Somebody needs to tell Jasper (Junior) Collins about the watermelon helmets the Rider fans wear.
The rookie Hamilton Tiger-Cat receiver is expected to make his first start of the season on Sunday in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but he’s only been in Canada five weeks and hasn’t ventured much beyond Hamilton city limits.
“I heard it’s a great environment out there, lots of fans, tons of support,” said Collins. “But I’m sure I’ll see some different things.”
Indeed. The Riderville faithful are always a rowdy bunch and they’ve worked themselves into quite the lather after the team’s 0-4 start, a record which includes a trio of home field losses.
Ticat quarterback Zach Collaros says the 18-game CFL schedule creates a sense of urgency, and early setbacks — Hamilton started 1-6 last season — can ratchet up the pressure.
“When you’re struggling to get wins and your back’s against the wall, you definitely feel it even more,” Collaros said. “We’re 1-2 so we don’t have a great record, either — it’s an important game for us, as well.”
The Ticats are coming off a 17-13 loss to the Montreal Alouettes, a game in which Collaros threw three interceptions as part of five Hamilton turnovers. The 26-year-old is in just his second full season as a starter but is clearly bothered by his most recent performance.
“Obviously, you think about it. I didn’t play as well as I would have liked to last week,” Collaros said. “I need to play better for this team and my own peace of mind.”
Getting more production out of the running game might help. The Ticats are averaging a league-worst 62 yards per contest on the ground and have developed a reputation as a pass happy offence under head coach Kent Austin and co-ordinator Tommy Condell. While winning teams have run the ball about 40 per cent of the time the last two seasons, the Ticats were in the 30-per-cent range in both 2013 and 2014 and are at 27.3 per cent this season.
Austin says the game plan — including the amount they run the football — changes from week to week and there’s no philosophical preference for the passing game.
“It’s based on the opponent, it’s based on personnel, it’s based on what we’re doing well at the time — it’s based on a lot of things,” Austin said. “We’re predisposed to winning football games and going to Grey Cups, which we’ve done.”
The return of running back C.J. Gable could help stimulate the ground game. Gable was 2013 East Division’s most outstanding rookie when he started 15 games, led the team in touchdowns and finished the season ranked fourth in the CFL in rushing with 782 yards. But he started just seven games last season after suffering ankle and shoulder injuries, then broke a finger during training camp this spring and has missed the first three games.
“I think it adds another dynamic to our offence,” Collaros said of Gable’s return. “There’s always the question of whether you’re running the football enough, but we’re taking what the defence gives us. If they are daring us to run the football, then we’ll run the football.”
Collins, however, is likely hoping for a continuation of the aerial attack. Signed near the end of training camp, he’s one of two new receivers being inserted into the lineup this week: Quincy McDuffie will also be added to the roster as Tiquan Underwood and Terrell Sinkfield take a seat.
“All you can ask is for someone to give you a chance. Once you get it, it’s up to you to take advantage of it.” Collins said. “It’s not about proving people wrong, it’s about proving those that believe in you right. I’m just going to go out and have some fun.”
And yes, the watermelon-on-the-head thing is real.
“That’s something that they do?” he asked. “All right …”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1-2) at Saskatchewan Roughriders (0-4)
Mosaic Stadium, ReginaGame time: 7 p.m. EST
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150
The storyline for Saskatchewan
The Riders are the CFL’s only winless team at 0-4, meaning we are a couple of losses away from a very polite revolution in the streets of Regina. General manager Brendan Taman gave head coach Corey Chamblin — who has been uncharacteristically snippy with local media of late — the dreaded vote of confidence this week after speculation surrounding his job security reached a fever pitch.
Quarterback Darian Durant is done for the season with a torn Achilles but it’s the loss of Canadian starters that are really hurting the Riders: linebacker Shea Emry, defensive back Keenan MacDougall and defensive tackle Levi Steinauer are all on the six-game injured list.
Five funky Saskatchewan stats
1. The Riders have lost four games but by a total of 12 points. Only once in the last 100 years of Canadian football has a club lost four games in a row by margins of four points or less (Edmonton in 2013.)
2. The offence leads the league in a number of statistical categories, including big plays: they have 10 completions of 30 yards or more and eight rushes of 20 yards or more.
3. The Riders have scored on 43 per cent of their drives this season and have 13 majors in 51 possessions for a TD percentage of 25.5 per cent. The other eight teams average just 15 per cent.
4. Receiver Weston Dressler missed the first game of the season but has been an increasingly frequent target: he was thrown to eight times in week 2, then nine, and last week was the target 11 times.
5. Former Ticats quarterback Kevin Glenn has 1,108 passing yards over his last three games, the most by a CFL quarterback since Edmonton’s Mike Reilly in 2013.
The storyline for Hamilton
The Ticats are coming off an ugly 17-13 loss to Montreal, a game in which they committed five turnovers, including three in their last three possessions. Sunday’s game is the last of a four-game stretch of away games to start the season, the first time that a CFL club has ever played their first four games on the road.
Running back C.J. Gable as well as defensive backs Rico Murray and Courtney Stephen are all expected back, but the loss of defensive tackle Ted Laurent — he’s questionable for Sunday — would be significant. Defensive end Eric Norwood and receiver Luke Tasker are still a week away.
Likely Ticat roster changes (and what they mean)
Gable’s return along with the return of Canadian Anthony Woodson mean the Ticats will go with just one American running back. That gives them an extra designated import spot to use on linebacker David Caldwell, who will play situational defence and plenty of special teams. Hamilton is also expected to make a few performance-related changes: receivers Quincy McDuffie and Jasper (Junior) Collins will replace Terrell Sinkfield and Tiquan Underwood.
Five funky Hamilton stats
1. Having lost a pair of games by a total of five points, the Ticats are 1-2 — a record they’ve had in five of the last six seasons.
2. Hamilton is the most penalized team in the CFL so far this season at 15.3 penalties per game. They also lead the league in illegal procedure infractions with 10.
3. The Ticats are second in the league in second-down conversions at 58.3 per cent (the Riders are No. 1 at 63.3 per cent). Andy Fantuz is second in the CFL with eight catches for a first down.
4. The Ticats have held the opposition to an average of 285.6 yards against in the first three weeks, tops in the league.
5. Hamilton’s average starting field position is the 28-yard line, the worst mark in the CFL (the league average is the 35). The Ticats haven’t started a drive in opposition territory in their last 20 possessions.
TSN play-by-play: Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor
Referee: Dave Foxcroft
The weather forecast: Sunny, 27 C with winds out of the west at 20 km/h.