The (many) highs and (few) lows of the Ticats’ 38-21 win over Edmonton

No lamenting what could have been this week. The Ticats went into Edmonton and laid a beating on the home side, taking the lead early and never surrendering it en route to a 38-21 victory over Edmonton at Commonwealth Stadium.

It was a solid 60 minutes of football from the black and gold, one of the best all-around performances from the team under June Jones. The offence was rolling, the defence was good in parts during the first half but really picked things up in the second half, and special teams did their part.

High: Jeremiah Masoli silences the critics

If you’re still hating Jeremiah Masoli after this one, I don’t know what to say. For the second straight week Hamilton’s No. 8 out-dueled a former MOP. Last week, it was Bo Levi Mitchell; this week, it was Mike Reilly. Masoli put on a clinic against Edmonton, completing 19-of-29 passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also added another 59 yards along the ground on seven carries. It was a masterful performance by Masoli and one that really should silence every critic he has. He went into a tough environment with his team needing a win and played wonderfully. This is his team. He is the starting quarterback. No questions asked. End of story.

High: Lord have Mercer

The lack of a run game was one of Hamilton’s downfalls a week ago, but that surely wasn’t the case this week as Hamilton picked up 196 yards on the ground on 25 carries, with 17 of those carries and 133 of those yards coming from former Calgary Dino Mercer Timmis. The Burlington native had by far the best game of his pro career on Friday night, running roughshod over the Edmonton defence and finding the hole consistently when given the ball. He also found the end zone twice, with his second score being a 44-yard beauty that sealed the game for the Ticats. With Alex Green still on the shelf and John White not quite ready to hit the field, Timmis was given a chance to run with the ball and boy did he make the most of his opportunity.

Low: QB runs on second and long

If there was one aspect of the offence’s performance to harp on it was the choice to run a couple of QB keepers on a pair of second-and-long plays. I know the goal is to keep the defence guessing, but sometimes the right play is the obvious one. While those calls ultimately meant very little, I hope we see those plays never called again in those situations.

High: Big plays, balance and efficiency

Maybe it is a product of being ahead most of the game, but Hamilton had the type of offensive balance that makes fans like me salivate. The Ticats ran the ball 25 times and passed the ball 29 times. Contrast that to last week when the team ran the ball just 12 times and threw it 36 times. While I don’t think a near 1:1 pass-run ratio is likely to be the norm, if they can get it to 2:1 most games things are likely going well for the team.

The Ticats also made the most of their offensive snaps by absolutely dominating the time of possession game. Hamilton had the ball for 35:46 compared to Edmonton’s 24:14, and that over-11-minute difference in time of possession led to the Ticats putting up 500 yards of total offence and pretty much exerting its will over the home side late in the game. You keep a defence on the field for almost 36 minutes and that’s how you win games by three scores.

Lastly, it wasn’t like the Ticats just ground out a win as they also excelled with chunk plays. Hamilton had eight plays of 20-or-more yards, which helped set up a number of Ticats’ scores (two of their touchdowns came on plays of 45 and 44 yards). Hamilton controlled the clock, balanced their attack and hit big plays when needed. You couldn’t ask for better offensive execution than we saw on Friday night.

High: Making the MOP not look so outstanding

It was another tough week for one of the game’s elite quarterbacks against this Ticats defence. A week after holding Bo Levi Mitchell under 50 per cent passing, the Ticats did the same for most of the game to Mike Reilly. The reigning MOP finished the game 20 of 30 for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it was tough sledding for Reilly most of the way. He had almost zero success outside the deep ball early (more on that in a second) and was never really able to get into a rhythm. Hamilton’s defence is still a work in progress, and there are still things they need to get better at, but overall the results have been mostly positive after two weeks.

