Ottawa Crums up short (& nine other thoughts on losing to the Ticats)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

For the fourth week in a row, the outcome of Ottawa’s game hinged on the last play. This time, the Redblacks came up short, falling to the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a score of 16-12 at on a rainy night at TD Place.

Here are all my thoughts on the game.

1) Young quarterbacks have growing pains, it’s a normal and unavoidable part of their development. Last night, Dustin Crum had some, completing just 59 percent of the passes he attempted for 158 yards and an interception. Too often, Crum failed to make good reads and held onto the ball too long, which led to sacks or short gains when flushed out of the pocket.

A big reason why the 24-year-old has been so successful is due to his mobility, but that reliance on his legs got him into trouble against Hamilton. Despite finishing the night with 82 yards on the ground, it took 13 scrambles to get there. Crum’s ability to run the football was effectively bottled up and his longest gain of the night was just 12 yards.

Most concerning were the numerous heavy collisions he was involved in. The Ticats did nothing dirty, but they made sure to finish each hit. More than once they caught Crum with a good shot and while his desire to constantly fight for more yardage is commendable, it’s also dangerous. There’s simply no way his body can hold up to that kind of punishment for another 11+ weeks. Given that Ottawa’s on their fourth-string quarterback, coaches need to drill into his head that it’s okay to slide once in a while.

2) When your young quarterback is struggling, it’s hard to call the game, but offensive coordinator Khari Jones could have done more to help his young pivot. Although the Redblacks have had plenty of success in recent weeks with RPOs (run-pass options), Hamilton’s defence was well-prepared. By stubbornly insisting on those calls, Ottawa handicapped their offence. The Redblacks also failed to adequately counter the Ticats’ aggressive pass rush, waiting until the game’s final drive before calling a screen play, which wound up being super effective.

As much as Crum wasn’t seeing the field well, Jones has to ensure his star players get involved early. Neither Nate Behar nor Jaelon Acklin had a target in the first half and their first catches of the game came in the third and fourth quarter respectively.

Of the Redblacks’ 15 possessions, 11 gained less than 16 yards. What really killed Ottawa was that they averaged just 3.8 yards per second-down play, which led to them converting only 19 percent of their second-down opportunities. To put that into context, over their previous two wins, the Redblacks were converting 52 percent of their second-down opportunities. Mix in two turnovers and going 0-for-2 in the red zone, and it’s not hard to see why they lost a one-score game.

It’s easy to play armchair offensive coordinator after the fact but I really didn’t like the decision to load up in a heavy formation to try to run the ball up the gut with Ante Milanovic-Litre on second-and-two from the Ticats’ four-yard line with 36 seconds left.

To start with, it was only Litre’s second carry of the game and the play was extremely telegraphed by the personnel on the field. Plus, handing the ball off five yards behind the line of scrimmage doesn’t make a ton of sense when they could’ve instead run a quarterback sneak with Tyrrell Pigrome, who was averaging 2.7 yards per attempt. Even if Pigrome had only gained a yard, Ottawa would’ve had another chance to move the sticks on third-and-one.

The counterpoint to my argument is that since training camp both head coach Bob Dyce and Jones have preached being a hard-nosed, physical team and with the game on the line. The coaching staff put their words into action, showing faith in those big bodies to get the job done. Unfortunately, they did not.

At the end of the day, more than the play-calling on the goal line, what really cost Ottawa the win was turning four interceptions — I’m not counting Brandin Dandridge’s pick since the offence never took the field — into just six points. That was never going to be enough.

3) Given that running back Devonte Williams was averaging 6.6 yards per carry and that he busted off three runs of 10+ yards, Jones should have called his number more than eight times. Williams also caught two passes for 43 yards.

A week after being used extremely effectively as a change of pace back, Litre was handed the ball twice and gained a single yard.

4) In his first game as a Redblack, Shaq Evans turned five targets into one catch for 14 yards. He had a pair of drops and seemingly could have done more to come back to the ball on a play that resulted in an interception.

Justin Hardy was the Redblacks’ most productive receiver, hauling in five passes for 65 yards, with 36 of them coming after the catch. As mentioned above, Acklin and Behar were afterthoughts in the passing attacking, registering a pair of catches each for a total of 17 and 16 yards.

The catch of the night goes to second-year centre Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, who gained three yards by snagging a deflected ball in the red zone — likely preventing an interception — on the game’s final drive.

5) It was not a great night from the offensive line. It’s always a bad look when you give up seven sacks, but as I noted earlier, the quarterback has a role to play in some of those takedowns. And just like Crum’s growing pains, R-Nation needs to keep in mind that the team’s right tackle — the second overall pick of the 2022 draft, Zack Pelehos — is in his first season as a starter. As he cuts his teeth, sometimes his inexperience will be exposed.

In addition to the pass protection struggles, the group came up short when the coaches put the game in their hands, getting stuffed for no gain on second-and-two near the goal line. Expect a fired-up group next week as they look to wash the taste of this loss from their mouths.

6) Although Barron Miles’ defence got killed on second down, conceding 7.1 yards per play en route to allowing Hamilton to convert 50 percent of their second-down opportunities, that should have been more than offset by the five turnovers the unit generated.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

When the defence gifts the offence four interceptions, while also forcing seven punts and allowing the opposing team to score on just three of their 15 possessions, that should be a winning effort.

Linebacker Frankie Griffin led the way with an interception and a game-high 11 tackles, with three of them being for a loss.

In his first game back from injury, Cariel Brooks had three tackles, two knockdowns and dropped sure-fire interception. Veteran defensive back Abdul Kanneh was officially credited with a single tackle, but by my count, he had three to go along with his interception.

7) I hope R-Nation appreciates Lewis Ward. Yet again Ward was perfect, splitting the uprights from 50, 40, 54 and 15 yards out. The 30-year-old has made 17 of the 18 field goals he’s attempted this season and is currently on a streak of 16 in a row.

Richie Leone was excellent punting, angling his kicks with great precision and pinning the Ticats deep more than once. Leone punted nine times for 447 yards, averaging a field positional flip of 39.3 yards. That number would be much higher if not for the cover units missing multiple tackles and allowing Tyreik McAllister to average 15.5 yards per return. The special teams tackle of the night goes to Gary Johnson Jr. for his thunderous hit in the second quarter.

8) On the night that they honoured the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Grey Cup-winning Rough Rider team, the Redblacks once again used their throwback helmet decals. The big, white, notched R minus the saw blade drew the most attention, but the striping down the middle is what really makes the helmet pop. With new jerseys on the way in 2024, the team cannot make the full-time switch to this helmet fast enough.

9) I really hated to see Bo Levi Mitchell carried off the field on the game’s penultimate play. There’s been plenty of criticism directed at Ticats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer for putting him in that situation, but let’s not forget that if not for Kenneth George Jr.’s bonehead objectionable conduct penalty following the turnover on downs, Hamilton isn’t backed up to their two-yard line and doesn’t have to run a sneak. They could’ve simply kneeled in victory formation without worrying about conceding a safety.

10) With the loss, the Redblacks squandered a golden opportunity to cement their hold on second place in the East Division.

In regards to the Ticats specifically, this loss isn’t just a four-point swing in the standings. It also means that Ottawa has now lost their season series with Hamilton, regardless of what happens in their Week 14 matchup. As such, if the Redblacks finish with the same record as the Ticats, they’ll be below them in the standings.

Up next for Dyce’s squad is a trip to Regina for a Sunday night matchup with the Roughriders.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).