A third thorough mauling and seven other thoughts on the Elks getting clawed by the Lions

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

The Edmonton Elks managed to mimic their disastrous season-opening performance with a 46-14 loss in B.C. on Saturday night, giving them a two-game aggregate score of 105-29 against the Lions.

Nathan Rourke is 60-of-66 for 758 yards and eight touchdowns, plus 103 yards and three touchdowns rushing, in those two games. Going back to the last game of 2021, in which Rourke added four more touchdowns, it’s a three-game in-Vancouver total scoreline of 148-39.

By halftime, Rourke was 23-of-26 passing for 386 yards and five touchdowns. He finished 34-of-37 for 477 yards, with a seven-yard touchdown run too.

Wow.

The only surprising thing about the first half on Saturday was that the Elks didn’t send in Mike Beaudry at quarterback after the Lions made it 27-7. Clearly, that score was all Nick Arbuckle’s — sorry, I mean Taylor Cornelius’ — fault. At least that was the precedent Chris Jones set in Week 1 but evidently, he has changed his philosophy since then.

Hot (potato) start

Neither team wanted the ball to start the game. B.C. went two-and-out, Edmonton fumbled the punt and the Lions recovered. B.C. went two-and-out again, this time faking a field goal that was shut down by the Elks, who fumbled again on their first offensive play. Finally, the Lions were the ones to put together a drive, getting Dominique Rhymes his first of three first-half touchdowns six plays later.

In sharp contrast to previous games, the Elks responded to a lost fumble and touchdown drive against with a major of their own. They’ve had a habit of taking one error and immediately committing more on top of it — see Week 3 in Calgary, when they threw an interception and allowed a 28-yard touchdown the very next play. This time, they moved 69 yards in seven plays before Kenny Lawler capped it off nicely.

That was the last positive for about two hours.

Oh deer

Despite having film on Rourke and the 2022 Lions; despite getting player reinforcements from the injury list; despite Duron Carter having a game under his belt, Edmonton’s defence was more helpless than a newborn calf.

B.C.’s yards per play was up around 11.0 for a while before their casual fourth quarter dropped them to 8.6. It didn’t matter whether the Elks sent pressure or dropped into coverage; whether it was first-and-ten, second-and-long, or anything in between — they got beat.

True, the Lions’ receiving core simply isn’t fair: Rhymes had 91 yards and his three scores; Lucky Whitehead had six catches for 148 yards with a 69-yard touchdown; and Keon Hatcher and Bryan Burnham were both in the 80s, with Burnham adding one of his patented sideline majors.

Edmonton couldn’t slow down any of them. The best they had was holding Jevon Cottoy to 26 yards, but he still caught three of his four targets so it seems all that was lacking was an opportunity.

Rourke’s first incompletion was a cold drop by Whitehead, before Nafees Lyon broke up a high pass to Burnham. There was only one more miss in the entire game. I don’t want to take away from the brilliant quarterback performance, but it is easier when the receivers are wide open 80 percent of the time.

As professionals, the Elks can’t just burn the tape, but this is the first time this season that I personally am not going back for a film review. That would be masochistic.

Silky, then grainy

To his credit, Cornelius managed to keep pace with Rourke for a long time. He started six-for-six for 74 yards and the touchdown before missing Ante Milanovic-Litre at the beginning of the second quarter. He looked poised and accurate, finding different receivers in tight spots. The scoring play was another good example of throwing on the run being among his biggest strengths.

It didn’t last, however, as he went on a three-of-eight run en route to finishing 15-of-26 for just 183 yards.

In his defence, protection was not good. The Lions netted five sacks, including three on consecutive third-quarter passing plays. Two of those were back-to-back by former Elks Tibo Debaillie and Mathieu Betts, with the last one resulting in a safety. 

Yet Cornelius pulled out his full arsenal of common mistakes as the game went on, from throws in the dirt to passes over-head and  ‘hope’ balls deep to covered receivers. He also threw one pretty bad interception at the end, though it’s hard to fault him too much given the score. After two big plays on the early scoring drive, Cornelius only completed one-of-eight pass attempts beyond ten yards, plus one that drew a pass interference call thanks to Manny Arceneaux.

It remains positive that he’s not throwing many interceptable passes, but that isn’t enough when your offence only scores 14 points and finishes under 200 net yards. They notched 4.6 yards per play, their second time under 5.0 this year to go with a 4.7 mark against Winnipeg in week 8.

But of course

In eye-rolling fashion, B.C. head coach Rick Campbell got rewarded for having the Lions take a time-count violation on third-and-one before punting from midfield in the early third quarter. Charles Nelson continued his habit of poor return decisions by fielding it at the two-yard line, setting up a safety-sack two plays later. It wasn’t impactful given the scoreboard, but I know multiple numerically-inclined viewers who let out a principled sigh.

The opposite happened shortly after when Nelson returned the next punt from the one-yard line and the Elks went two-and-out. Impressively, they punted from their 7-yard line — as they should have — but Whitehead got a good return and B.C. punished them by scoring a touchdown four plays later.

Sometimes good things happen after bad decisions and bad things happen after good decisions. Hopefully Coach Jones doesn’t reverse course based on one poor outcome, as it seemed he might have after a failed two-point convert earlier this season.

F is for friends who…

The B.C. Lions are fun. Thank you to Rourke, who refuses to regress to a non-incredible level, and to offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic for facilitating it. They are an extremely easy team to cheer for, especially when — speaking hypothetically — your team is 5-17 in the last calendar year and has scored 30 points twice in that time. I don’t know why my colleague J.C. Abbott declined my trade offer to write about the Elks while I took over the Lions…

It is regrettable that the CFL playoff format prevents a B.C. vs. Winnipeg Grey Cup.

Positives

– Jake Ceresna took advantage of a free rush on B.C.’s second play to earn Edmonton’s one sack. A nice impact coming off a multi-week injury.

– Nyles Morgan got to double digits; he had 10 tackles and a forced fumble.

-The Elks’ defence did one thing well: James Butler had 15 carries for 37 yards. Enter that into evidence on the importance of the run.

– Maleek Irons only got two carries but scored his second career touchdown on one of them.

– Sergio Castillo was perfect, hitting two converts.

– Derel Walker had his best receiving game in a long time, with seven catches on nine targets for 91 yards. Only Lawler got over 20 yards otherwise, with two catches for 35 yards and his score.

Next

Edmonton is two wins behind Saskatchewan with a game in hand and tied with Hamilton and Montreal, who sit second in the East at 2-6. Thus, Riders vs. Elks next Saturday night is quite meaningful to the playoff race, even though the Elks have been outscored at a 2-to-1 margin this year – 145 points for to 290 points against.

In homage to when the Elks lost their second game against Ottawa last year, I am going to go have a cupcake.

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.