Ticats Down Riders for Second Win of the Season

crop_21575395751This was a win the Ticats needed.

Heading into last night’s contest, the Ticats had allowed two games to slip through their grasp, but they would not allow that to happen a third time. The Ticats used an uncharacteristically balance offensive attack and a characteristically stifling defense, especially in the second half, to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-21 at Mosaic Stadium.

Playing their first four on the road, Ticats hoped that the team would head back to friendly confines of Tim Hortons Field with at least a 2-2 records. After dispatching the now 0-5 Roughriders, that is exactly where they sit.

Now let’s get into the good and bad of last night’s big win.

Positives

It is hard to come up with the words to describe just what C.J. Gable means to this team’s offense. After failing to produce much of anything in the running game over the first three games, the insertion of Gable into the lineup could not have come at a better time. The USC product was simply phenomenal, picking up 135 yards on 20 carries, including a long of 47, and catching three passes for 29 yards. He was a factor all game and made the Ticats offense click. If Gable stays healthy the rest of the season, this Tiger-Cats offense is going to be tough to stop.

This obviously coincides with the return of Gable, but the Ticats had an extremely balanced attack against the Roughriders. Zach Collaros wasn’t exceptional, but he didn’t have to be. He threw for 284 yards on 19-of-28 passing and one touchdown, while the team rushed 24 times for 168 yards. It was by the far the most balance the team has had all year and it is no surprise that by keeping the Riders defense guessing, they were able to win the game. With Gable healthy and contributing, hopefully this type of balance will continue for the rest of the season.

On the opposite side of the football, I think we can now officially state that the Ticats have the best front seven in the CFL. Missing their anchor in the middle — Ted Laurent was a game-time scratch — the Ticats held Saskatchewan’s potent rushing duo of Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen to just 60 yards on 10 carries. Both backs entered the game in the top four in rushing, with Messam leading the way, and the Ticats stuffed them at every turn. Neither player was much of a factor and that seems to be the norm for running backs facing this vaunted Ticats defensive unit. Teams who excel at running the football just cannot get it done against Hamilton. They have shut down some of the best backs in the league so far this season, limiting the contributions of Jon Cornish, Paris Cotton, Tyrell Sutton, and now Messam and Allen. Those are the names of some of the league’s best rushers and the Ticats defense made them all look average. It is a sight to behold and one that should continue for the foreseeable future.

While he did not register a sack, and only had one tackle, this was probably the best game Justin Hickman played all year. He wreaked havoc in the Saskatchewan backfield for most of the night and laid a couple of massive hits on Kevin Glenn, before the Saskatchewan pivot was forced out of the game after a third quarter interception. Hopefully Hickman can continue to build of last night’s performance.

Negatives

Despite the big win, there were still a few glaring errors that need to be corrected if this team is going to take that next step. For starters, they really have got to be more disciplined. The standout boneheaded play was the unnecessary roughness penalty that Brandon Banks took early in the fourth quarter when the Ticats had the ball inside the Saskatchewan five-yard line. The penalty pushed the Ticats back to the edge of the red zone and made them, a team that was already struggling to score touchdowns inside the 20, settle for a field goal. It is the type of mental error that cannot happen again.

But Banks was not the only culprit of undisciplined play. The Ticats defense was called six times, SIX, for offside! That is inexcusable. And a pass interference call on Emanuel Davis on second down extended a Riders drive, a drive that would eventually end in a touchdown. The Ticats were the league’s most penalized team heading into the game and were flagged 14 times against Saskatchewan. This simply cannot continue going forward.

Rico Murray did not have a great game. Yes, he had a very well-timed interception at the end of the third quarter, but he was beaten consistently, including on the Riders late first half touchdown and the ensuing two-point convert. It was Murray’s first game back after missing almost all of training camp and the first month of the season, so he gets a mulligan. And he did have that interception, which started the avalanche of scoring that helped the Ticats get the win. If No. 0 can continue his ballhawking ways from last season, when he finished with a team-high five interceptions, everyone will forget about his poor performance against the Roughriders.

Final Thoughts

So that does it for the Ticats season-opening road trip. The Pan Am Games are over and the Ticats can finally move into their digs at Tim Hortons Field on a permanent basis. Home field advantage is sometimes overstated, but the Ticats are still undefeated at their new home after semi-opening it on Labour Day last year. Being able to finally give up the nomadic lifestyle that this team has endured over the course of two-and-a-half seasons must feel nice for the players, the coaches and the entire Ticats organization.

Next Monday sees the first-place, and hated-rival, Toronto Argonauts pay their second ever visit to Tim Hortons Field. It is the first of three straight home games the Ticats will play, and with their pristine 7-0 home record, the team could be in for a nice run of victories heading into the second half of the season.

The Ticats can also expect to get some of their injured players back, with Eric Norwood and Luke Tasker looking like they will be ready for their first action of the year, and Ted Laurent should hopefully be back after his one-game absence this week.

The Ticats end their four-game road trip at 2-2. If you would have told Ticats fans in late June that the team would head into their home opener at .500, they would have taken it. The wins sometimes mask problems, but it is still better than losing. The Ticats will have a lot of work to do, but if they can roll at home like they did last year, the rest of the league better watch out.

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