Kent Austin didn’t exactly throw his quarterback under the bus after Saturday night’s loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but for the first time in this dismal Hamilton Tiger-Cats season, there was the slightest of nudges.
Austin was asked in the wake of the Ticats latest defeat, a 39-12 effort that dropped them to 0-7 on the year, to assess the play of Zach Collaros, who threw for 216 yards on 21 of 33 passing with one touchdown, an interception and a couple of fumbles. The answer is long and nuanced and includes a reference to new assistant head coach June Jones, who will soon be in charge of the offence.
“I want to be careful in a public forum because I might say something and then turn around and regret that I said it after I watched the film… We need better play out of that position and I think June can bring that, I really do,” Austin said. “We need to give him some time to work with that group and I think we’ll see the fruits of that, hopefully soon.”
“This is a team game and you need execution from everybody: the guys up front, the receivers holding on to the football and the quarterback throwing to the right guy at the right time and delivering the ball accurately and not turning the ball over in any position,” Austin said. “But we’ll take a real hard look at every position at this point.”
There’s a lot to digest there, as it’s an impressively fulsome answer to a complex problem that goes beyond the play of just one individual. But the screaming headline, the easy click-bait is there for the taking: We need better play out of that position.
Austin has been steadfast in his support for his hand-picked quarterback up to this point, despite the fact that Collaros has now gone winless in his last 11 straight starts. He has the fewest passing yards of any starting quarterback in the CFL, the lowest completion percentage and his seven interceptions are tied for the league lead.
On Saturday, there were some glimmers of hope – however brief – among an uneven offensive performance. There was an eight-play, 84-yard scoring drive that cut into an early Bomber lead, then another in the third quarter that would have, with a successful two-point conversion, made it a one-score game. They missed and never threatened again.
Austin says that the game, like several others this season, turned on just a handful of plays, either miscues by the home side or opportunities they couldn’t take advantage of.
“There are three or four series in the game that are making a difference right now. That means we’re not playing a complete football game,” Austin said. “I know the score got away from us but if you look at the moments we’re talking about, they can be the difference in the game.”
Collaros was sacked five times and under pressure for much of the night while the Ticats turned the ball over three times. Despite the presence of new coordinator Phillip Lolley, the defence surrendered more than 30 points for the seventh straight game this season and they took a late, questionable but nonetheless back-breaking roughing-the-passer penalty.
And, as per usual, their luck was atrocious. Defensive back Emanuel Davis, set to make his season debut after missing the first six games due to injury, was scratched due to food poisoning and all-star defensive tackle Ted Laurent went out after just one series.
“Obviously, somebody has a voodoo doll and is putting pin pricks in us,” Austin said. “But we need to be a good enough football team to overcome those things.”
The Bombers, meanwhile, improved to 5-2 in the ever-dominant West Division. Quarterback Matt Nichols threw for a tidy 267 with two TDs, Andrew Harris had 107 yards rushing and Justin Medlock banged through six field goals, including a 57 yarder.
The former Ticat had a little fun at his former teammates’ expense after that one, mocking the defence’s long standing “body bag” motif after connecting.
“It was all fun and games, I like those guys over there,” Medlock said afterwards. “We had some good years.”
Medlock used the past tense because he’s not in Hamilton anymore but those glory days of 2014 and 2015 seem like a long time ago. Back then, Collaros was an up-and-coming CFL star and, for a brief period before his ACL injury, a legitimate Most Outstanding Player candidate. Now he’s answering questions about whether his head coach is losing faith.
“The quarterback position is me so I need to do better, obviously. It’s tough to win in any league if the quarterback isn’t playing well,” Collaros said. “For me and June, we just need to continue to be around each other and I have to be a sponge, learn what he likes to do and go out and execute it.
“I wish I could give you a better answer than that.”