Victories ‘the only stat that matters’ to winless Ticats’ QB Bo Levi Mitchell despite early season resurgence

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has been lighting up the stat sheet early in the 2024 season, but he’s not buying into the narratives around his late-career resurgence.

“Sh*t, the only stat that matters isn’t (better),” Mitchell told the Hamilton media on Friday, referencing his team’s 0-2 start to the year.

“I understand the yards are back up and I get the interest. I don’t remember the last time I threw for 300 yards or three touchdowns or anything like that, so I get the interest from media and fans. Inside the locker room though, the quarterback’s job is to go out there and get a win and there are things that I could have done better.”

The 34-year-old veteran has been on the decline since 2018, struggling to stay healthy and losing his starting gig in Calgary. His first season with the Ticats was a resounding disappointment, seeing him appear in just six games while tossing 10 interceptions compared to six touchdowns.

2024 has been a wildly different story thus far, with Mitchell putting up 680 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions through two games. Last Sunday’s loss to Saskatchewan was his finest performance in six years, as he looked like the best player in the stadium while throwing for 380 yards and three majors — numbers which would have been higher if not for a few pivotal drops.

Still, the Katy, Tex. native isn’t celebrating his statistical brilliance while his team remains winless.

“We had eight two-and-outs. If we don’t have eight two-and-outs in that game, the defence isn’t on the field as long as they were, we kill more of the clock and we can end that game,” he noted. “That’s what I look at in that game. I don’t look at that game and think ‘Oh, I’m back. I’m myself.'”

Those watching the games tend to disagree, as the two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player looks to have found the fountain of youth with recovered arm strength and improved mobility. That was exactly what Hamilton was hoping to unlock when they renegotiated Mitchell’s deal this offseason, locking in the highly motivated gunslinger at a heavily discounted rate rather than cutting ties.

At the time, that decision raised eyebrows. New head coach Scott Milanovich and Mitchell seemed like odd bedfellows after the veteran was publicly benched for a playoff game during his brief tenure as offensive coordinator. Nevertheless, the organization made clear that they expected an Anthony Calvillo-like renaissance from their aging star by pairing him with the noted quarterback guru.

“You’ve gotta give a lot of credit to Scott. He spent a lot of time, a lot of man hours taking a guy that has been playing the game a certain way. And I’ve been hard-headed in my past as well,” Mitchell acknowledged. “You’ve just got to swallow your pride, just listening to him and taking in what he says. He’s a smart dude, he’s coached a lot of great quarterbacks, so I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him every day.”

Milanovich has clearly been pleased with his quarterback’s progress, complimenting his performance after both games and telling reporters that Mitchell is ahead of where he expected him to be. That assessment feels fair to Bo, who knows there is a lot left to be done before he meets his coach’s lofty expectations.

“Just from our personal conversations, he knew there were a lot of habits that I’ve had over the past — good, bad, whatever they are — that are not necessarily the way that he wants things done. I think what he’s alluding to is me breaking those habits,” he explained.

“It’s gonna take a while to not back tall out of a drop and just do certain things. We have our things that I need to work on to get better at and I’m working on those every single day. Sometimes that habit still comes out, but I think he just means that I’m ahead on some of those things.”

While undoing 12 years of pro football programming may be a gruelling process, Mitchell confesses he’s having fun doing it. He’s throwing tighter spirals than he has in the past and offseason work with strength and conditioning coach Marcellus Bowman has him moving quicker than ever before.

“I think my feet are underneath me a lot more. I feel more active in the pocket, I feel like I’m moving around better,” Mitchell remarked. “I have such a good o-line that I don’t have to make two or three guys miss or get the ball out because that many guys are coming free. If there’s somebody coming free, it’s one guy and if I can sidestep that guy and get out, they’re gonna get hands back on him and we have another hole to find a lane to throw through.”

“I think that’s something I’ve always done well, but just having my feet underneath me is again something that Scott has been trying to implement this whole time. If I keep my base, keep my feet underneath me, and move around then I can be dangerous.”

That newfound dangerousness will need to translate into wins sooner or later, preferably when the Ticats visit the Riders (2-0) for a rematch on Sunday, June 23 at 7:00 p.m. EDT

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.