August 26, 2017

Game Preview | Lions Battle Defending Champs

BC Lions wide receiver Bryan Burnham (16) runs the ball after a reception during the first half in CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

Ottawa, ONT– They just aren’t where they want to be. That’s the cold, hard reality facing this squad as it prepares for the week 10 visit to our nation’s capital and a battle with the defending Grey Cup Champion Ottawa REDBLACKS.

Ronnie Yell has been around long enough to know how you play in the weeks and a day leading up to November is what really matters. And in truth, there are no “must win” games until a loss means your season is over. That still doesn’t hide the fact this could very well be the most crucial regular season game for the franchise in the last three or four years.

“We definitely wanted to be in the undefeated range, or maybe a loss or two here in there,” explained Yell of the early season aspirations.

“5-4 is average, man. That’s average for us and we don’t want to be there. We’re going to work extremely hard to get to the top in the second half of the season. You have to come in each and every week and put forth a great effort. All the teams in this league are good. You can’t take any week for granted because anything can happen.”

This week is a prime example of that notion of you can never take teams lightly. . The disappointing outing in Saskatchewan earlier this month was a similar situation. The REDBLACKS only have two wins in nine games, but many key pieces remain in place from the team that took down Calgary in the 104th Grey Cup.

“They have been in all those games they’ve lost, it just seems like they can’t catch a break,” added Yell.

“It’s not a pushover game. Their record doesn’t indicated who they are and we have to be ready for them in their house.”

Wally Buono is looking at things with a “glass half full” approach. After watching the film, he insists last week’s 21-17 letdown against Calgary had the potential to be much worse than it was.

“I think you have to find the good too,” said Buono of the latest outing.

“The missed opportunities obviously were disturbing, the blocked kick was disturbing, but you also have to take the good in the fact that in a five-day turnaround against a really good team that came off a bye I thought the guys played hard. I’m at a point now where you have to go on the road, focus on the one game, play better football and we’re capable of doing that. Our quarterback will be better, our offensive line will be better and I think our receiving corps will be better. That should hopefully allow us to score more points; which makes our team better.”

The receivers indeed get a big boost with the return of Bryan Burnham who missed the last two weeks with an injured foot.

The REDBLACKS offence is starting to live up to the billing as starting quarterback Trevor Harris leads the CFL in passing yards and touchdowns. That’s the benefit of having weapons such as Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Diontae Spencer at your disposal.

“Those are his go to guys,” said Yell of the Ottawa receiving corps. “We’re looking forward to that challenge and we know they’re going to get a lot of targets. Harris is playing amazing and we’re ready to get after him.”

“Ottawa is going to score points, that’s consistent. They’re going to make it tough on defence, that’s consistent. We’re not going to be able to go there, play a quarter and think we’re going to come out with the win,” explained Buono.

Linebacker Taylor Reed leads the way on defence with 45 tackles and a pair of quarterback sacks.

The Matchup

BC Lions (5-4-0) at Ottawa REDBLACKS (2-6-1)

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

12:30 PM PT

TD Place Stadium

Game Day Forecast: Mix of sun and cloud with high of 23 degrees Celsius

Vegas Line: The Lions are two point underdogs.

Jeremiah Jacked For Return

He was has an extra bounce in his step, but this week is a bit different for Jeremiah Johnson. The running back did not make the trip to Ottawa last year so this contest marks his first return to the nation’s capital since leaving as a free agent at the end of 2015.

“I’m juiced up man, and it’s going down. I’m very excited to get back to Ottawa, just to play against those guys. This year I am ready to let it loose and show what Ottawa is really missing out on,” proclaimed Johnson.

The University of Oregon product suited up in 15 games over two seasons with the REDBLACKS and suffered a knee injury prior to their appearance in the 2015 Grey Cup. He knows he can expect a hostile environment come Saturday afternoon.

“This is really funny because I want them to be yelling as loud as they can so I can shut them up as fast as I can,” explained Johnson.

“Those fans did me right when I was there so I most definitely want to give them a show, but at the end of the day I want to give them a show and break their back as well.”

Putting on a show means he and the offence has to erase some recent first quarter woes: they have not managed a first down in the opening 15 minutes of each of the last two losses.

“I think that’s always the focus for us to come out fast, stay fast and finish fast. I think that’s something that we have to really pay attention to. My thing is about being great in every aspect of the game. Once we do that, I think everything will be alright,” added Johnson.

Receiver Chris Williams also makes his return to Ottawa. Like Johnson, his injuries prevented him form suiting up for the Grey Cup, the difference being last season the REDBLACKS managed to finish the job.

Johnson has backed up a lot of his own confidence this season. He is third overall in league rushing yards and sits in a tie with Jarome Messam of Calgary for the league lead in touchdowns with seven. Johnson has rushed for five and caught two out of the backfield as a receiver.

