Over the course of a long season you can divide single games into a few different categories. There are the first place showdowns against division foes. You can also have “must wins” against clubs a few points ahead of you or contests where your playoff aspirations hang in the balance. Outsiders may categorize this Saturday’s showdown in Hamilton as a possible “trap game.”
Your 2-1 BC Lions battle a 0-2 Tiger-Cats squad (4:30 PM/TSN1040/TSN 1/ESPN3) that will be hungry to turn the tide and perform well in an always- hostile Tim Hortons Field.
Wally Buono has been at this coaching thing for over three decades and knows a thing or two about facing desperate teams.
“I think it’s foolish to overlook anybody. Records are not indicative of the kind of football club you are,” said the CFL’s all-time wins leader.
“A play here, a play there you win, a play here a play there you lose. The thing we have to be aware of is the fact that we’re going into Hamilton, I think it’s their season opener (at Tim Hortons Field), you know it’s going to be a lively crowd and you know the club is going to feel that’s going to be a huge advantage for them.”
Despite their difficulty finding the end zone in losses at Toronto and Saskatchewan, they managed just one offensive touchdown in the process; Hamilton’s attack should still be taken serious with the likes of quarterback Zach Collaros and Luke Tasker who can break out at any moment.
“In week three I don’t know that there’s that much desperation,” said linebacker Tony Burnett on the Tiger-Cats.
“It’s their home opener, they’re 0-2 so they’re definitely going to be scratching and clawing for a win. You definitely have to go out there with a plan, be able to execute and not make many mistakes.”
You can already tell mistakes are not a part of Burnett’s DNA. The free agent addition has proven to be a great fit alongside Solomon Elimimian and what those two linebackers are doing has provided a big domino effect for the entire defence.
“I don’t know what records he doesn’t have at this point,” said Burnett of Elimimian.
“He comes as advertised. You see him out there making plays. It’s almost not surprising, but it still surprises you because he’s breaking records week by week.”
At the end of the day everyone knows once the ball is kicked off it’s about one goal: winning. You throw the records and individual statistics aside and cherish them if they come. You can never afford to overlook the team on the opposite bench.
“Collaros is a great quarterback. At the end of it he can do his part and they’ve got a good football team, they’ll figure it out,” added Buono.
Here are some other storylines for Saturday’s matchup.
“Long” Debate Over
Following the release of veteran Swayze Waters this week, the kicking job officially belongs to 24-year old Ty Long. The product of Roswell, Georgia can focus on continuing to get better each game as opposed to answering questions on if he will in fact stay on the active roster.
“The whole time I have just tried to do my best,” said Long.
“At the end of the day it all comes down to how I hit the ball. That’s what Wally told me and that’s what I try to do. I am just trying to improve every day and I think I have improved every game. I know there is a potential to be better so I am just trying to hit my peak at the right time.”
The improvement is there. He is still averaging 46.4 yards per punt- despite two bad ones in Toronto June 30th– and he leads the CFL with a 70.4-yard average on kickoffs. Long is also 8/9 on field goal attempts. The rookie credits Waters for helping him adapt.
“There are not many better guys out there than Swayze Waters. If I ever asked him a question on anything he didn’t hesitate to answer. I came up here knowing nothing about this game and I am still learning, so he has taught me a lot.”
Buono also sees the improvement and even made quite the bold statement following walkthrough practice in Hamilton.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him kick a 60-yard field goal this year,” stated the Godfather.
As far as roster changes go, Andrew Hudson will replace DeQuin Evans on the defensive line. Evans will take the week off to heal some minor bumps and bruises. Buono continues to remind the inquiring minds this is the exact reason they stockpile bodies at these positions.
Offensive Line Builds Off Improvement
Jonathon Jennings spent a lot less time scrambling and running for his life in the win over Montreal last week. You can thank the big guys up front for sticking to their game plan and not dwelling on the previous week in Toronto. Cody Husband agrees they have found their template for success.
“We have to protect the quarterback, that’s our main thing,” explained Husband.
“I think we gave too much up in the first couple games and that’s how it goes on the O-Line: You just have to string together a few good games and it becomes like clockwork, nice and easy.”
They have still allowed a league-high ten quarterback sacks, but you can bet that will change quickly if they pick up where they left off. Simoni Lawrence and the Ticats should present a nice little test for Husband’s troops.
“They do have a very good front four, so we have to be ready for that. We’ll be ready for whatever they bring. I’m not too worried about it.
“We know we still have business to take care of. We want to continue to rise and get better. The biggest thing is making sure we’re not content. We’re excited, we feel good, we’re happy that we’ve won two games in a row, but we just got to keep doing that.”- Jennings on the fact there is still work to be done.
Three Keys To Victory
Pressure up front: A big reason for the Ticats’ offensive struggles is the fact they have averaged only 21.5 yards rushing in each of their two games. Look for the defensive line to bring loads of pressure early on and make Collaros beat them through the air.
More “Special” in special teams: Particularly the return game. It’s only a matter of time before Chris Rainey busts one and takes it to the house. Field position is key in what is always a windy venue in Hamilton.
Win the turnover battle: They have managed to create four takeaways in three games. If they can get two or three more here and not give the ball up then it’s advantage to the visiting team.
Analytical stat of the week: Jennings and the offence are second in the CFL in red zone production at 7 for 11 (63 %), behind only Saskatchewan who is at 8 for 11(72.7 percent). Red zone covers drives where at least one play is run from the opponent’s 20-yard line and in.
The Lions took both meetings in 2016, a 28-3 victory in the Ticats’ home opener at July 1st and a 45-38 thriller at BC Place on August 13th. Manny Arceneaux hauled in the winning touchdown with 1:23 left in the home contest and finished that night with 105 yards receiving.
Beasts of the East: Dating back to September 3rd, 2015 the Lions have won eight consecutive road games against East Division teams. That’s impressive on it’s own, but consider the fact they just 2-6 in the east in games preceding this streak.
Milestone watch. Elimimian, the King of milestones it seems, will play in his 100th career game. His CFL debut came back in the Lions’ opener at Edmonton in 2010. It was that night where he recorded the first of his 27 career sacks. Manny Arceneaux needs 57 receiving yards to surpass Mervyn Fernandez for 3rd on the club’s all-time list. He would trail only Geroy Simon and Jim Young.
TSN 1040 has all of the action Saturday, beginning with the pre-game show at 2:30PM. Scott Rintoul and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 4:30PM. Viewers can tune in on TSN 1 and our fans south of the border can see it all on ESPN 3.
You can download the roster and depth chart HERE!
Matt Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org