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July 17, 2018

Game Preview | Lions Host Blue Bombers

Travis Lulay of the BC Lions starting QB against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick)

As he prepares for his first start in over nine months, Travis Lulay admits he’s a little exhausted. Make no mistake: not all of that has to do with the endless film study, final stages of rehab or endless questions regarding his availability this weekend.

“I’m tired from my daughter’s fourth birthday yesterday. Watermelon themed,” explained the 34-year old quarterback to a horde of media members on Friday.

At least we know he hasn’t lost his sense of humour or mild manners on the eve of a big game.

He was thrust into action after Casey Printers’ sudden departure in October of 2010, then was handed the keys in September of last season when Jonathon Jennings struggled to re-discover his own magic. And who can forget the career-best 436-yard performance in Hamilton when Jennings originally went down last July?

Now the 2011 CFL Most Outstanding Player has the keys to the Ferrari once again. However, he is not thinking about how this latest chapter might end. It’s all about getting back in the win column against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in this second half of a home and home series.

“I never think of it that way. I think that’s an outside perspective,” responded Lulay about being the saviour.

“Inside, you just never know. I guess I’ve been around long enough that I know not to expect. You don’t put a plan in your head because you just have to keep working and just be ready for when your opportunity is called and when your team needs you. I know it’s funny with the timeline of me coming back. This is just the timeline for me being healthy and ready to roll and it just so happens to be when I’m called on.”

True, no one can afford to look past this latest challenge. The truth is, we will very well see Jennings again at some point.

Throughout the various stages of his rehab from tearing three major ligaments in his knee, Lulay has admitted the thought of never playing again crossed his mind. Now he says he’s more ready than he’s ever been for a return.

“I’d say yeah, my function is 100 per cent,” confirmed Lulay.

“Doing everything at practice this week, you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know my history, right? That’s what I needed to see on film. This week, even up from last week a little bit, I’m looking fast, fluid and confident in the knee. That gives me the confidence to go in and play.”

As for the questions of possible rust? Just another part of this whole process.

“Yeah I mean, it might happen. I’m human and I’m not going to hide from that, but I’m not as concerned about that, just in terms of my mental prep. I just accept part of that. Talk to Matt (Nichols) after that game (last week), he overthrew the first two passes of the game. You just keep playing. Those types of things happen. I might miss a read. I might throw a ball into (Taylor) Loffler’s face mask or something. If I stay confident about it, I’ll put my team in a position to win.”

All that being said, the quarterback, albeit significant, is just one part of this equation. One constant theme from the week of practice is that no matter who starts behind centre, the offence as a whole must perform better.

“I agree 100 per cent,” said Jeremiah Johnson.

“It doesn’t matter who is back there, we just need to be great in all aspects of the game. If we do have a quarterback that’s struggling we all have to band behind him and let him know that he’s not alone and he has family on the field with him. We always know we have a great quarterback in there and another great one behind him. When it comes to going out there and executing, all 12 of us have to do it, not just one guy.”

Johnson could very well be the key to a turnaround. Last week, the charismatic running back had 61 of his 93 all-purpose yards in the opening quarter before a large deficit forced them to move away from the ground game. It begs the question: how much can this offence benefit from a heavier workload for both Johnson and the running game as a whole?

“This CFL game can be really weird as far as sticking to the game plan, especially when you fall behind early,” added the former Oregon Duck.

“It puts more ownership on the offence to actually stay on the field, convert when it’s second and three and as a running back I understand the whole strategy for getting back in the game. You have to roll with the punches. If we get up early enough, we can have a great running game and that’s our goal. Our O-line has been hungry for it, I’ve been hungry for it, Chris Rainey has been hungry for it and so we just need to go out there, be very detailed in our assignments and go handle business.”

Jonathon Jennings (10) and Travis Lulay (14) celebrate in the locker room after a win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after the game at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON., on Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“We want to be a team that stays on the field and gives ourselves opportunities to score more points, ” added Lulay.

