Alouettes at Ticats Game Preview

CFL: Montreal Alouettes at Hamilton Tiger-CatsIt is Angelo Mosca night, where the Ticats legend will finally have his No. 68 retired by the franchise he won five Grey Cups with, and the team will hope to channel the spirit of the Ticats icon and put a Mosca-like beating on their opponents tonight, the Montreal Alouettes.

The Ticats come into the game on a five-game winning streak, most recently dispatching the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium to the tune of 49-20. It was the most impressive win for the Ticats so far this season, with the victory pretty much solidifying them as the team to beat the rest of the season.

Conversely, the Alouettes seem to be in a state of disarray. After winning at BC Place for the first time in 15 years, the Als fired their head coach and replaced him with their general manager. It was a shocking turn of events and one the team hopes will help turn around their so far underwhelming season.

On paper, this looks like a mismatch: a 6-2 powerhouse playing a 3-5 squad with distractions galore in a place where the home team has never lost. But games are not played on paper, and this one might be a lot closer than people expect.

Here are five things to keep in mind for tonight’s game.

Revenge for Week 4

Just prior to this incredible run the Ticats are currently on, the team suffered a set back in Montreal against the Alouettes, losing 17-13 back in Week 4. Considering how far the Ticats have come since that mid-July defeat, winning five in a row and outscoring teams 204-89 during that span, one has to wonder just how the heck the Als managed to win that game. Hamilton did not play their best against Montreal, but the Als were able to capitalize on some Ticats mistakes and get the win. If the Ticats, who have been nearly unstoppable at home, can limit their errors and force the Als into some of their own, this should end as all games at Tim Hortons Field have ended: with a Ticats victory.

Beware the trap game

Trap games are not something you hear players talk about, but it seems as if every now and then, the term will get thrown out when a superior team plays an inferior one prior to playing a future matchup with another superior team. That description fits this Ticats-Als game perfectly. The Ticats are in first place, while the Als are in last, and the Ticats have back-to-back dates with the fellow 6-2 Toronto Argonauts looming after this week. If the Ticats look beyond this game — as unlikely as that is to happen for a team coached by Kent Austin — and towards the potential first-place matchup with the Argos on Labour Day, they could find themselves on the losing end of a game at Tim Hortons Field for the first time.

Continuing home dominance

A lot has been made of Hamilton’s failures to win at Molson Stadium, but somewhat flying under the radar is Montreal’s recent troubles winning in Hamilton… and Guelph… and Moncton. The Alouettes have not won a game in which the Ticats were the designated home team since September 11, 2010, when the Als were led by then-backup quarterback Adrian McPherson and beat the Ticats 27-6. While that streak is not as long as Hamilton’s in Montreal — though the Ticats did get a playoff win in Montreal in 2011 — it nonetheless shows just how dire things have been for the Als against the Ticats when Montreal is the visitor. So not only will the Als attempt to become the first team to win at Tim Hortons Field, but they will also try to break another streak of their own making.

Start fast

One of the most impressive aspects of Hamilton’s recent five-game winning streak is how they have jumped out to early leads. In the last four games, the Ticats have managed to outscore opponents in the opening frame an incredible 63-3. By getting out to these big leads so early, the team has been able to dictate the pace of the game, and it makes their opponents’ offenses one dimensional as they attempt to play catchup. That lets the Ticats defense be at their pressure-creating, ballhawking best, while the offense can be methodical and pick the opposing defense apart. It has been a recipe for success and if it should continue against the Alouettes tonight, the Ticats will once again find themselves on the winning side.

Slowing down S.J.

Despite Montreal being 3-5 and in last place, this is not a bad team. Far from it. They have lost every game by four points of less, and they have lost those five games by a total of just 15 points. Defensively, they have allowed the fewest points in the league, so it is not like the Als are getting beaten badly in every contest. The problem seems to be that their offense just doesn’t score enough. They sit second-to-last in points scored with 165 — only Ottawa has scored fewer — and to contrast that, the Ticats have already scored 292 points this season and are far and away the highest scoring team in the league so far this season.

But that doesn’t mean the Alouettes are lacking for offensive fire power as the Ticats will have to contend with the league’s second-leading receiver in S.J. Green. Green has 608 yards and two touchdowns so far in 2015, with 56 of those yards and one those touchdowns coming against Hamilton back in their previous meeting in July. In fact, Green has had more than his fair share of great games against the Ticats, putting up over 100 yards receiving six times against the black and gold, including a 126-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Ticats at Tim Hortons Field in last season’s East Division Final. It will be interesting to see who the Ticats matchup against Green, because if he is able to find open space in the secondary, the Ticats could be in trouble. But if they are able to lock Green down and limit his impact, the Ticats should go home victorious once again.

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.