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August 30, 2018

A Work In Progress | Teeing Up The 2nd Half

Odell Willis (11), Bo Lokombo (20), Anthony Thompson (23) and Shawn Lemon (9) of the BC Lions during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC on Thursday, August 9, 2018. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

There have been a few signs of promise followed by a few disappointing setbacks. That would best describe the first half of 2018 for the BC Lions. While not many, if any, outside club headquarters had picked this team to run away with the West Division in 2018, the consensus is that they should be better than what their 3-6 record shows. That’s the bad news. The good news? You can point to a couple of the better Lions teams in history and the record books will show they didn’t exactly light it up until it mattered the most. With their final bye week coming to a close, players and coaches are preparing for this nine-week stretch drive that will tell the final chapter of the story.

Like many other teams, they have been unlucky on the injury front. Solomon Elimimian is almost ready to return from a wrist injury he suffered in week four and they will have to keep grinding away on offence without leading receiver Manny Arceneaux who is headed to the six-game injured list with a torn ACL. With that, we get you primed for the second half of 2018 and talk about some of the key moments we have seen to this point.

The 1st Half | 3 Storylines

1.)- Enter Lulay

The biggest question from day one of training camp surrounded that of Jonathon Jennings: could the young quarterback re-discover his magic from 2016? After a couple of lopsided road losses in Edmonton and Winnipeg in weeks three and four, Travis Lulay was summoned from the bullpen for the big rematch with the Bombers on July 20th. Although the Lions have only won two of Lulay’s six starts and the veteran will admit his last couple of outings should have been better, it’s no secret the offence has played with a bit more confidence with number 14 behind centre. Since he got his starting job back, they are averaging 364.1 yards of total offence per game. With Jennings, the average was 299.9. It’s simple: this group will go as far as number 14 will take them.

2.)- Road Woes

Two years ago they were a team that could walk into any stadium in the CFL and feel like they had a great chance to come away with a win. The 6-3 road record, those losses by a combined nine points, showed that. This year’s version of the Lions has dropped all five of their road contests. With four regular trips remaining, time is running out to get that road swagger back. They likely need to win at least two of those away games to keep pace in the playoff race. It won’t be easy. This marks the first time since 1972 where the franchise has lost its first five road games. That team finished 5-11-0 and out of the playoffs.

Travis Lulay (14) of the BC Lions during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC on Thursday, August 9, 2018. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

3.)- The Defence…. Flashes of Brilliance

GM Ed Hervey came in with a Motus Operandi of beefing up the defensive line and after a few tweaks here and there, he has backed that up. Odell Willis has proved he can still get to the quarterback quickly and Shawn Lemon gives them an excellent option at the other end position.

Otha Foster III has been a nice upgrade at the nickel position, while SFU product Jordan Herdman has filled in nicely for Elimimian in the middle. The return of Bo Lokombo and improvement of Dyshawn Davis has given them decent ratio options at the SAM spot. The secondary has shown as good and bad. TJ Lee, now the veteran of the group, has helped mould newcomers such as Anthony Orange, Winston Rose and Garry Peters into a solid group. All three of those newcomers have made big plays in big moments.

Consider how excellent they have been at home: just seven second half points allowed in four games. That is the sign of a defence that could be excellent week in and week out. It’s about finding that consistency when the games get more important from here on in.

Key Numbers

61.4- the average number of receiving yards per game the offence must replace with Arceneaux out of the picture. Who will step up?

1,696- Lulay’s passing yards in just six appearances this season, good for fifth amongst CFL quarterbacks going into this week.

1,525– the league-best total in combined yards for Chris Rainey.

Minus 6- the turnover ratio through nine games, only the Toronto Argonauts (minus 10) sit below them in that category.

2-4- their record against Western Division foes so far.

BC Lions’ Chris Rainey (2) shoves Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Adam Bighill (4) in Winnipeg on Saturday, July 7, 2018. (CFL PHOTO – Trevor Hagan)

Remaining Schedule

Friday, September 7th: Ottawa at BC 7:00 PM 

This marks the first of six straight games against the East Division and will prove to be critical should a crossover playoff spot come into play at the end. The Lions fell just short in the nation’s capital on July 20th, a couple of ill-timed penalties and a 4th quarter fumble from Bryan Burnham the big difference in a 29-25 setback. Trevor Harris and the first place Redblacks have shown signs of being Grey Cup contenders.

Friday, September 14th: BC at Montreal 4:30 PM

Will we get our first up close look at Johnny Manziel behind centre? The Heisman Trophy winner struggled in his first two CFL starts before going down with a concussion on August 11th. This marks a rematch of the regular season opener where the Lions prevailed 22-10. Since then, Montreal has traded former Leos receiver Chris Williams (in the Manziel deal with Hamilton) and brought back defensive lineman Gabe Knapton whom the Lions just released.  Lulay and company have not travelled to the east division beyond August since the 2015 season.

Saturday, September 22nd: Hamilton at BC 7:00 PM

This marks the start of the Lions’ second and final back-to-back situation of 2018 after they earned a split with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in July. The Tiger-Cats have shown signs of promise in the first half and were four points behind the Redblacks for the top spot in their division heading into their big Labour Day home and home with Toronto. It will be a nice test against quarterback Jeremiah Masoli who has eclipsed the 400-yard passing mark in seven of his nine starts this season.

Saturday, September 29th: BC at Hamilton 1:00 PM

September ends with a trip to Steeltown where the Lions had quite the eventful night in 2017 when Lulay passed for a career-high 436 yards in relief of the injured Jonathon Jennings. We will be hard pressed to see similar fireworks, but a win here could go a long way in setting up a frantic final five weeks.

Saturday, October 6th: Toronto at BC 4:00 PM

You’ll have to forgive the home side if they are a little angry heading into this one. A 24-23 loss at BMO Field on August 18th allowed the Argonauts to creep back into the playoff picture and left the Lions asking questions about their inability to execute at critical times. They get their chance at redemption before the turkey and stuffing gets devoured later in the holiday weekend.

Saturday, October 13th: BC at Calgary 5:00 PM

This marks Wally Buono’s final regular season trip to the stadium he ruled for 14 seasons before he migrated west in 2003. He and the Lions hope they have more than just nostalgia to talk about in this one. They lost 27-18 at McMahon Stadium on August 4th and have not won there since July of 2014.

Friday, October 19th: Edmonton at BC 7:00 PM

Mike Reilly and the Eskimos make their second trip to BC Place after they probably felt they let one slip on August 9th. The 31-23 result gave the Lions confidence they can compete with the big boys in the West Division. Now they will have to continue to back up that claim.

Saturday, October 27th: BC at Saskatchewan 5:00 PM

The final road odyssey before November could be a big one in front of the rabid green fan base in Regina. Last week’s 24-21 loss to the Roughriders was seen as a missed opportunity, but the good news is they have several weeks to pick up a game or two on Chris Jones’ stingy squad. Could a trip to the playoffs be on the line? It’s very much possible.

Saturday, November 3rd: Calgary at BC 7:00 PM

How fitting is this? Buono’s regular season farewell comes against the franchise he helped mould into the team of the 90’s and won three Grey Cups with as GM and head coach. But like the trip to Cowtown three weeks earlier, they hope there is more to play for than simply sending their head coach off with one last victory.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com