The good and great of Hamilton’s systematic domination of the Riders

After a five-week, four-game road trip, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats came home and gave their fans a lot to cheer about in a 53-7 demolishing of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Great: Playing a full 60

For the first time since way back in Week 1, the Ticats put together a full 60 minutes. No slow starts, no hiccups at any time, just full throttle from end to end. The Ticats need to get back to doing this consistently if they are to reach the ranks of the league’s elite once again. Last night was a good start, now let’s see if they can do it again.

Great: The Zach Attack is clearly back

Now that is more like it. After showing flashes of brilliance a week ago, most of it coming in the second half, Zach Collaros went full 2015 Zach Collaros against the Riders. A career-high five touchdown passes, 381 yards and a 76.7 per cent completion rate is the type of performance Ticats fans became accustomed to from No. 4 last year. Collaros now has seven TD passes in two games, which is one more than Henry Burris has in four games and is half of what co-leaders Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly have in eight. The Zach Attack is very much back.

Good: Lucky to be good, good to be lucky

As good as Collaros looked, the early going was a tad rough. He made some questionable decisions — he had an interception wiped off the board because of a review challenge (more on that later) — and his first touchdown pass was as lucky as it can get. His throw to Luke Tasker was too high and touched just the tip of his fingers, and it bounced off a Riders defender’s arm before landing in the waiting arms of Andy Fantuz, who fended off another Riders defender on his way to the end zone. You have to be lucky to be good sometimes.

Good: The Horsemen, WOOOOOOO, ride again

The Four Horsemen of the Sack-pocalypse — I am going to pound this nickname into the ground until every single one of you start using it — beat up on the Riders, with John Chick leading the way. After his harsh words for the Riders before the game, you just knew Chick would have one of his best games, and that he did. Two sacks and a forced fumble are what show up on the stat sheet, but No. 7 played like a man possessed the entire game, constantly getting pressure. Chick is now tied for the league lead in sacks with seven. He has come as advertised and been worth every penny for the Ticats so far this season.

But he wasn’t the only Horseman to play big. Both Ted Laurent and Drake Nevis recorded sacks, and Laurent added a fumble recovery to his stat line. While Adrian Tracy was the only one held sackless, he pitched in with a nice interception of Darian Durant late in the second quarter that led to a Ticats score that essentially put the game out of reach.

Bad: Secondary changes don’t change much

There has to be at least one negative, and once again it was the secondary. They were much better than the last couple of weeks, but they gave up a few big plays and had some lapses in coverage. A lot was made of the changes, with Brandon Sermon and Chris Davis starting in place of Quinton Pointer and Travis Lee, but they didn’t make too much of a difference. Sermon, especially, was beat a few times. It is not the doom and gloom it was a week ago, but this unit still has a lot of work to do before all worries go away.

Good: Emanuel Davis

One major bright spot in the back end was the play of Emanuel Davis. Davis has not looked like the guy he was last year, but he is starting to pick up his game. He had an interception for the second week in a row and nearly had another that would have gone for six if he could have brought it in. Davis was the team’s best defensive back last year and it feels like he is starting to round back into 2015 form.

Good: Terrence Toliver and the Receivers Three

We have spent a lot of time talking about the Big 3 of Fantuz, Tasker and Owens, but we may have to change that three to a four if Terrence Toliver keeps playing like this. Toliver had another big game, catching five passes for 139 yards and a score in this one, and now has 317 yards and two scores in the three games since he returned from injury. He hauled in a 45-yard pass late in the second quarter and dragged his defender a good five or six yards that set up the first of Chad Owens’ two touchdown catches in the game. Everyone in the receiving corps played a role — Fantuz, Tasker, Owens, Toliver and Banks all caught touchdown passes — but it was Toliver who really stood out. Enjoy him now, because if this play keeps up and he can stay healthy, we will be watching him play on Sundays in the near future.

Bad: Stop the challenging madness

There wasn’t a ton of things that would get your dander up, but I think no matter which team you cheer for, you have had enough of coaches’ challenges, especially the ones for fouls that occur away from the play. We had three such instances in this game, two that were successful and wiped out big plays for each team and one that was a Hail Mary attempt to reverse a big play that ultimately failed. The one I will focus on, because it was the one that was shown repeatedly on the big screen at the game, is the illegal contact call on Brandon Banks that took away an interception from Saskatchewan’s Justin Cox. Collaros made a bad throw, one of his few mistakes in the game, and the Riders snuffed out a drive deep in their own territory. Then we see the challenge flag for illegal contact on Banks. The play is reviewed, illegal contact is called and the Ticats keep the ball. They would kick a field goal a couple of plays later to make the score 13-0.

Here is the thing: yes, it was a penalty. Banks was contacted beyond the allowable five yards and the penalty call was correct. That said, it occurred away from the play and had no bearing on Collaros tossing that interception. I do not know if the league can unring this bell and go back to when illegal contact was not reviewable, but they probably should. Big plays are being erased because of ticky-tacky calls away from the play and that is not right.

Final Thoughts

I know some will say, “Well, it is Saskatchewan and they stink, so this doesn’t mean anything.” And I do get that. But if the Ticats are going to be the team we think they can be — and get back to being the team that we saw destroy everyone before Zach Collaros got hurt last year — then they need to do things like beat down the league’s doormats, and right now, the 1-7 Riders are the league’s doormat. The Ticats took care of business at home against a bad team, which is exactly what they need to do to reestablish their dominance in the ever-tightening East Division.

With the Riders dispatched, it is now time to look ahead to next week’s massive game against the red hot 6-1-1 Calgary Stampeders. This game will go a long way in determining just how good this Ticats team really is. The Stamps have been clicking and the Ticats are starting to resemble the juggernaut from last summer. If the Ticats find a way to get the W in Cowtown, the rest of the CFL is in big, big trouble. Next Sunday night is going to be fun.

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.