kobe Smith (6-3, 180), who had 18 receptions for 202 yards; junior corner Max Williams (5-10, 170); and senior wide receiver John Jackson (6-2, 200).
Junior quarterback Blaze McGibbon (6-5, 195) who is averaging 281 passing yards per outing is the beneficiary of four out of five massive returning linemen from 2016, as are senior running backs Kalen Thomas (5-8, 180) and senior ball carrier Mason Bowen (5-7,178). Thomas is averaging 7.5 yards per tote. McGibbon suffered an injury in Serra’s 38-20 win over Alemany two weeks ago, but the Cavaliers did not miss a beat in the passing game in their hotly contested, 37-32, road loss to Chaminade last Thursday as sophomore Doug Brumfield (6-4, 180) lit it up, completing 36 of 46 passes for 325 yards in his first start.
Fleet-footed linebacker Justin Houston (6-4, 190) leads the Serra defense with 48 tackles. The athletic sophomore had a pick six against Chaminade. Robertson is as tough a linebacker as the Cubs will see and senior defensive back David Eure (5-11, 175) had 27 stops going into last Thursday’s showdown with Chaminade.
Loyola will need to find a way to slow down the Cavaliers’ potent passing attack and play keep away - and score points with every opportunity - on offense. The Cubs’ stellar special teams could play a pivotal role in the outcome.
The Cubs - Cavaliers series
The two schools first met in 1953. Coach Jack Bouchard’s Cubs defeated Serra, 13-6, in a Catholic League bout en route to a 7-1-2 overall record. Since then the teams have battled an additional 21 times, with Loyola leading the series 12-9-1.
Before the current Mission League was formed in 2014, the Cubs had not played the Cavaliers since 1998. Loyola won the 1998 non-league contest, 21-6, under head coach Steve Grady. Last fall the Cubs fell to the Cavaliers in Gardena in a shootout, 41-30.
Keeping tabs on Cub grads
Loyola's all-time passing yardage leader SEAN O'MALLEY '17 earned Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors for the second time in four weeks for his play behind center (30 of 44 for 325 yards - all career highs - and two passing TDs) in Lafayette's game against Princeton on September 26. He is the first freshman quarterback to start at Lafayette since 1986. O'Malley earned honorable mention among FCS Players of the Week by the Associated Press at STATS.webloc for his impressive performance against Princeton.
DAVID TOLBERT, a corner for the University of San Diego, and a defensive back on Loyola's 2015 squad that finished the season 9-3 and ranked 17th in the state, had a pick last Saturday in the Tereros' 23-7 victory over Dayton.
Former Cub kicker STEFAN FLINTOFT '14, who won the job as UCLA's starting punter, was awarded a scholarship this week by Bruins head coach Jim Mora. With that scholarship, Loyola now has six scholarship football players at Pac-12 universities, all six of whom are current starters. There are also an additional four preferred walk-on players at Pac-12 schools who played football for the Cubs.
Everything remains in play despite loss to Bishop Amat
The heartbreaking, controversial loss to Bishop Amat last Friday on a phantom fumble at the Lancers' goal line was painful, but the Cubs still remain in the thick of the race for the Mission League crown and a coveted CIF Southern Section Division I playoff berth. While the next two games are against teams ranked in the state top 25, and who are heavily favored to beat Loyola, the Cubs still have a chance to make a run and reach their goals.
This team possesses a real belief that has been fostered by the new coaching staff. The expectation of winning has been inculcated well.
BIG CROWD TURNOUT FOR NEXT TWO HOME GAMES IMPORTANT - THE CUBS NEED FANS IN THE STANDS