Thank Odin that it was only the pre-season because the Ticats looked as ugly Thor’s eye without the eyepatch in their 36-18 loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night at Tim Hortons Field.
Let’s look at some of the highs and lows from the game.
Low: Masoli was (mostly) awful
While his final drive of the night was an impressive one that led to the only offensive score of the game for the Ticats, you cannot give Jeremiah Masoli passing marks for what was mostly an awful performance.
The plan was for Masoli to play sparingly and then cede the floor to one Jonathan Football, but Masoli played deep into the second quarter because the offense simply had no rhythm.
And they kept turning the damn ball over. The team gave the ball away either via interception, fumble or on downs seven times in the first half, with Masoli being responsible for two pretty bad interceptions. The first came when he overthrew Brandon Banks on a pump-and-go, while the second came when he tried to thread the needle to Luke Tasker in triple coverage.
The one aspect of Masoli’s game that he fixed the most during his inspired run late last season was in turning the ball over, with just four interceptions over the final 10 games of the season. Masoli reverted back into the turnover machine he was prior to his reascension up the depth chart against the Argos. I hope this isn’t a harbinger of things to come.
High… ish: Manziel proves he belongs
The crowd roared when he entered the game — with a smattering of boos once he was introduced — and while he didn’t provide much in the way of excitement, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who said Johnny Manziel didn’t perform well in his first taste of CFL action.
His stat line wasn’t huge — 9 of 11 for 80 yards, two rushes for 10 yards — but he seemed relatively comfortable operating the offense and didn’t make any major mistakes. The grounding call on him was weak — if the ref truly did say his pass fell one yard short, that’s some grade-A bull dookie — and he was sacked twice, but he showed enough to prove that he belongs in the league.
Despite his solid-ish performance and Masoli’s less-than-stellar outing, there is still no chance (barring injury) anyone but No. 8 is under centre when the Ticats take on the Stamps in two weeks.
But much like Shady Records, the hype was real for Johnny Football and we all got a tiny glimpse of that on Friday night.
Low: Whitlock fumbles away his chance
The Nikita Whitlock experiment at running back has to be done, right? I’m not sure any player anywhere had a worse performance than Whitlock against the Argos. Whitlock finished the night with three carries for 13 yards, but only one of those carries ended with the Ticats still in possession of the football.
Yes, that means Whitlock fumbled on 66 per cent of his carries. That is… not good.
Other ball carriers, namely Storm Johnson and Mercer Timmis (more on both in a bit), vastly outplayed Whitlock, and with the current uncertainty surrounding Alex Green, the Ticats are going to need someone to tot the rock for them once the season really begins.
That person cannot and should not be Nikita Whitlock.
High: Timmis shines and a Storm is brewing
Sticking with the run game, both Mercer Timmis and Storm Johnson really impressed me. Timmis ran with power and purpose, and had a beautifully violent 18-yard run that helped to set up the Ticats’ lone offensive score of the ball game, while Johnson looked like a C.J. Gable clone. The two combined for 104 yards on 15 carries and that is the type of 1-2 punch that could really make the Ticats’ run game hum.
High: Speedy B picking up where he left off
For anyone who thought Brandon Banks’ emergence as a receiving threat was going to be a one-year aberration, think again. Banks scored the team’s only offensive touchdown and also finished the game with a team-high 72 yards on four catches. Speedy picked up precisely where he left off last year, and if that continues the rest of the CFL needs to look out.
High: Special teams gets it done
With the exception of Lirim Hajrullahu’s one shanked punt and the extra point that doinked off the upright, the special teams were stellar. Even Hajrullahu was great outside those flubs, and even boomed a 54-yard field goal later in the game.
But it was the return game that really deserves some praise. All three Ticats’ punt returners (Frankie Williams, Bryce Wilkerson and Chris Hubert) had one return of at least 30 yards, with Williams breaking one for a 74-yard touchdown. Special teams has been a hallmark of this team for years and it looks like there are plenty of talented players ready to contribute on that side of the ball.
High/Low: Defense was decent, but unspectacular
It is tough to truly evaluate the defense when the offense turned the ball over 10 times, but I think for the most part the unit was decent. They didn’t give up much in the run game, only gave up two plays of 20+ yards, and it’s not like the Argos threw for a ton of yards either. But there was that one play where they looked like a bunch of Keystone Cops trying to tackle Brandon Burks, who danced for an incredible 27-yard touchdown. I think the defense did enough good to not be too worried, but also still showed there are things to work on.
So here comes the requisite “it’s only pre-season, so don’t read too much into it” comment, but it was only the pre-season, so everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
That said, it was still a little more than worrisome that it took the Ticats’ starters to really get a rhythm going against what was essentially an Argos team that was playing entirely backups. Hamilton have traditionally been slow starters — both in the season itself and in games — and some of that went away when June Jones took over, but if Friday’s game is any indication, the slow starts are back and that is not something any Ticat fans wants to see.
With the first pre-season contest in the books, the Ticats will now turn their focus to the province of Quebec and their final pre-season game against the Montreal Alouettes. I hope we see a much more focused and determined team in that game and while the “it’s only the pre-season” comment will apply to that game as well, you best believe that a poor showing against what many believe is a vastly inferior Montreal squad will lead to a lot of anxiety before the real season begins in Calgary in June 16.