September 7, 2017

Game Preview | Lions Host Alouettes

It is a mindset he has had ever since his first workout with the BC Lions at a free agent camp in Portland eight years ago. Travis Lulay understands as much as anyone that there are no guarantees in this game.

As he begins his latest go around as the club’s starting quarterback, number 14 is fully aware it could last one quarter. It could last until the end of November. Anything can happen. Injuries can derail you. Just like Jonathon Jennings now knows, inconsistent play can lead to holding a clipboard. Is it permanent? That remains to be seen.

“I don’t think outside of this week and this game. Anytime you’re on the field it’s an opportunity,” said Lulay.

“When you’re lining up you have a responsibility to your teammates and that’s where my motivation comes from. When I’m on the field it’s not ‘hey look at me, I’m doing this.’ I’m lining up behind centre to give my teammates the play they want and deserve. That’s what Jonathon, Alex (Ross) and I do every week. We do everything next to each other and the process stays the same. You just never know how these things play out so you just have to take it one play, one opportunity at a time,” added the 2011 CFL Most Outstanding Player.

 

Now for the task at hand: there is sort of an unwritten rule that the CFL season doesn’t “truly” begin until after Labour Day. Indeed the wins in July and August are just as valuable as they are in the back half of your schedule. But Lulay is of the mind his 5-5 Lions need to operate with a clean slate and that all begins on Friday against Darian Durant and an equally desperate Montreal Alouettes squad. Truth be told, Lulay and the Lions need to make up some ground. At the same time they can’t look past this next challenge.

“You can’t win a bunch of games unless you win the first one so that’s where we’re at,” said number 14.

“We’ve got Montreal. They’re coming off three straight losses and trying to find themselves a little bit too. They’re still in the race in the east so it’s a big game for them and us.”

One thing Lulay and his teammates have going for them is the fact they and several other teams in recent memory have been in worse situations than this and gone on to win the Grey Cup, or at least be in the discussion until the very end. The 33-year old agrees that the “plenty of football left” mentality should apply to everyone, based on how tight this league has become.

“Regardless of where we’re at, like if we were 10-0, there are still eight games to play. It’s happened here in BC where they won 10 or 11 straight and then lost almost every game down the stretch. I’ve seen all the scenarios like Hamilton starting 1-7 and they almost winning the Grey Cup if not for one big play. The one championship I won here we were 1-6 before we started winning football games. The vets understand there is a lot of football left. There is a sense of urgency when you see what’s happening in the West.”

Wally Buono has been in this quarterback shuffle situation more times than he can count. The CFL all-time wins leader expects this particular game to be business as usual.

“Just look at his success. If you look at the Ottawa game as a small example: he comes in, executes the offence, puts points on the board, gives us an opportunity and gives everybody the fighting chance that you want,” said Buono.

“When he’s played, he’s played very very well and the team responds well to him. But again, Travis is one individual. The offensive line has to do their part, the running game has to do their part, the receivers have to do their part, the defence has to play good football all the time, not just some of the time. Special teams have been decent, but we have to get better field position.”

The Alouettes’ most recent setback was a 32-4 home defeat to Ottawa. Despite a 3-7 record, they are still very much in position to host a playoff game in the weaker Eastern Division. Lulay’s 4th quarter touchdown was the difference in a 23-16 win at Montreal back in week three. That matchup provided an indicator that the Alouettes can be stingy, especially with a couple of key veterans manning that defence.

“One of their strengths the last few years, even when they’ve had some offensive issues, is they’ve been pretty steady on the defensive side of the ball,” explained Lulay.

“Noel Thorpe is a very good co-ordinator and he’ll have a great game plan. He’s put together some good ones against us in the past. You know their defence is going to come to play. Kyries Hebert is one of the most physical players in the league. When you watch the tape on him it doesn’t matter if they are up 20 or down 20, he is still flying around. They also have guys like Chip Cox and John Bowman. There is too many talented guys on that defence, you can’t look at their record.”

Hebert is third in the CFL with 68 defensive tackles, five behind Solomon Elimimian for the lead. Bowman leads the team with five quarterback sacks.

On offence, look for Durant to utilize his two biggest weapons in receivers BJ Cunningham and ex- Lion Ernest Jackson. Nik Lewis is still capable of making a big play when his team needs it. Two weeks ago he passed Geroy Simon for the all-time CFL lead in receptions. Lewis currently sits at 1,036 catches. It will also be interesting to see how the veteran quarterback responds after he was pulled in favour of Drew Willy in the 4th quarter of last week’s loss.

The Matchup

Montreal Alouettes (3-7-0) at BC Lions (5-5-0)

Friday, September 8th 2017

7:00 PM

BC Place Stadium

TSN 1040/TSN 1/ESPN 3

Game day forecast: overcast, chance of rain and 22 degrees Celsius

Vegas line: The Lions are favoured by 8.5 points

Defensive Shuffle (Again)

You don’t lose three in a row without making some slight tweaks on both sides of the ball. Part of the new defensive game plan includes the athletic Micah Awe starting at WILL linebacker in place of Tony Burnett. The Texas Tech product has been a force on special teams, racking up 15 tackles, while also fitting in well in certain defensive packages. Awe is certainly relishing this latest opportunity.

“Football is fun when you’re winning and we need to get back to that,” said Awe.

