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January 31, 2018

Game Preview | Lions at Blue Bombers

He has played under the bright lights of Germany and more recently showed flashes of blazing speed and athleticism in Kamloops. Now the versatile Tyler Davis is anxious to prove himself in the more hostile environment of Investors Group Field in Winnipeg has to offer.

“I’ve been patiently waiting my turn, been learning from the vets and taking a lot of reps at receiver. Everybody has been a big helping hand so far,” explained the 2015 German League MVP.

We put a strong emphasis on the word versatile: a former defensive back at Missouri Valley College, Davis ventured overseas to pursue his pro teams, playing defence, receiver and running back with both the Kiel Hurricanes and Munich Cowboys.

Those Swiss Army Knife capabilities are what made the Lions come calling prior to this year’s April mini-camp camp. Now he hopes to turn heads on special teams against the tough Blue Bombers.

“It’s a lot different competition wise, “said Davis of the adjustment back to North America.

“Here, I am more so special teams and offence. I can pay more attention to those details and not about what I have to do on defence. I don’t have to flip flop like that.”

With Chris Rainey getting the start at tailback, Davis is slated to handle a bulk of the punt return duties for Saturday’s rematch against the Blue Bombers. Featured tailback Jeremiah Johnson is getting the week off. After they were eliminated from playoff contention last week, these final two games present the perfect opportunity to get a look at some of these younger players.

Other than the size of the field, Davis has quickly learned just how different and crazy the Canadian brand of football can be.

“The last Hamilton game we played (a 24-23 loss on September 22nd), on the last play of the game when Jeremiah had the ball, we actually could have punted it. I didn’t know you could punt the ball as you’re running down the field, and still get a point for it. (Then) the last game how Toronto won it on a kick out (from the end zone). Just different, interesting things that I am picking up on that I never knew you could do. It’s like rugby in a way,” added Davis.

The Bombers themselves were on the losing end of that crazy conclusion at BMO Field last week, the Argonauts prevailing 29-28 after a Jason Medlock missed field goal. They need one more victory or a loss by the Eskimos to wrap up second place in the West and their first home playoff date since 2011.

Playing a motivated squad won’t faze Davis in his pro debut.

“I look at every opponent the same. It’s another game that we have to play, another game that we have to keep our composure, handle our business and come out with the W.”

Other line up changes of note: we told you the story of Luther Maddy earlier this week. The Virginia Tech product will start at defensive tackle. Maddy’s quest to earn a spot on the active roster out of training camp was derailed when he suffered a broken wrist. Kourtnei Brown also will dress on the defensive line. Newcomer Kendall James starts in the secondary in place of Buddy Jackson. On offence, first round pick Danny Vandervoort will likely see some more action at receiver. He has played every game of his rookie season, primarily in a special teams role. And finally, the offensive line will see some tweaks, as Hunter Steward is out for the final two games after injuring his ankle in practice. David Foucault will start at left guard and yet another newcomer, Keavon Milton, starts at right tackle.

 

 

The Matchup

BC Lions (6-10-0) at Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-5-0)

Saturday, October 28th

1:00 PM PT

Investors Group Field

TSN 1040/TSN 1/ESPN 3

Gameday forecast: a mix of sun and cloud with a high of plus four degrees and low one degree Celsius.

Most recent meeting: a 26-20 Blue Bombers victory on October 14th, 2017.

Vegas Line: The Lions are point 5.5 underdogs

Defence Eyeing Similar Script

The unit had a nearly perfect outing in the 26-20 loss two weeks ago. Despite not allowing Matt Nichols and the Bombers’ offence to find the end zone (Winnipeg’s majors came on a Kevin Fogg punt return and an interception return from TJ Heath), Solomon Elimimian believes there is always room for improvement.

“We want to swarm. We want to be aggressive, be physical. That’s our calling card,” stated Elimimian.

One thing that will help the cause is creating a turnover; something the defence has failed to do in each of the last five games.

“We were close a couple of times last time we played them, but close doesn’t get you anything,” added the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

“We want to get a couple turnovers, give our offence back the ball and win the game.”

They also held former teammate Andrew Harris to just 62 rushing yards on 16 carries. As the game went on, it appeared the 2011 Grey Cup Most Outstanding Player was getting frustrated, particularly when he threw a punch at defensive lineman Mic’hael Brooks. Elimimian agrees keeping number 33 in check again is an absolute must.

“The offence goes through Andrew, so you have to find ways of slowing him down. Anytime you slow him down; you’ll be successful against them as a team. I think it’s about just being physical and playing fast.”