Low: Deep ball coverage

So the one major area that the Ticats’ defence was awful in came when trying to stop the deep ball. Mike Reilly threw them early and more often than you would expect, but he was very successful on them. First came the 88-yard touchdown pass to Duke Williams on their second play from scrimmage. Then came a deep pass to Kenny Stafford that led to Edmonton’s second touchdown. Lastly, Reilly threw another deep ball to Stafford that fell incomplete, but set Edmonton up on the one-yard line thanks to a pass interference call on Jumal Rolle. The Ticats got better defending the deep ball late in the game — Mike Daly had a gorgeous knockdown on a pass intended for Duke Williams in the fourth quarter, and Hamilton’s lone interception came on a deep ball that was knocked away by Rolle and into the waiting hands of Richard Leonard — but it was a thorn in their side early and had they not given up so many big plays this game would have been over a lot earlier.

High: This legion of doom are road warriors

June Jones has been head coach for 12 games for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They have seven wins in those 12 games, five of which have come on the road. Winning on the road is tough in pro sports, and you will often hear CFL coaches talk about going .500 or so on the road and winning seven to nine games at home. The Ticats used to have one of the best home-field advantages in the CFL — they ran off 10 straight wins to open Tim Hortons Field — but that has dwindled over the last couple of years. With them winning on the road with incredible frequency, all they need to do is start finding a way to win in the comfy confines of their home stadium and this team will be among the league’s best.

Low: Leonard struggles

Interception aside, it was a rough night for Richard Leonard. Last year’s should-have-been top rookie was victimized for a couple of touchdown passes and has shown some struggles in adapting to Jerry Glanville’s man-heavy schemes. Like the defence as a whole, his play got better as the game went along, but we have yet to see the shutdown player we saw last season that made him a fan favourite in Tigertown and one of the league’s best first-year players.

High: Everyone eats

The Ticats have one of the most talented receiving corps in the CFL and they proved that against Edmonton. A week after Jalen Saunders and Mike Jones (WHO!? MIKE JONES!) each went for over 100 yards, it was Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker’s turn to feast as they both went over 100 yards. Banks led the team in receptions (six) and yards (117), while Tasker put up 103 yards on five catches and bested Banks’ one touchdown with two of his own. The second Tasker touchdown came on a beautiful crossing route that Tasker was aided by a block by Banks. Tasker took it 45 yards to pay dirt and Banks avoided making the crack-back block (that would have negated the touchdown), opted to turn up field and make the last block Tasker needed to find the end zone. The last two week’s showed how dangerous this offence could be because you never know who is going to be the guy in any given game.

High: The returns of Breaux and Toliver

The story leading up to the game was a pair of all-star-calibre players returning to the Ticats against Edmonton and neither player disappointed in their comebacks.

Terrence Toliver, sidelined for over a year with a knee injury, played in his first game since Week 1 of 2017 and showed everyone why a 6-foot-5 receiver is useful in any offence. Toliver got involved early, catching the second pass thrown by Jeremiah Masoli, and finished the game with 76 yards on four catches.

Breaux’s stats are almost nonexistent, just one defensive tackle, but there is a reason for that: Edmonton just didn’t throw at him a lot. Mike Reilly said he wouldn’t shy away from Breaux, but it sure seemed like he did.

If this is what we got in their first games back, imagine how good these two will look in a couple of weeks.

Looking ahead

After waiting until Labour Day to get their first win last year, the Ticats got that monkey off their back in Week 2 this year. That’s a load off if their ever was one.

But things don’t get any easier from here, but at least the team will get to play their next game in front of a friendly crowd. The Ticats leave Alberta with a 1-1 record, which is about as good as you could have hoped, and now get a chance to get win No. 2 at Tim Hortons Field Friday when they host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Winnipeg has looked great through two weeks, in both a losing effort to Edmonton and a blow out win over Montreal. Rookie QB Chris Streveler has played magnificently in place of the injured Matt Nichols, and a game that looked like a sure win when the Nichols injury went down now suddenly becomes a game that could be one of the best of the early season. Two teams playing with a lot of confidence, both coming off impressive road wins, makes for a compelling match up.

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