“I love playing linebacker. I watch film of a lot of them online and on Instagram each week. Now I get an opportunity to go out there and do the same thing. I know he is retired, but a guy I really like to watch film of is Patrick Willis. He played with a tenacity I like a lot and try to emulate. I feel like every time I look at something I can gain something from it. I want to be a plus on our defence.”

The CFL rookie says he won’t be star struck by the veteran Durant and his receivers.

“Every team has a great offence. Durant is probably going to look my way since I am a young buck. I just need to watch my film and be confident.”

Defensive end Kenneth Boatright will make his long awaited CFL debut. The former Southern Illinois standout turned quite a few heads in training camp before being beat out for a spot on the active roster. Boatright has NFL practice roster experience with Seattle and Dallas. The Cowboys activated him in December of 2015. Boatright is the 12th defensive lineman to dress for the club already this season.

“One of the things I do think we need is to get a little more speed and athleticism on our defensive line,” said Buono.

“When you look at the elite defences, they do have that kind of person that can create havoc for the quarterback. At this point we’re going to give Mr. Boatright the opportunity to do that.”

Big O Returns…. And headlines big battle up front

The slightly tweaked defensive line will be in for a good test against a Montreal front that has allowed the third-fewest sacks in the CFL this season. If they can create some pressure and stop the run, that will disrupt Durant and put less pressure on the Lions’ offence to make it a track meet.

Jovan Olafioye’s play at left tackle has been a big reason for their solid production up front. The six-time CFL all-star makes his long-awaited return to the place he had called home since 2010. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call him the best offensive lineman in franchise history. And maybe a few fans are missing him these days, based on the recent injuries and struggles here in the den. Nostalgia? Cool concept. But Olafioye is of the mind he has bigger fish to fry.

“It feels good to be back in my old stomping grounds and it (the trade) was bittersweet, but I am here to get this win,” Olafioye said in a post-practice interview with BCLions.com.

“We’re just focused on the game. I always keep in contact with guys like Manny, Solly and Ronnie, just usual conversation. We talk a little trash here and there, especially with Solly. I’m ready to get after him and I’m tired of him talking,” chuckled the left tackle.

“We have a veteran team, a veteran O-line, so everybody has been playing at a high level in this league and that’s why we’ve been successful.”

Boatright’s addition should be some cause for intrigue, while 2017 first round draft pic Junior Luke could benefit with more reps as Mich’ael Brooks is unable to suit up (injury report below).

Three Keys To Victory

Score Early- it’s not the first time we’ve included this one. With only three first quarter touchdowns in 2017, look for the offence to come out swinging.

Shut Down BJ– Cunningham is capable of the big play. He managed a big 34-yard reception in the first meeting back in July. If the defence can take him out of the equation it will provide a big spark.

Make it Rain– we spoke earlier this week about Chris Rainey’s quest for a first return touchdown in 2017. If he can at least help the field position battle with his return capabilities that will take plenty of pressure off Lulay and the offence.

Fan Poll
How many wins will the Lions finish with this regular season?
6-8
Vote
9-11
Vote
12-13
Vote

Quotable

“The little details are killing us. It seems like we start off slow every game and we can’t do that no more. The week off felt good, but it was too long. We can’t afford to lose no more.”- Rainey on the importance of turning this ship around.

Extra Yardage

Diamond and Diamond Injury Report: Brooks re-injured his left shoulder in Tuesday’s practice and will sit this one out. Boatright occupies his spot on the roster. Cody Husband is back at centre after sitting out the Ottawa loss.

Analytical stats of the week: the Lions remain the CFL’s best team against the run, allowing an average of 75.4 yards per game. Lulay has a league best 55.8 percentage on second down conversions and also holds the top QB rating (94.8), best yards per completion (14.0) and passer efficiency rating (108.5).

Sustaining drives was a big reason they won four straight games after dropping the season opener to Edmonton. And at last, Rainey leads the CFL with 1,692 combined yards. That speaks volumes to how much more involved he has been out of the backfield.

Jeremiah Johnson led the way in that week three victory, racking up 112 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jennings passed for 288 yards and a major, while picking up his seventh consecutive road win in the East Division.

The Lions took both meetings in 2016; including a 38-27 home win on this same weekend in September. BC Place has not been kind to the Alouettes: dating back to 2000, they have just two wins in 18 appearances if you include their 2005 Grey Cup loss to Edmonton. In an ironic twist, the Alouettes’ last win at the venue in 2015 resulted in the firing of head coach Tom Higgins. Olafioye knows all about the Lions’ home domination of Montreal in recent years.

“There is a lot of speculation that guys would go partying and stuff before the game in Vancouver, but I don’t know if that’s the reason or not, ” said the first-year Alouette.

“It’s hard to come to the west and be on that six-hour flight. We’re well-rested, we came out two days early, so I think that’s good.”

Courtesy CFL stats ace Steve Daniel: this marks the first time since 1996 both of these teams are riding a three-game losing streak at the same time. The Lions and Alouettes both started that season 0-3 before Montreal prevailed over the Joe Paopao- led Lions in week four.

Last nugget on the first quarter struggles, we promise: the Lions haven’t managed any points in the first 15 minutes over this current losing streak.

TSN 1040 has you covered beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00PM. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 7:00PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and our fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 3.

Download the roster and depth chart HERE! 

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com