Receiver Darvin Adams is likely gone for the season after a hit from Anthony Thompson in the first quarter of that October 14th clash. The Bombers have since welcomed back slotback Weston Dressler with open arms. He had eight catches for 129 yards and a touchdown in their loss at Toronto.

Speaking of Elimimian: he entered hits week as the CFL’s leader in defensive tackles with 128. He is 16 shy of breaking his own all-time CFL record of 143, set in 2014.

Spoilers? Depends Who You Ask….

We couldn’t resist the temptation to ask a few of the vets if they were relishing the chance to potentially knock Winnipeg out of second place in the West and force them to travel come playoff time. After all, we are less than a year removed from seeing the Lions end Winnipeg’s Grey Cup dreams in the thrilling Western Division Semi-Final at BC Place. Jonathon Jennings, who delivered the final dagger in that game, is more concerned about his finishing on a good note.

“It’s about getting a win. We just need to finish,” said the starting QB.

“I’m not worried about what’s going on with anybody else, honestly. I just want to finish strong and I want our group of guys to come in there and get a victory.”

Added Elimimian on the prospects of impacting the playoff draw: “That’s all good and dandy, but we want to finish the season out strong, feel good about our organization for next year and give our fans something to hope for. That’s what it’s all about: playing with pride, playing the BC Lions brand of football and getting a win. It’s been tough the last couple of weeks and anytime you get a win it just lifts everybody’s spirits up.”

Rookie linebacker Micah Awe would love nothing more than to have the Bombers rack up some more Air Miles in two weeks time.

“We’re trying to ruin everyone’s playoff position,” chuckled Awe.

“We don’t care; we’re ruining everything. We’ve got nothing to lose.”

Winnipeg leads third-place Edmonton by two points and also took both head to head matchups this season.

Fan Poll
Who will lead the Lions in defensive tackles on Saturday?
Solomon Elimimian
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Micah Awe
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Ronnie Yell
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TJ Lee
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Other
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Final Quotables

“I like Michael O’Shea, so I don’t want to spoil his party. That’s got nothing to do with it. We’re not here to spoil anybody’s party, we’re here to win a football game. Last time we came, they played better than us, they made the two big plays and we didn’t, and they won.”-Wally Buono on the spoiler angle.

“We really do spend a lot more time focusing on ourselves. The coaches focus on scheme throughout the week, put the plan together prior to the week starting and figure out how they’re going to attack us and how we’re going to stop and counter-attack them. We present it to the players and then they just worry about learning it and executing it.“

When you change players, they’re not really changing systems. They’ll look the same on film. When you put new guys in, you want them to show they can execute the playbook and you want them to do it with the least amount of mistakes. But for us, it doesn’t change how we prepare.”- Winnipeg Head Coach Mike O’Shea speaking to bluebombers.com about the Lions’ changes.

Three Keys To Victory

Contain 33…. again– A similar stat line from the last meeting would be a major advantage for the defence.

Extend drives– a common theme of late has been the offence’s inability to get going until it’s too late: a sharp contrast from early in the season when they were so sharp, particularly on second down.

Win the turnover battle– a semi-regular entry in this section this season. Keep in mind the Lions are 1-7 in games where they commit more turnovers than the opponent.

Extra Yardage

Stats Zone: As Buono hinted at last week, the offence maybe shouldn’t take as much of the blame as they have been. The unit sits third overall in net offence with exactly 6,000 yards, an average of 375.0 per game. Edmonton and Toronto are ranked first and second.

The Lions are back into a tie with Calgary for the most rushing touchdowns, 18 to be exact. The tally on those rushing TDs is as follows: Eight for Johnson, five for Travis Lulay, two for Jennings, and one each for Rainey, Alex Ross and the now-departed Shaquille Murray Lawrence.

The Bombers are first overall in completion percentage at 70.7: another reason for the Lions secondary to be alert.

Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham are just 16 and three receiving yards, respectively, away from cracking 1,000 on the season.

After winning their first two visits there in 2013 and 2014, the Lions have lost three consecutive games at Investors Group Field. Those defeats have been by an average of six points.

Time to reverse this trend: the Lions are the only CFL squad to not register at least ten points in any first quarter this season.

106 days: that will have been the duration between road victories for a squad that prided itself on being road warriors a season ago. The most recent victory away from home came on July 15th in Hamilton when Lulay replaced Jennings and Nick Moore notched a career-high 220 receiving yards.

TSN 1040 has you covered with the pre-game show underway at 11:00 am PT. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 1:00 PM PT. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and Lions fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 3.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com