Are we done yet? The Elks fail to win a home game for the first time in franchise history

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

Where do I start? Probably by saying that Connor McDavid was a lot more interesting than the Elks around 10:00 p.m. Friday night.

A 19-17 score for the Edmonton Elks’ seventh loss in a row, as they fail to win a home game all season for the first time in franchise history. I think it would be irresponsible to give much praise for a close finish.

There are things to like, yet too much of the same. Here are some thoughts on the game.

What just happened?

OK, let’s start with the few minutes of excitement. Quite honestly there wasn’t much to write about until the last four minutes or so.

The Elks were down 19-9 and took possession at their 26-yard line just before the three minute warning. Two incompletions later, they had to go for a third-and-10.

Taylor Cornelius scrambled away from pressure and managed to resist heaving one 40 yards down field, instead completing a 23-yard pass to surprise game-star Danny Vandervoort. Five plays later Vandervoort scored his second touchdown to make it a 19-15 game, pending convert.

Yes, then we get to the convert. Oh my goodness.

Honestly? I was a huge fan of going for two points. Make it, as they did, and a field goal on the next drive would be for the win. That’s the major key point here.

I decided against showing some back-of-napkin math, but roughly: you’re saying that you have a better chance of putting that one ball in the end zone for two points than you do of winning in overtime. Comparing the historical two-point success rate of 56 percent — rough estimate — to a 45 to 50 percent chance Edmonton wins in overtime as an inferior team to Saskatchewan gives you a sense.

It’s actually very similar to scoring a touchdown on the last play of a game to be one-point down and going for two and the win. To get statistical, it’s also better to keep the sample small if you want the upset, so angling to win one play beats angling to win a one possession battle.

It is very easy to overlook that getting to overtime is not itself a win or an upcoming guaranteed win, but rather a toss up. Coaches love ‘playing it safe’ even at the expense of better winning chances. ‘Let’s just get to OT, then worry about it when we get there.’ For emphasis: it’s a huge deal to be able to kick a field goal for the win from 19-17 than the tie from 19-16.

I don’t know what happened in Jaime Elizondo’s head, but I was in stunned disbelief that after drawing a pass interference call in the end zone he tried to change his mind and kick the single point instead of going for a quarterback sneak for two points. If I had to guess, he somehow believed they had to get something back after missing an earlier two-point attempt to go from 19-9 to 19-11, and then realized mid-attempt that was wrong.

First of all, the odds of converting an “and-one” sneak are something like 90 percent. Your odds are way, way better than they were thirty seconds ago. That’s literally the same chance as converting a standard one point kick. Why are you changing your mind?

The second part is that you aren’t allowed to change your mind once you choose to go for a one or two-point convert. So Elizondo blatantly didn’t know the rules of the game, but was forced into making a smarter decision than he wanted. I’ll just say that my already low confidence in Elizondo’s ability to lead the Elks back from the unexplored depths they’ve found themselves in continues to fade.

The convert part, though, all worked out. They made it. Unfortunately Sean Whyte’s onside kick was too deep and easily snared by Duke Williams. It’s another terrible look that, still with a chance of forcing a two-and-out and earning one more possession, the Elks took a too many men penalty which put Saskatchewan in field goal range, though they converted a second down to end the game instead.

The little things

While we’re talking about Elizondo: he lost a challenge that was probably not worth throwing, though not egregious. And he called a timeout at an appropriate moment with three minutes and 28 seconds left, which in this season is one of the rare things worth cheering.

With Jason Maas in-house, it was almost disappointing that Edmonton didn’t kick a field goal as soon as they got to the Rider 23-yard line, first-and-10 at the one minute and 48-second mark down 19-9.

The sad spot

Whyte made a 15-yard field goal to open the scoring, but came up a couple yards short on a 50-yard attempt before halftime. With the onside kick too, not his best night.

The brightest spot

With Kyran Moore out and Shaq Evans matched up primarily against rookie Nafees Lyon, it was very likely that Evans would get a ton of targets.

He did, in fact with 12 of them. But I am tremendously impressed that he only caught six for 51 yards, so huge props to Lyon who also brought in an interception on Saskatchewan’s first offensive play. Lyon had tight coverage all night as the Riders tried over and over to get Evans going, and it turned out to be Jonathan Rose who allowed Evans’s sixth catch that sealed the game.

I was fully expecting Maas to light the place on fire from the start, but the deep ball to Evans backfired. Shame they couldn’t take advantage.

Honourable mention

Walter Fletcher filled in admirably at running back for James Wilder Jr. 14 carries for 74 yards is good, and individually so is five receptions for 66 yards. I’ve long preferred speed backs to power backs, though Wilder Jr. and William Stanback are probably close to ideal combinations. The downside is that running back touches, barring an excellent performance, aren’t very good at earning the offence points, which Friday was another good example of.

