Scott Milanovich ‘disappointed’ in Ticats 36-20 loss to Saskatchewan (& eight other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats fell to 0-3 on the season after a 36-20 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday. Below are my thoughts on the contest.

What was he thinking?

I’ve generally liked what Scott Milanovich has done with the Ticats offence since joining the team last year, but it’s safe to say his decision-making at crucial points of the game has been his Achilles heel. Milanovich has made some head-scratching choices through the first three weeks, including his decision to go for an onside kick with just over six minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

“We put ourselves in a hole. Honestly, I put this game on me. I didn’t get them ready to play at the start of the game, I didn’t call a good enough game on offence,” Milanovich told reporters postgame. “It’s my job to put these guys in positions to win and, to get off to a start like that, that one’s on me.”

“I think everybody’s very disappointed, I know I am — I’ll only speak for myself. I’m disappointed with the way we played, we were outcoached tonight. The buck stops with me and I’ve gotta do a better job for these guys.”

Hamilton had just brought the game to within 14 points and we all know six minutes is almost an eternity in the CFL. Why not kick it deep and trust your defence to potentially force a two-and-out, especially with Trevor Harris out of the game? Saskatchewan got the ball back because Hamilton recovered the onside attempt before it travelled 10 yards and scored to make it a three-score game again, thus putting it out of reach.

If you can’t trust your defence to get a stop against an inexperienced quarterback, how are you going to expect them to stop anyone else?

Where is Tim White?

The disconnect between all-star receiver Tim White and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has been the biggest storyline in the Tabbies’ poor start to the 2024 campaign. White had five drops over Hamilton’s first two games, three of which would likely have gone for touchdowns. Mitchell came to the receiver’s defence after last week’s loss, stating he believed the drops would be a “blip” by the end of the season.

On Sunday, White was targeted six times and finished with zero catches. It’s clear that Hamilton wants White to be a big part of the offence, but he’s clearly struggling through a rough patch and needs to find his confidence again.

Over the course of his CFL career, White has notoriously been a slow starter. In his previous two full seasons, White had 509 and 454 yards through the first half of the season before finishing with 756 and 815 yards over the back nine.

He’s one of the league’s elite pass catchers, so one would think he’ll sort out his issues and turn his game around, but the Ticats need him to do that sooner rather than later after falling into yet another 0-3 hole.

Over the Bridge(s)

A winless start can make it tough to find any positives but one of the lone bright spots through the first three games has been the play of first-year receiver Shemar Bridges.

The former Baltimore Raven registered nine receptions for 113 yards and a 41-yard touchdown against Saskatchewan. He’s made 22 receptions for 270 yards and two touchdowns in 2024 and has proven to be a reliable option for Mitchell, especially with Tim White going through his early-season struggles.

Bridges was one of the stars of Hamilton’s training camp and it appears he’s continuing that trajectory into the regular season.

Defensive woes

Through three games, Mark Washington’s defence has allowed 32, 33, and 36 points. It’s awfully hard to win in the CFL when you’re consistently asking your offence to score 35-plus points per game to have a chance to win, but that’s where the black and gold find themselves in the early going of this season.

It’s not like the defence is just giving up points, either, as they’re also giving up a ton of yardage. The Ticats have the third-worst passing defence in the CFL, giving up 860 passing yards through three games while also being in the bottom half at stopping the run with 250 yards allowed on the ground.

The defence has a lot of new faces, which will earn them a bit of slack, but it’s getting to the point where positive results are needed or else changes will be made, both on the field and in the defensive staff.

Turnovers galore

In their first three games, Hamilton has lost the turnover battle 7-1 with five of those turnovers coming in Sunday’s loss.

Bo Levi Mitchell had three interceptions and a fumble, while Lawrence Woods III set the tone for what would be a rough rest of the day by putting the ball on the carpet during the opening kickoff. Hamilton’s lone takeaway came off a Jamal Peters interception midway through the first quarter, which was followed by Hamilton going two and out and immediately giving the ball back to Saskatchewan’s offence.

I feel like I’m beating the same dead horse here, but Hamilton has struggled mightily to win the turnover battle over the past two seasons and that trend is well on its way to continuing in 2024.

The Butler struggles

After ripping off 119 yards on 13 carries in the season-opener against Calgary, James Butler has struggled to produce much of anything over the past two games. In Week 2, Butler had 12 carries for 27 yards, averaging 2.3 yards per carry and followed that up by averaging two yards a touch with five carries for 10 yards in Week 3.

Butler is one of Hamilton’s most important weapons on offence, so if they’re going to dig their way out of this 0-3 hole, he’ll need to closer resemble the player he was in the first week of the season, rather than the player who combined for 37 yards the past two weeks.

Scary Woods

The play of returner Lawrence Woods III has been uninspiring at best this season. He fumbled off the opening kickoff on Sunday, resulting in the Riders going up 7-0, and followed that up with some poor decisions in the return game.

Woods didn’t allow an Adam Korsak punt to roll into the end zone for a single, a decision that backed Hamilton up near their own goal line. Three plays later, former Ticats’ linebacker Jameer Thurman intercepted Mitchell and returned it for a touchdown. Woods seems tentative to hit the hole and has consistently put Hamilton’s offence in less than ideal field position, both on kickoffs and punt returns.

His lack of early-season production leads me to wonder if Hamilton considers making a change at that spot in the next couple of weeks with hopes of igniting the return game.

Special tribute

I want to end this off by recognizing two people who were honoured by the Roughriders before the game — former player and executive Jim Hopson and former TSN anchor Darren Dutchyshen, both of whom passed away within the last few months.

It was a fitting tribute to two people who loved the Canadian Football League and were influential in their own ways to helping the league find growth and success. I’m glad fans were able to have a public moment of celebration in honour of the two men, as they will both be sorely missed.

Up next 

After a string of West Division opponents to start the season, the Ticats will travel to the nation’s capital in search of their first win against the Ottawa Redblacks on June 30.

Hamilton won all three matchups against Ottawa last season but the new-look Redblacks have improved their roster and will make for a tough test for the winless Tabbies, who need a victory before going into the bye week.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-3) will visit the Ottawa Redblacks (1-1) on Sunday, June 30 with kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m. EDT.

Troy Durrell is a University of Calgary and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology graduate. He covers the CFL and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.