September 15, 2017

Game Preview | Lions At Stampeders

Solomon Elimimian is of the mind there is no way to explain it. There have been high- scoring track meets that went to overtime. There have been blowouts. There was even a rather dull, offensive-lacking affair where the hometown Stampeders failed to score a touchdown. Moral of the story: the Lions’ recent woes at McMahon Stadium, including the 2016 Western final they have just one victory in their last seven visits, are a head scratcher. Even if the Stamps have been the class of the CFL for the last decade.

“They do play well at home, but a lot of teams play well at home,” said the 2014 CFL Most Outstanding Player.

“Every game for me is a new game. Whether it’s Calgary or whoever we play, it’s a new match right? You have to come in there with confidence, you have to come in and know your assignment and you have to come in and execute.”

Bo Levi Mitchell and company has won seven straight and are a remarkable 5-0-0 against the competitive Western Division in 2017. Elimimian knows any chance of making some noise in the penthouse rests on this game.

“The closer we get to the post-season, it becomes critical just to get the W right? We had a good start against Montreal coming from the bye week and right now we just have to keep it going,” said Elimimian.

“Obviously Calgary is the top team in the CFL, but it is the CFL; anything can happen and if you play your best that day you will come out with the W.”

Perhaps another scary sign for the Stampeders’ opponents is the fact they haven’t always fired on all cylinders or won games the “sexy” way. Case in point: the 21-17 result at BC Place three weeks ago where Mitchell completed less than 50 percent of his throws and did not record a touchdown pass for the first time in almost one year. Elimimian knows they have to take advantage when some of the league’s best don’t perform to their capabilities.

“It wasn’t our best performance either,” reminded Elimimian.

“I think the biggest thing is for us to execute well, for us to play sound defence and for us to play four quarters from the start to the finish of the game and good things will happen.”

Mitchell and the Stamps have a pretty good safety net when the QB isn’t quite clicking with his solid crop of receivers. Jerome Messam leads the CFL with 730 rushing yards and has taken advantage of an always-steady offensive line.

On defence, Alex Singleton is now tied with Elimimian for the league lead in tackles, while Micah Johnson has been the anchor on a sturdy defensive line. Johnson’s seven sacks are tied with three others for tops in the CFL.

Offensive coordinator Khari Jones knows they cannot afford some of the recent slip- ups they’ve had early on in recent games.

“They are just an overall solid football team, ” said Jones.

“That goes (on) offence, defence and special teams. You know to beat them you’re going to have to play better than them. They’re not going to kill themselves, they’re not going to make a lot of mistakes, but there are possibilities. We had had some possibilities last time that we played them and we hope to have those same opportunities and make the most of them. We have to come in with a lot of confidence. We have to know that we’re a good team and I think we do. Now it’s just going out and proving it.”

The Matchup

BC Lions (6-5-0) at Calgary Stampeders (9-1-1)

Saturday, September 16th

 4:00 PM PT

McMahon Stadium

TSN 1040/TSN 1/ESPN 3

Game Day Forecast: Sunny and high of 15 degrees Celsius at kickoff

Vegas Line: The Lions are 11- point underdogs

Jennings Holds The Keys

Although the recent path he had to take to get back here was different and unexpected, Jonathon Jennings has the perfect mindset going into his latest go-around as Lions’ starting quarterback.

“I’ve been a starter for this team for two-and-a-half years, so it doesn’t change a thing for me,” said Jennings.

“I have to go in there and play well. When I say that, I just have to do my job. I have to go in there, execute what we have and allow our players around me to make plays.”

Easier said than done against a secondary that boasts the likes of Tommie Campbell, Ciante Evans and Josh Bell, just to name a few. The Stampeders defence has committed the second most turnovers in the league as well.

“I tell my quarterbacks there is no such thing as a backup or starter and you’re always thinking like a starter,” added Jones.

“I’m not worried in any respect. Whatever position that he’s in, I know that he’s going to play good football.”

Although his friend Travis Lulay will not play again this season, the expectation is for him to be by Jennings’ side for much of the remainder of this season. That will do nothing but bolster the younger QB’s confidence, especially in games like this.

“I’ve always listened to Travis. He’s like a second coach out there, always has been. He has his little tidbits and thoughts on each play. Obviously he knows a lot more than me about the game so I am always going to listen to him.”

The confidence and the work ethic will always be there. Now comes the task of proving last week’s excellent performance against Montreal wasn’t a mirage.

Newcomer Mitchell Gale will dress as the number three quarterback behind Jennings and Alex Ross.

View from the other side: Calgary defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks says his preparation doesn’t change much with Jennings at the helm.

Jonathon Jennings is a dynamic player. He can kill you with his feet and he has a cannon,” explained Claybrooks to stampeders.com.

“Then they have JJ as a running back, so they are pretty well-rounded. They have weapons at every position so we just have to play a solid game in all facets and phases of defence. If we do that, we should be okay.”