Big Matchups

Lions Receivers vs. REDBLACKS DB’s- Williams, Burnham, Manny Arceneaux and company are in for a battle against an Ottawa secondary that includes playmakers such as Jerrell Gavins and Corey Tindal. Antoine Pruneau has excelled at the safety position since the REDBLACKS’ inception in 2014. The Ottawa defence is tops in the CFL with 35 pass knockdowns, which makes these one on one battles all that more intriguing. We have talked at length about how much Williams can provide match up problems for the opposing defence. This weekend is especially true in that regard. When you flip it around, Yell and company against the REDBLACKS’ playmaking receivers will also be very interesting to break down

 Jonathon Jennings vs. Trevor Harris- It is always intriguing to see two of the league’s brightest young quarterbacks going toe to toe. This one carries some extra weight as Jennings and Harris actually spent tome training together near Jennings’ hometown of Westerville, Ohio in the offseason.

“It’s always exciting to learn from a guy like that, he’s been in the league for so long and has had a lot of success,” explained Jennings.

“He lives about 45 minutes away so it wasn’t a bad commute. It was a good chance for us to kind of put something different into our workouts. He’s a really good guy, a really tremendous football player. It was a good time getting to know him a bit more.”

Jennings took both head to head matchups last season, passing for 637 yards and four touchdowns in the process. Harris had a career high 485 passing yards in the loss at BC Place. As a member of the Toronto Argonauts in 2015, Harris engineered a 21-point second half comeback in his first career matchup against the Lions.

Quotable

“I feel like a million bucks. Two weeks feels like two months. Every day is tough when you’re not playing. Every game is important, but you have to look at the long run and the bigger picture. We just have to come out with a different mindset and different intensity that it is not going to be easy.”- Burnham on returning to the lineup and the need to get back into the win column.

Fan Poll
Who will lead the Lions in receiving in Ottawa?
Chris Williams
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Bryan Burnham
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Manny Arceneaux
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Other
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Three Keys To Victory

Start fast on offence- you knew it was coming. Along with those recent opening quarter woes, the offence has only managed three touchdowns in the opening 15 minutes all season. That has to change starting this week.

Shut down Greg Ellingson– the REDBLACKS’ receiver will provide somewhat of a chess match for the secondary early on. Ellingson leads all CFL receivers with 904 yards. Making their best player a non-factor would be a huge bonus.

Win the turnover battle– they are 4-0 in 2017 when committing less turnovers than their opponent. On the defensive side of things Mark Washington will never downplay the importance of takeaways and giving the offence a short field to work with. The REDBLACKS are 0-5 in games where they commit more turnovers.

 Extra Yardage

Cody Husband (lower body) is  unable to suit up after not finishing the loss to Calgary. David Foucault passed his latest concussion test and will make his return to an offensive line that has seen plenty of juggling. Charles Vaillancourt took first team reps. at centre throughout the week.

On defence,  TJ Lee III makes his return, four weeks after suffering an elbow injury in Edmonton. He was sporting a brace throughout the practice week and will go on the roster in place of Steven Clarke. The domino effect of these secondary changes makes it appear Anthony Gaitor will move to field corner, while Loucheiz Purifoy slides over to halfback.

Analytical stat of the week: the Lions defence has allowed an average only 75.4 rushing yards per game, the lowest total of any defence in the CFL this season.

The Lions took both meetings in 2016, winning 29-23 at TD Place August 35th and 40-33 at home on October 1st. How glad are the visitors to have Williams in their lineup this time around? The speedy receiver had 271 yards and a touchdown in those two meetings last season. Overall, the Lions are 4-2-0 against the REDBLACKS since they joined the league in 2014.

Four of Ottawa’s six losses have come against the tough Western Division: Edmonton twice, Winnipeg and Calgary. Those four defeats were by a combined 16 points and they also managed a tie in their first meeting with the Stampeders. That tells you the defending Grey Cup champions may be better than their record indicates.

Beasts of the East: Jennings and company will try to make it ten straight road wins against the Eastern Division. This streak started with a 25-16 win over Montreal on September 3rd, 2015. Immediately following the start of that Eastern dominance was the club’s most recent three-game losing streak. Now would not be a good time for another one.

TD Place is site of the 105th Grey Cup on November 27th. The last time Ottawa hosted the big game was 2004 when Dave Dickenson and the Lions fell 27-19 to Damon Allen and the Argonauts. You can bet there won’t be much dreaming about possibly coming back there three months. The sole focus is getting back in the win column and a 6-4 record before bye week.

TSN 1040 has you covered with the pre-game show underway at 10:30am. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 12:30PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and our fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 3.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com