What we learned in Hamilton’s 41-26 loss to the B.C. Lions

Despite playing their best game of the season by far the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still fell by the score of 41-26 to the B.C. Lions at Tim Hortons Field. The loss drops the Ticats to 0-3 on the season and keeps them as the lone team yet to register a point in the standings. Here is what we learned.

They need to play perfect to win
The numbers look pretty darn good: 424 yards of offense, including 361 through the air, three total turnovers, and just seven penalties. So why then did the Ticats loss by 15?

For starters, they allowed Travis Lulay to throw for 436 yards after coming on in relief of Jonathon Jennings after Jennings left the game after one pass attempt. Those 436 yards are a record for a player coming on in relief. Lulay is a former MOP and Grey Cup MVP, but if you had told people that the Lions would lose Jennings on the team’s first play, a lot of people would have given the edge to Hamilton. But Lulay dialled back the clock and gave a vintage Lulay performance, shredding the Ticats en route to a big road win.

The Ticats also allowed Nick Moore to have a massive game, catching 10 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Moore is the fifth player to crack the century mark receiving against the Ticats and his 220 yards is the most for any player so far this season in the CFL, surpassing the 210 yards S.J. Green had against the Ottawa Redblacks. The Ticats held B.C.’s other two stud receivers in check, with Manny Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham combining for just seven catches for 45 yards, but that still wasn’t good enough.

What this game showed is that Hamilton pretty much has to be perfect if they are going to win, especially against the league’s best teams. The Ticats had a lead, created turnovers and moved the ball, yet still trailed at halftime and lost by double digits. B.C., who is one of the league’s elite teams and was on the third game of a three-game eastern road trip, played far from perfect and won the ball game handily. B.C. just has that extra something that Hamilton does not right now, and that is why the Lions have won three in a row and the Ticats have lost three in a row.

Offense doesn’t help the defense
Hamilton’s offense did some great things against the Lions, but they didn’t do them at the right times. The Ticats could have put a lot of separation between themselves and the Lions in the first half after Hamilton forced three turnovers and two punts on B.C.’s first six drives, but all that good work netted the team just 13 points, and they went two-and-out after three of those drives. If the offense had found a way to move the ball and at least get three points on each of those stalled drives, the game could have gone a lot differently. Instead, the offense wasted the best defensive effort the team has put out all season.

Defense doesn’t help the offense
The defense isn’t off the hook here either, though. For as good as they were for most of the first half, they pretty much completely fell apart late in the second quarter and never recovered. The Lions scored two touchdowns in less than a minute late in the second quarter to take a lead they would never relinquish. But despite that, the Ticats still had a chance early in the fourth quarter after Zach Collaros threw a touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders, and then connected with Mike Jones on a two-point convert to pull within 10. On the Lions next series, they march the field rather easily and score on a Jeremiah Johnson run to make it 41-24. Ball game. The offense wasted a great defensive effort in the first half, but the defense had a chance to keep this game close late and failed.

Jalen Saunders is a keeper
If we are looking for bright spots, we need to look no further than Jalen Saunders. After having a very good game against the Riders a week ago, Saunders exploded against the Lions for 147 yards on five catches and a touchdown. Saunders has been excellent for Hamilton in his two games and is just the latest example of this team being able to find quality rookie American receivers.

Richard Leonard has a breakout performance
The secondary is going to take a beating, but it can be hard to find fault in the game Richard Leonard had. You can’t ask for much more than two interceptions and a fumble recovery. It was the first really good game from anyone in this patchwork secondary and it deserves a shout out.

Ethan Davis probably shouldn’t get too comfortable
Ethan Davis had a rough night, as he was the guy constantly matched up against Nick Moore, and as I said earlier, Moore went off for 220 yards in this game. Davis got into the lineup after Week 1, and after his game against the Lions, I have to think he has played his way out of the lineup. Abdul Kanneh is hopefully going to be back in a week or two, which means someone in the secondary has to be replaced. While Kanneh and Davis don’t play the same position, moving Davis off the roster and another DB into his spot, while Kanneh goes into his familiar boundary halfback spot, would be the logical move based on Davis’ play against B.C.

We are probably never seeing C.J. Gable in a Ticats uniform again
Ross Scheuerman got his second start in place of C.J. Gable, and while the numbers weren’t eye popping, it was easily Hamilton’s best rushing performance of the season, and their best in longer than I can remember. Scheuerman had eight carries for 58 yards and a rushing touchdown, as well as catching three passes for nine yards. Again, not exactly amazing numbers, but good enough to keep C.J. Gable glued to the bench for the foreseeable future.

People calling for firings don’t know what they’re talking about
So with the team at 0-3, we are starting to see the calls for people’s heads. Fire the coach, cut all the players, bench the quarterback. Whenever a team hits a rough patch, you will hear the cries for massive changes, but if you think that anyone should be fired, you simply do not know what you are talking about. This isn’t hockey; firing a football coach now, or at all during the season, will not turn the team around. It is basically waving the white flag and giving up on the season. And anyone who thinks any team in the CFL is out of it after three games must be new to the league. No one is out of the race after one-sixth of the season, no matter how bad they have looked.

And I say all this while freely admitting that I don’t think this Ticats team is very good, but that doesn’t mean I am in favour of sacking the entire coaching staff after four weeks. Even with my overly pessimistic assessment of the team, I wouldn’t dare suggest the team should fire its coach or bench its starting quarterback. That’s just plain foolish.

But some think the team should can Austin, and to them I say, “OK, you want him fired, so who’s replacing him?” There is no one out there to take over, save for maybe the team’s defensive coordinator who you are also calling to be replaced. So unless you have a viable, realistic option, just zip it with the fire-everybody talk.

Looking ahead
It doesn’t get any easier for the Ticats as they are not only on a short week, but their next opponent is the last unbeaten team in the league, the 3-0 Edmonton Eskimos.

This might sound crazy, but Edmonton hasn’t looked like a juggernaut and I think this is a game the Ticats could actually win. They had flashes against the Lions, and if they can somehow find a way to put it together, I truly believe they can beat the Eskimos on Thursday. It probably wouldn’t be a pretty win, but any win at this point will look like Kate Upton in a string bikini to the Ticats and their fans.

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.