Carved up like turkey: nine thoughts on Hamilton’s 38-13 win over the Riders

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats dismantled the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 38-13 on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Mashed Mosaic

It may have been against a lesser opponent but Hamilton’s win over Saskatchewan was the most dominant this team has looked in any game all season.

It wasn’t just the score or the margin of victory, the Ticats manhandled the Riders in every conceivable way. The Tabbies amassed 546 yards of offence to Saskatchewan’s 307. It was the most yards they have put up in a game all season and just the second time the team eclipsed 400 yards this year.

The Tiger-Cats averaged 9.4 yards per play and 16 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers are absurd. They also had five pass plays go for over 30 yards, racked up 26 first downs and punted just once. Offensively speaking, this was the most complete performance we have seen from the Tabbies all year.

It also came in a place where this team has struggled. The win ends a six-game losing streak in Regina and it marked Hamilton’s first win at the “new” stadium in Saskatchewan, having lost in their five previous games since the new version of Mosaic Stadium opened in 2017.

Portion control

The Ticats took an interesting approach to this one at the quarterback position. Bo Levi Mitchell made his return to the lineup and played the entirety of the first quarter and then gave way to Matthew Shiltz, who piloted the offence the rest of the game. It was clear that the purpose of this was to get Mitchell some in-game reps before fully handing the reins back to him in the coming weeks. It also gave Shiltz a chance to pick up where he left off a week ago. The results were better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

The pair combined to complete 80 percent of their 25 pass attempts for 400 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Mitchell went four-of-six for 129 yards and one touchdown toss, while Shiltz went 16-of-19 for 271 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Shiltz looked as Shiltz tends to look but the story was how Mitchell faired.

For the first time since this year, Mitchell looked somewhat like the player he was for a decade in Calgary. He was poised in the pocket, seemed decisive in his reads and ripped the ball when he had to. It was also the first game he played this year where he did not throw an interception. It has been a long time since we have seen Mitchell play with this level of confidence and while he could easily revert back into the turnover-prone, indecisive has-been he has looked like recently, it was nice to see him put some good play on tape.

He is not the player he used to be but if he can become a reliable player, the Ticats may have added their most important piece at just the right time.

Head chef

When the Tabbies were mired in their slow start, calls for heads were frequent. The team sacked offensive coordinator Tommy Condell in a move that has worked out better than anyone could have expected. It wasn’t long after that those pitchforks were aimed at head coach Orlondo Steinauer.

Cries of “He’s lost the room” and “Maybe he was never that good of a coach” were loud and constant but they have quieted down in recent weeks as the team has won five of their last seven.

It might be wise in the future to remember that Steinauer did not forget how to coach overnight and that his flirtation with the University of Washington a few years ago did not sap him of his desire to be the head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Year in and year out, the Ticats tend to play their best football as the year closes, something every football observer says they want to see, from Walt in the stands downing his 14th tall boy to the guys on TSN’s panel.

It might sound cliche but the Ticats seem to once again be peaking at the right time. A lot of the credit for that is due to coaching. This team, much like the 2021 and 2022 versions, could have folded their tents after a slow start. They didn’t. They battled through all types of adversity and will finish the season with wins over all five West Division teams, just the third time since the year 2000 they have accomplished that feat.

When the Ticats inevitably start 1-3 or 2-4 next season, remember what the man in charge has done previously and give him the benefit of the doubt that he has earned multiple times over.

No leftovers

James Butler’s signing this past offseason was ridiculed by many as an unnecessary overspend by a team that historically has not featured their running back. Maybe they didn’t feature them because they never had one worthy of being featured. They have that now.

Butler was the hammer once again on Saturday, carrying the ball 25 times for 107 tough yards, while also catching five passes for 77 yards. It was his fourth 100-yard outing of the season and his 77 receiving yards were his most in a game as a Tiger-Cat.

Butler became the first Ticats rusher since 2010 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the ground in a season. The last time Hamilton had a back gain 1,000 yards, they were still four years away from playing at Tim Hortons Field, the Ottawa Redblacks did not exist, and Justin Trudeau was in just his second year of holding political office.

We can have the debate about the importance of running backs at another time but it has been well over a decade since Hamilton had someone as reliable as Butler and his weekly excellence tells me he was worth every nickel they spent on him back in February.

Greasy turkey fingers

It wasn’t all biscuits and gravy from the Ticats on Saturday as the team did make some of their characteristic mistakes. Matthew Shiltz threw a bad interception that took at least three points off the board while Kiondre Smith and James Butler both lost fumbles. These miscues will be lost in the otherwise utter domination of the Riders but these are the types of things the team will have to clean up if they hope to make a deeper playoff run this year.

Those errors were mitigated by Hamilton forcing five turnovers of their own as the defence had perhaps their best game of the season, which is saying something considering they held the Calgary Stampeders out of the end zone in last week’s victory.

Perfect plate

Thanksgiving is a somewhat problematic holiday given its roots but I would be lying if I didn’t say it is one of my favourite holidays for one simple reason: the food.

I know food debates have become all the rage, especially amongst various CFL fan bases, and I know turkey’s place in the pantheon of meats is a hotly contested one but nothing says autumn to me like a nice turkey dinner.

I am a simple man, so my perfect Thanksgiving plate would feature a few slices of bird, some mashed potatoes, a heaping helping of Brussels sprouts, some stuffing and a nice layer of gravy on top. Add in a large slice of pumpkin pie with far too much whipped cream for dessert and you have the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

Their Saturday bests

The Ticats broke out their “Made in the Hammer” alternates on the road for the first time and secured their second win while wearing them.

Maybe I will be the only person who finds this interesting but the Ticats have lost both times they wore them for the first time in a season, Week 4 against Edmonton last year and Labour Day against Toronto this year, but are 2-0 in the second game, beating the Redblacks while sporting them in Week 17 a year ago and this weekend against Saskatchewan.

It’s a quirky stat that I will definitely be remembering when picking Tiger-Cats games next season.

Second helpings

With the win, the Tiger-Cats keep themselves in play for second in the East Division but they still need help from someone to make it happen.

The Montreal Alouettes hold the tiebreaker over Hamilton and will need to lose at least once in their next two games to set up a win-and-host final game of the season between themselves and the Ticats.

Montreal’s remaining two non-Hamilton opponents are Ottawa on Monday, who still have a tiny chance to crossover into the West thanks to Hamilton’s win on Saturday, and an already eliminated Edmonton the following week.

The Als are a perfect 8-0 against teams under .500 this year so it will take a big upset in the next two weeks to bring playoff football back to Tim Hortons Field.

Up next

It can be argued that Hamilton’s season began to turn around in late August when the team went into B.C. and stunned the Lions 30-13. The Lions will get a chance to exact a measure of revenge when the two teams meet up on Friday night at Tim Hortons Field.

The Lions are fresh off a heartbreaking collapse against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this past Friday and will need to win if they have any chance to unseat the Bombers for first in the West Division.

The Ticats want to keep their slim chances of hosting a playoff game alive as well and a loss to the Leos would almost assuredly end any chance of that happening.

Friday night will also mark Dane Evans’ return to Hamilton after the team unceremoniously dumped him last year in favour of Bo Levi Mitchell. The Ticats gave Julian Howsare a tribute video when he returned with Calgary last week so I would expect the team will give Evans the same treatment. His tenure with the Tiger-Cats ended poorly but he was a fan favourite and many were upset when the team cut ties with him in the winter. The Ticats do not make the 2019 or 2021 Grey Cups without Evans, so hopefully, the organization will allow the fans to salute Evans and thank him for what he did for the franchise during his Tiger-Cats career.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.