It may have just been the preseason, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats looked pretty good in their 37-10 beatdown of the Ottawa RedBlacks at Tim Hortons Field last night. The team dominated in all three phases of the game regardless of who was on the field or what the score was at the time. The Ticats looked like the two-time division champs, while the RedBlacks look a lot like they did a year ago. But it is the preseason and last night’s game was used mostly for evaluation. So evaluate we will.
A lot of Tiger-Cats fans probably slept a little easier last night after seeing Jeff Mathews and Jacory Harris in action. Both played very well in their CFL debuts, with Mathews playing the entire first half and Harris taking care of the second. Mathews looked the more polished of the two and it was plain to see why he was given the privilege of starting the game. Both had their ups and downs, which was to be expected. Mathews made a beautiful throw on the run for a 73-yard touchdown to Terrence Toliver, but missed a couple open players and under threw a pass to Bakari Grant that netted the Ticats 46 yards when it could have gone for much longer. Harris had beautiful ball placement on a long toss to Tiquan Underwood, but made a very poor decision that led to an end zone interception. Both players seemed to shrug off bad plays and perform better on the next set of downs, which is exactly what one wants to see out of the quarterback position. All in all, impressive debuts by both signal callers.
A lot of the team’s receivers helped the two young pivots by making some great plays of their own. Terrence Toliver and Tiquan Underwood both showed why they are attracting so much hype. Each player made some big plays and seemed to exit the game still neck and neck for the final starting receiver position. Bakari Grant caught everything thrown his way, and made an amazingly athletic play on the under thrown pass by Mathews. Grant looked like he was in mid-season form and that bodes well for the Ticats going into the season. Another standout was second-year man Matt Coates. The former Hamilton Hurricane looked very comfortable in the offense, and made a nice catch and run for a touchdown. It was one of those throws where the quarterback puts the ball in a spot and the receiver has to go get it (aka The Luke Tasker Special). Coates got there, eluded a couple defenders and found paydirt. The team’s receiving depth looks as strong as ever
The game was also not the flag-fest many predicted it would be, especially when it came to the new rules. There were a few ineligible-man-downfield calls on punts, and a couple illegal contact ones on both sides, but it seemed like the players are adapting to the rules quicker than anticipated and hopefully that translate to the regular season. No one wants a repeat of last year, and if last night is any indication, what the teams are teaching is sinking in.
Speaking of the new rules, we are going to see a lot of big returns this year. Both Quincy McDuffie and Terrell Sinkfield had some very long returns — as did Ottawa’s Torrance Hunt, who had himself an overall nice game, scoring the RedBlacks lone touchdown — with only offsetting penalties stopping McDuffie from having both a kick and punt return touchdown last night. When the league’s best returners — Brandon Banks, Chris Williams, etc. — get to play with these rules, we will see a vast increase in the number of long, exciting returns.
When a team does not allow a point until midway through the fourth quarter, it is hard not to praise the defense. The unit as a whole played very well; they tackled well, forced turnovers and got pressure on the Ottawa quarterbacks most of the night. But the defense standout was defensive lineman Adrian Tracy. Making this team on the defensive linem will not be easy, but the William & Mary product made it almost impossible not to keep him around in some capacity after a dominant three-sack performance. Tracy was a force the second he stepped on the field and probably played his way into at least a practice roster spot after last night.
While it is hard to find too much to criticize after a 27-point win, the Ticats still made some glaring errors, most of them mental. For starters, the team was very undisciplined. They took way too many 15-yard penalties, with linebacker Serderius Bryant being a standout in that area for all the wrong reasons. The Ticats will need to correct those going forward, because taking too many major fouls is often the difference between winning and losing.
Another thing that was worrisome were some of the dropped passes, especially the two by running back Nic Grigsby. Grigsby had an overall solid game — and boy was it nice to see the Ticats at least try to establish a running attack for the first time in… — but he had two bad drops. The first on a route up the sideline that, truth be told, would have been ruled incomplete had he caught it. That still does not excuse the drop, however. The second was on a route up the middle. Grigsby had a step on his man and Mathews place the ball near perfectly — it was thrown a tad behind the receiver — that Grigsby just dropped. With the injuries to C.J. Gable and Mossis Madu, Grigsby is going to be the primary ball carrier to start the season, so he needs to cure himself of the dropsies if he hopes to retain that spot when both Gable and Madu are back at full health.
Lastly, the Ticats have already dealt with more than their fair share of injuries, but unfortunately the team did not leave this game unscathed. Terrence Toliver, Preston Huggins, Martin Pesek and Terrell Sinkfield all left the game due to injury, with Toliver getting x-rays (which turned out negative) and Sinkfield spending the end of the game with his knee wrapped and sitting on the trainer’s table. Hopefully the news is not so serious for all players involved, because the last thing the Ticats need are more injuries.
The Ticats truly played a complete game last night, and the coaches are probably pretty happy with the way the team performed after just a week together. It was a game played well in all three phases and was a dominant outing from start to finish.
And it was a performance that not just the fans in attendance were able to watch. Late yesterday afternoon, the Ticats announced that the game would be live streamed on the team’s website. All indications from this who watched the stream is that it went off with very few hiccups and was mostly a wonderful experience. Kudos to the Ticats for the job they did, and hopefully this becomes the new norm for non-televised games in the future.
The Ticats now have a bit of a bye week and do not hit the field for their second, and final, preseason game until June 19 in Winnipeg. While last night’s game was about evaluating new talent, the next game will be used more as a regular season tuneup, so expect to see pretty much every non-injured starter suit up against the Bombers in 10 days’ time.