As for the patchwork receiver group without Derel Walker or Greg Ellingson, it went better than might have been expected. Cornelius’s 35 passes were very spread out, with only Armanti Edwards getting more than five in his direction. He only caught two of eight, so not a great return to the lineup.

Jalen Tolliver led the way with 75 yards, though Vandervoort will obviously be the one remembered from this game. It was amusing to hear Glen Suitor praise Nick Marshall’s ability to ‘bait’ quarterbacks to throw at a visually open receiver before making a play, and then later see Marshall let Vandervoort run past him and be very wide open for Cornelius on the first touchdown.

Looking ahead, I think Tolliver has a place on next year’s team as at worst a sixth receiver, and then there will need to be decisions made on the large group of capable Canadians as well as the big men Walker and Ellingson.

What to do with Taylor Cornelius?

You tell me: how do you balance three points and 146 yards through 45 minutes, including zero yards in the third quarter, with 194 fourth quarter yards and two touchdowns?

It was a relatively good performance. I definitely want Cornelius in Elks training camp next spring. But when he throws at least four passes that bounce off Roughrider hands, I would still rather see Dakota Prukop or Nick Arbuckle — when he’s ready — in the game. Cornelius went 21-of-35 and a 60 percent completion rate isn’t bad when you factor in a lot of deep throws, and I continue to love his ability to extend plays. Although, he’s not at the point where you can be confident he’ll be the reason you win.

That fourth quarter carried the offence to a very good 7.0 yards per play. But as always, we can’t overlook the negatives and especially in this game, the narrow dodges. They didn’t turnover the ball at all, but in addition to the handful of interceptable passes Cornelius fumbled once when he wasn’t aware of A.C. Leonard tracking him down from behind. And there were a couple passes where it was hard to tell who exactly he was throwing to.

I’ll try to be positive: this is a game that can reasonably be built on.

The newest guy

I want to comment briefly on Arbuckle’s contract extension. First off, I’m happy to see it. He’s a very decent quarterback and I think he has a ceiling above what he’s already shown. As for the money, there was a lot of complaining along the lines of: ‘He hasn’t even played a snap for Edmonton yet.’ So, how do you feel about free agency every year? You wouldn’t blink if it happened in February, and while I understand many feel general manager Brock Sunderland shouldn’t be allowed to make these decisions anymore, on individual merit it’s a very reasonable move.

Sunny-side up

The defence put up another good performance. Aside from a couple individual weeks, they’ve been really good, and especially with last week’s performance it was good to see a bounce back — although, Saskatchewan’s offence isn’t the most testing. The Riders’ first quarter saw one of two passes completed for five yards, with an interception, and three carries for zero yards — nice start.

Ultimately, Cody Fajardo kept up his trend of middling performances, with 241 yards, one touchdown and one interception with 44 yards on the ground. Their leading receiver was Kian Schaffer-Baker, with 65 yards, and William Powell was completely contained on the ground with just over three yards per carry and 46 yards total. It wasn’t great for them, but it was enough.

I didn’t have especially strong impressions of whether the Elks were getting much pressure on Fajardo. Funnily, all three Elks sacks were courtesy of Derrick Moncrief, though a few other players got hits in on Fajardo.

The only really big play allowed was when Aaron Grymes had decent coverage but got “Duke’d” by Duke Williams just before Saskatchewan’s only touchdown. 19 points allowed, once again you wish the offence could have kept up.

Typical

1) Terry Williams was getting offensive snaps as a rotational running back, and it was very exciting. He got hurt early and made a limited impact with seven yards from scrimmage and not much more on his returns.

2) A Kaare Vedvik punt bounced past Earnest Edwards and happened to jump out at the Elk five-yard line — a 75-yard punt.

3) Not only can Edmonton hardly block for their returners and only occasionally contain opposing ones, they can barely block for their punter. I recall feeling like Hugh O’Neill has taken a long time to get a couple of punts away this season, but Friday night alone one was tipped and another nearly blocked, such a ridiculous issue.

Three, two, one

This was a ‘win now’ year, not a ‘rebuild’ year.

B.C.’s loss to Hamilton meant a three-way tie in the West was impossible and the Elks were officially eliminated from contention. Now the part we’ve all been waiting for: three meaningless (playoff-wise) games in seven days. It starts in Regina on November 13.

Mike Ludwig enjoys math, chess, and football, all of which are kind of related. He lives in Edmonton and does not endorse Rod Black's metaphors. Follow him on twitter at @CityOfChamps14.