 

Foucault Embracing New Challenge

David Foucault is the latest start at right tackle on an offensive line that has seen more weekly changes than your local Kal Tire. Injuries and inconsistent play will do that. But this latest experiment is intriguing in the sense that Foucault is rather raw on the right side and is also looking to re-establish himself after missing three weeks with concussion symptom

“This past month was very bad and it was a tough deal,” said Foucault of his road to full health.

“I will figure it (the right side) out and it will be fun. It’s a pretty tough challenge against Calgary, but we looked at a lot of film with coach Dorazio. We will figure it out and it will be good.”

Foucault’s adjustment back to the Canadian game has been a project and the injury hasn’t helped his cause. The coaches will continue to groom him for these big game situations and his size makes him the perfect type of lineman that can succeed and be counted on to protect the quarterback.

“It has been a tough year for us with the injuries and it’s always about the next man up. Everybody on this unit works like he is a starter. We work together and we have a job to do,” added the former Carolina Panther.

Playing a Canadian at right tackle will open the door for Nick Moore to dress as a receiver after he was a scratch the last two games.

X Factors

British Columbia:

Emmanuel Arceneaux: The Manny Show lives for these big divisional games and last week’s performance against the Alouettes (6 catches, 108 yards, TD) are what he is capable of doing week in and week out. The fact Jennings and him have established a solid connection the last two years will hopefully give this offence another boost with seven games to play.

Calgary:

Roy Finch: The CFL’s leading punt returner provides Calgary with a difference maker who can change the outlook of a game in a flash. Despite missing two games, Finch has recorded 835 punt return yards and three touchdowns. His latest special teams major came in the Stamps’ 39-18 win over Edmonton in the Labour Day Classic.

Three Keys To Victory

Contain Finch- with their hands already full against Calgary’s offence, Simmons’ special teams unit would be wise to not let the speedy return man do his thing.

Spread it around– With Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham and Chris Williams in the fold it should give Calgary’s opportunistic secondary a couple of things to think about match up wise. Look for Jennings to try and utilize all of his weapons.

Get to Bo Levi– the amount of pressure that defensive front was able to get on Darian Durant and the Alouettes was a good template going forward. It goes without saying that if Mitchell is off his game, his offence won’t be in sync.

Fan Poll
What is the biggest key to getting a victory in Calgary?
Contain Roy Finch
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Pressure Bo Levi Mitchell
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Line of Scrimmage
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Other
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Quotable

“Honestly, can I tell you what I think? It’s a mindset. We were here in the 90’s. I think, if I’m not mistaken, we won in the 20’s or something (27 to be precise) straight games. People came here and they knew they were going to lose. You’ve got to understand the mindset. Every game was tough. It wasn’t like we started the game and it was going to be easy; it was easy because we played well and we had enough great players. Whether the game was close or far apart, they understood what it took to win.”

Wally Buono on the Stampeders’ home dominance.

Extra Yardage

Analytical stats of the week: it stars with turnovers. Calgary has a plus-16 takeaway/giveaway ratio, while the Lions are sitting at minus eight heading into this one. It just goes to show you how disciplined Mitchell and the Stamps’ offence can be to go along with an opportunistic defence. The Lions remain tops in the CFL with 16 rushing touchdowns, one ahead of Calgary, and trail only Winnipeg for the highest average of rushing yards per game.

Diamond and Diamond Injury report: Mic’hael Brooks makes his return after re-injuring his shoulder last week, while fellow defensive lineman Bryant Turner Jr. is back home in Alabama after his wife Morgan gave birth to their second daughter this week. Running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence will miss at least one game after sustaining minor injuries in a car crash last weekend. Lulay, Jas Dhillon and Keynan Parker all remain on the six-game injured list.

Andrew Harris led the way in the club’s last victory at McMahon on August 1st 2014, racking up 143 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown pass. Kevin Glenn connected with Ernest Jackson on a 65-yard winning in the dying minutes.

Including that Western Final, the Stampeders took three of four meetings in 2016. The lone regular season meeting in Calgary was a 44-41-overtime thriller for Mitchell and company, one where they erased a 15-point deficit with 4:09 left.

The Stamps’ current 15-game home winning streak is the seventh longest in league history. A win over the Lions would tie them with the Blue Bombers who won 16 straight at home from 1983-85.

Burn Baby Burn: Burnham is riding a streak of three consecutive 100-yard receiving games. The last guy to do it in orange was Hall of Famer Geroy Simon in 2008.

First three quarters tell all? The Lions have a 5-1 record when leading going into the 4th and are winless in four games when trailing after 45 minutes. As we know though, no lead or deficit is ever set in stone in this league.

Since arriving on the west coast in 2003, Buono has faced his old team in the regular season 30 times as a head coach. His record going into this meeting: 16-13-1

TSN 1040 has you covered, beginning with the pre-game show at 2:00PM PT. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 4:00 PM PT. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and Lions fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 3.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com