“Being on the field, getting more first downs gives you more opportunities to make plays. As an offensive group, we want to continue to improve and give our team a good chance to win.”

Game # 4: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-2-0) at BC Lions (1-2-0)

Saturday, July 14th

BC Place Stadium

7:00 PM PT

TV: TSN 1/ESPN+

Radio: TSN 1040

Latest result: the Blue Bombers prevailed 41-19 in the first of this home and home series last Saturday.

Game day weather forecast: sunny with a high of 26 degrees Celsius.

X-Factors

Chris Rainey– the offensive struggles can be remedied any time by big special teams production. You get the sense the rain man is due for a big return. He leads the CFL in kickoff return yards and has looked dangerous on punts as well.

Andrew Harris- with all due respect to Nichols and his cast of receivers, Harris is the straw that stirs the drink for the CFL’s top offence. Look for him to be jacked up once again.

Fan Poll
Are you on board with the decision to start Travis Lulay at quarterback?
Yes
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No
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Indifferent- the offence must improve regardless
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Three Keys To Victory

1. Finish Drives- as they have been saying all week, hitting pay dirt at the end of these long drives is a must.

2. Get To Matt Nichols– the Bombers QB praised his offensive line for helping him not get touched last week. This Lions front needs to be better and they know it.

3. Eliminate Big Plays- a couple of huge completions helped Winnipeg change the field position and get some early momentum last week.

View From The Other Side

“It’s always super tough… it’s professional football. When you win football games you celebrate with your team because it’s not easy to win at the professional level. To play the same team back to back… obviously, it’s very difficult to win back-to-back games, especially going to B.C. I’ve been going there for years now and it’s always been a tough place to go and win. You just approach it like it’s a completely new week except you’re watching the same film you were from last week, plus watching your game from a few days ago 95 times.”- Nichols in discussion with Ed Tait from bluebombers.com.

“Since we played here and we got the first match out of the way I think kinda that ‘first’ factor is already taken away. Going back to BC Place and being in front of the fans that I was once playing in front of, I think a lot of them are wishing me well, just not when we play the Lions. It is going to be different going back to BC Place, somewhere I played so many games, but like I said playing here first against them makes it a little bit easier transition I guess.”- Adam Bighill with bluebombers.com on playing his first game here as a visitor.

Extra Yardage

Including the 2011 Grey Cup victory, Lulay has a 5-3-0 all-time record in games he has started against Winnipeg. His had 404 passing yards in last season’s thrilling comeback 45-42 win in week five.

Stats of the week: the Blue Bombers now lead the entire league in total points (144) and points per game (36), while the Lions are sixth overall in both categories. Last week’s performance from Bighill moved the Bombers into the top spot in interceptions with six.

A couple of nuggets courtest CFL stats man Steve Daniel: the Lions are coming off back to back games of giving up 40-plus points for the first time since October 2005 when they fell 46-44 to Montreal and 44-23 to Winnipeg. That is a span of 222 games. This also marks the first time since October 28th- November 6th 2001 where the Lions have failed to reach 200 passing yards in three consecutive games.

Not sure what it is about the venue, but the Lions and Bombers have played some thrilling games at BC Place over the years. There was the exciting comeback last year and who can forget that dramatic Western Semi-Final in November of 2016? The Bombers also prevailed in three-point games in both the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons.

Two other lineup changes of note: Winston Rose slots in at field corner ahead of Marcell Young, while Bo Lokombo is going to get a look at WILL linebacker alongside Solomon Elimimian. Dyshawn Davis will backup Lokombo. Former Lions linebacker Chandler Fenner is a game time decision for the Blue Bombers. The Leos leading special teams tackler from 2017 has not practised all week due to injury.

Fans unable to attend Saturday’s contest can listen on TSN 1040, beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00 PM with Lowell Ullrich. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the action at 7:00 PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 while Lions fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN+.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com