Lessoned learned from the Ticats win

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are a dumpster fire of a football team right now so it’s hard to know exactly how much stock to put in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 53-7 win on Saturday night.

But even against diminished competition – or, perhaps, because of it – the Ticats may have finally started to address some of the issues that have plagued them all season.

Slow starts have been a problem. Hamilton had been outscored 53-129 in the first half of games coming into the tilt with the Riders but scored on their opening possession, stormed out to a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter and led 27-4 at halftime. The offence scored the first four times they had the ball while the defence allowed just a single first down in quarter No. 1.

And Zach Collaros is fully back. The Ticats quarterback looked a little out of sorts early, missing some open throws and needing a lucky bounce on a touchdown pass to Andy Fantuz and a timely challenge to mitigate some early mistakes. But he settled in, throwing for 381 yards on 23 of 30 passing and five touchdowns in his second game back from the ACL injury. Increasingly, he looks like his old, very spectacular self.

The revamped secondary, which had struggled in recent weeks, racked up five interceptions from five players while holding Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant to 235 passing yards and a putrid 31.1 quarterback efficiency rating. They not only snapped Durant’s streak of 323 completions without an interception – a CFL record – but then bludgeoned him with remaining pieces of it.

New cornerbacks Brandon Sermons and Chris Davis weren’t flawless but nor did they have their inexperience repeatedly exposed. If nothing else, they’ve earned the right to face a more arduous test like the one coming next week in Calgary.

It wasn’t just that the defence made plays, it was when they made them. After co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer spent the week imploring his charges, both publicly and privately, to make the transition from good to great, his unit responded, repeatedly snuffing out potential scoring drives with timely sacks or interceptions.

For the first time since Week 1, they set the tone and dictated the terms for a full 60 minutes.

Special teams were better, too. A week after head coach Kent Austin used a post-loss presser to threaten changes over the number of the penalties his kicking units were taking, Hamilton was flagged just twice (one being for an illegal punt out of bounds.) The number of illegal blocks and holding calls, which had been so devastating to field position the last several weeks? Zero.

The Riders may be in disarray at the moment but they still started a veteran, Hall-of-Fame calibre quarterback and are led by a guy, Chris Jones, who was a Grey Cup champion last season. Playing poorly while beating a team you’re supposed to be beat by a narrow margin can sometimes sow the same seeds of doubt as a loss. By destroying them, the Ticats make the case that they are not to be mentioned among the league’s lightweights.

The Ticats are now 4-4 and, after the blowout losses suffered by both Ottawa and Toronto, are well positioned in the still inscrutable East Division which now has three teams at the top and Montreal just a game behind. On the horizon is a date with the West Division-leading Stampeders in Calgary, a place they haven’t won since July 4, 2004.

A win over a dismal Saskatchewan team counts the same in the standings as any other and it may have helped a Ticat team in transition resolve some pressing questions.

A win against Calgary would count the same, too. But it would tell us a whole lot more.

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