Milton: Subtle improvements highlight Ticats’ progression

Sinkfield Jr., Smith

Not all the stories are told with the most noticeable plays.

So while Zach Collaros’ stupendous arm and aim, and the thunder of the Ticats’ defence, lit the marquee of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ 42-12 dismantling of the Toronto Argonauts, there were some other less gaudy indicators of what was going on in the Labour Day Classic.

We’ll choose just two, and the first was evident from the Cats’ opening drive.

Collaros and his offence were moving into the wind in the first quarter. And given last week’s six-sack loss to the Alouettes, it was easy to expect the game-film-influenced Argo pass rushers to be coming hard and Collaros to be forced to run. Didn’t happen. Oh, the Argos did come hard, but Collaros was able to spend much of his time in the pocket and complete a clinical dissection of the double blue defence for a tone-setting touchdown.

Secondly, with about five minutes left (an agonizing eternity when you’re trying to nurse a CFL lead home), the Argos 18 points down – and Hamilton again going against the wind – the Cats were second and five on the Toronto 44.

Collaros handed to running back Ray Holley, who promptly busted a 12-yard run for a first down.

The Cats eventually scored, putting the game out of reach. Then they only had to protect the ball in their next possession, during which Holley ran three times for 55 yards, including a 40-yarder that was stopped on the one-inch line.

Everyone knew they were running, yet an offence whose net first-half rushing yardage out of the backfield was minus-one yard, punched out some excellent overland yardage and clock consumption.

Holley, with nine carries for 84 yards, did a fine job. But this one – and the first-quarter possessions (not to mention 10 points) into the wind – were on the offensive line. Take a bow, Big Beef.

Just as it was, in a negative sense, on the offensive line last week against Montreal.

“You know the offensive line is playing well when we can take shots down the field, ” said Cat receiver Terrell Sinkfield, who was a recipient of five of those Collaros shots, and scored a pair of majors. “We’re not worried about the protection or anything. I appreciate those boys up front making all those blocks so we can go downfield and make the plays.”

After the Alouettes’ game, the Ticats’ offensive line was highly self-critical and had to sulk in their own angry juices for 11 days. Plus, starting right guard Ryan Bomben (injured against Montreal) was going to miss the Toronto game and there was some chance that left guard Peter Dyakowski would, too.

Dyakowski did start, there were some alert early pick-up blocks from Nic Grigsby on that confidence-restoring first drive, and the line looked like the confident unit that was in clear ascendance before the Als de-ascended them.

“I think we’ve done pretty well all year, minus one or two games, ” said Hamilton centre Mike Filer.

“We were playing well right off the bat in this game. We had a poor performance last week up front, so we knew we had to come out and play like we had played in weeks previous. We have to give (Collaros) time and when we give him time, he can do anything back there.”

Such as throw for, oh, just the 400 yards.

The two Toronto sacks were almost incidental, but the ball control on the ground in the final five minutes was not. That hasn’t been among the Cats’ top couple (or Top 10) assets, and it was gratifying for Cat Crazies to see them successfully gobble ground when everyone in the stadium knew that’s what they’d be trying.

“I think it’s huge at the end of the game – whether you’re a team that runs the ball 50 times a game or a team that doesn’t – because you want to lock in on that four-minute offence, ” Collaros said. “It’s situational football and you want to focus on that. The offensive line did a great job and Holley found the holes. I wish he wouldn’t have got caught (at the goal line).”

As Kent Austin was mentioning after the game, about Collaros and football in general, nobody ever has a perfect game, and the offensive line delivered their own variation on that theme, as they get set for a return match Friday night in Toronto.

“They do have a good D line there, so to control the game at the end, when we needed to run, was a good feeling, ” said right guard Tim O’Neill.

“They have some good pass rushers over there. They were not far away from getting home a few times, so we have to correct that a bit.”

But that’s a whole bunch less than they had to correct coming into Labour Day.