Of all the games being played in Week 20, just one has any impact on the upcoming CFL playoffs: this one, Hamilton at Ottawa.
By now we probably all know what needs to happen, but I will repeat it anyway for the one guy out there who doesn’t know: if Hamilton wants to claim first in the East, and the first-round bye that comes with it, they must beat Ottawa by six or more points.
But it won’t be easy. Ottawa is on a roll, and is coming off a big win over the Ticats just last week. That game came with its fair share of controversy, so who knows what we can expect from this one.
A loud, raucous, sold out TD Place will greet the Ticats with a chorus of boos, but the black and gold will be out to spoil Ottawa’s party.
Playing to win
The Ticats enter this game in second place, and a loss does not change that in any way. While they need to win, they don’t have to fear losing. This could lead to an interesting dynamic in the game as the Ticats might be more inclined to take chances to get the six-point win the team needs. The Ticats take chances as is, especially on special teams, so we might see them take a few more on the offensive side of the ball to tip the balance in their favour.
Go win a division, kid
The path is tough for the Ticats to win their second consecutive division title, mostly due to another injury at the quarterback position. Jeff Mathews was knocked out of last week’s game and will miss this week’s contest due to the lingering effects of a concussion.
Enter Jacory Harris.
The third-year man out of “The U” will get his first career start in the CFL. Harris’s pedigree is strong, and while he has seen limited action in his two seasons with the Ticats, he is familiar with the offense and has the talent to get the job done.
And the Ticats still have Jeremiah Masoli, and it should not shock anyone if he saw a bit of time, even if just as a change of pace. Kent Austin is not opposed to designing packages for his backup quarterbacks, so with Masoli getting reps in practice, do not be surprised if he sees a bit of playing time.
Get Gable the ball
One way to keep the defense off a young QB is by running the football. Hamilton has not exactly been a running team the last few years, but a fully healthy C.J. Gable needs to see the ball somewhere in the 15-18 touch area if this team is to have a chance to get their six-point win.
Ottawa’s run defense is very good, but Hamilton had some success on the ground last week, tallying 90 yards on 14 carries, good for a 6.4 yards/carry average. Gable only saw seven of those carries last week, but if Hamilton can get the ball in his hands and he manages nearly 6.5 yards/carry, the Ticats will have a very good chance of besting the Redblacks.
Protect! Protect! Protect!
Another way to help Harris out is by giving him time to make plays. Hamilton allowed six sacks last week against Ottawa and they will need to cut that number at least in half if they hope to win. Some of those sacks were the result of good coverage downfield and Jeff Mathews holding onto the ball too long, but no matter the reason, the Ticats cannot give up half a dozen sacks and hope to win the game. Protect Harris, give him time to make his reads, and Hamilton can take this game
Attack! Attack! Attack!
Defensively, the Ticats played one of their best games since Labour Day last week, and did everything they could to keep the team in the game. The defense held Ottawa to just four field goals, had an interception that could have gone for a score bounce off Cleshawn Page’s hands, and had Brandon Stewart’s interception return for a touchdown called back by two terrible penalties that the league came out and admitted were incorrect.
But one thing the defense did not do a great job of was rattling Henry Burris. The Ticats notched just one sack last week, and it came via a safety blitz. Hamilton needs to get after Burris, and if that means blitzing a bunch, then blitz a bunch The Ticats defensive line has not been playing up to the lofty standard they set earlier in the year, so if it takes bring heat from elsewhere and forcing the defensive backs to play man-to-man, so be it. Hamilton needs to make Burris’ life a living hell if they want to win and host the East Final.