Lions at Ticats Game Preview

10263455Use whatever feline-based puns you would like, but it is going to be fight when the BC Lions hit Tim Hortons Field tonight to take on the Ticats.

The last time these two teams met, the Ticats used five Justin Medlock field goals to down the Lions 19-17 in Hamilton last October. The Lions were without QB Travis Lulay and RB Andrew Harris in that game — Kevin Glenn started at quarterback, while Keola Antolin was the team’s primary ball carrier — so expect a much different game from the boys from BC in this one.

The Ticats are still riding an incredible undefeated streak at Tim Hortons Field, which the team extended to 9-0 in a 38-8 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last Sunday. Here is what the two-time East Division champions need to do to ensure their home winning streak reaches double digits.

Limit Andrew Harris

Notice I said limit and not shut down. There is no shutting down Andrew Harris this year. The sixth-year man has been the league’s best player during the first third of the season. He leads the league in rushing yards (519), rushing touchdowns (4) and yards from scrimmage (807). He has been downright unstoppable so far this season and the Ticats will need to rein him in if they hope to get the win.

It just so happens that the Ticats have by far the league’s top rushing defense, allowing just 71 yards per game so far this season. The most any one player has rushed for against the Ticats was Calgary’s Jon Cornish, who ran for 70 yards back in Week 1. If the Ticats can limit Harris to under 75 yards on the ground and under 100 total yards, they will have a very good chance of leaving Tim Hortons Field victorious for the tenth time in a row.

Continue defensive dominance

Continuing on the defensive side, the Ticats have one of the league’s best units, and it gets even better when they are playing in front of their raucous fans. In nine games at Tim Hortons Field, the opposition has managed to crack the 20-point mark just twice and the Ticats have allowed just 26 points so far in two games at home this season. If the Ticats can hold BC to under 20 points, it is unlikely that the home side will suffer their first loss at their new digs.

Larger roles for Tasker and Toliver

Andy Fantuz is already out and now Bakari Grant will join him, at least for one game. That means that other receivers are going to have to step up, one of which is 2014 East Division all-star Luke Tasker. Taker has been relatively quiet in his first two outings, catching 10 passes for 108 yards after returning to lineup against the Argos, but he is probably in for a much larger role with Hamilton’s two top pass catchers out for this game.

Also, expect rookie Terrence Toliver to see an increased role as well. The former LSU Tiger has had an exceptional rookie campaign so far, catching 23 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns, and has become the long-ball threat the Ticats have been hoping to find for the last couple of seasons. If Tasker can find success over the middle, that should open things up for Toliver deep, and as we have seen over the course of the season, Zach Collaros is not afraid to air it, especially when No. 80 has been on the receiving end.

Avoid Team 100

Despite BC’s defense being at or near the bottom of the league in yards and points allowed, they still feature two of the league’s best defenders in linebackers Adam Bighill and Solomon Elimimian. Popularly referred to as Team 100, the Lions linebacking duo have been superb once again this season, especially Bighill, who is having an award-worthy start to the 2015 campaign. The Ticats don’t run the ball much, especially with C.J. Gable out of the lineup, so Bighill’s and Elimimian’s impacts could be lessened, but both players can disrupt things in the air as well. The less we hear about Team 100, the better things will be for the Ticats.

Play aggressive

While last week’s 38-8 drubbing of the Bombers looks impressive on paper, it was far from the end-to-end domination the score would suggest. It was essentially a tale of two halves, as the Ticats marched out to a 21-0 lead midway through the first quarter and made enough plays, both offensively and defensively, to keep the Bombers at bay. But the second half was a horror show. The offense generated no points, had a hard time sustaining drives and QB Zach Collaros tossed two interceptions, one of which wasn’t really his fault, and allowed the Bombers to hang around much longer than their play warranted. The Ticats seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second half, and while it didn’t cost them the game, it could against a better squad. They simply cannot rely on mental errors by the Lions to win this one, as they did a week ago, and will need to stay aggressive on both sides of the ball.

The best way they can do that is by pressuring the bejesus out of Travis Lulay. The 2011 MOP entered Week 8 tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven, while the Ticats defense is second in the league in interceptions (9) and total turnovers (18). They also have a league-best 60 points off turnovers and have returned an incredible five interceptions for touchdowns. If the Ticats pressure Lulay and force him into mistakes, the Ticats will remain undefeated at Tim Hortons Field.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.