Riders at Ticats game preview

JLR 9538.JPGMust-win games are strictly ones that mean elimination, meaning if you loss, any hope of winning a championship is gone. This game tonight is not a must-win for the Tiger-Cats, but it most assuredly is a gotta-win.

After coming close in last week’s 23-20 loss to the Calgary Stampeders, the Ticats need to win this game against the league’s worst team, the 2-12 Saskatchewan Roughriders, if for no other reason than to show that they can win without injured star quarterback Zach Collaros.

For the Riders, this game is a must win. They must to win this game tonight or they will be eliminated from playoff contention. The Ticats need to win this game to stay a game up on the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks for first in the East Division.

Not a must win, but a gotta-win if they hope to build any sort of momentum over the season’s final month.

Mathews builds on solid second half

Jeff Mathews did not have the type of first career start that many were hoping. He finished the game 15 of 23 for 155 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He did chip in with a rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give the Ticats the lead and that was part of a much better second half for the first-time starter. Mathews started the game off pretty horrendously, going just four of nine for 36 yards and the one interception in the game’s first 30 minutes, but he seemed to play better in the second half and went a respectable 11 of 14 for 119 yards in the game’s final two quarters. They aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but it does show that Mathews seemed more calm and settled after weathering the early storm. If he can build on that second half, the Ticats have an excellent shot to win tonight’s contest.

Stop turning the ball over

The big thing the Ticats need to stop doing is turning the ball over. In the last two games, the Ticats have given the opposition the ball nine times with most of those turnovers being of the killer variety: two interceptions returned for touchdowns, one interception with the team inside the 10 yard line and a pair of fumbles that occurred when the Ticats looked to be going in to score. If Hamilton could have avoided these mistakes against their last two opponents, we might not be talking about a two-game losing streak. If they limit their giveaways against the Roughriders, the Ticats will leave Tim Hortons Field victorious.

Create turnovers

In addition to limiting their own turnovers, they need to start creating some. They team has just two takeaways in the last two games, but that total could have been higher. The Ticats dropped two possible interceptions against the Stampeders, one by Bryan Hall and the other by Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, while also having an interception wiped out because of a penalty. If Hamilton gets those balls, they likely beat the Stampeders. This team still leads the league in takeaways, with 40, and points scored off those takeaways, 147. They need to get back to that devastating force that they were back in the summer, and if they do, they will handily beat the Roughriders.

Drive the Ford

While calling him a revelation might be a bit much, Michael Ford gave the Ticats production from the running back position that they haven’t seen all season unless C.J. Gable was totting the rock. In total, Ford caught or ran the ball 14 times for 117 yards, and that number could have been much higher if not for the errant foot of receiver Terrell Sinkfield. The Ticats need to feature Ford as much, if not more, in tonight’s game. If Ford sees the ball anywhere between 14-18 times, the Ticats will end Saskatchewan’s playoff hopes.

Get an early lead

While Kevin Glenn has been very good most of the season, Saskatchewan’s best offensive player has been running back Jerome Messam. The bruising Brampton native is second in the league in rushing and has been the catalyst for both Saskatchewan victories this season, carrying the ball 32 times for 184 yards in wins against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes. One way to take Messam out of the game is to build an early lead. Hamilton excelled at that earlier in the season, especially in the month of August where they stormed out to massive first-half leads and cruised to a number of victories. They haven’t found anywhere near the same type of early success since Zach Collaros tore his ACL, but if they can get up on the Riders early, something like a 14- or 17-point lead at some point in the first half, they will force the Riders to abandon the run and therefore make Messam little more than a spectator. If the Ticats can do that, thus putting the ball, and game, in Glenn’s hands, they will get their ninth win of the 2015 season.

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.