WINNIPEG — On Friday night the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will square off against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the first time since the 108th Grey Cup last December, and fans (especially Hamilton fans) surely haven’t forgotten about last years 33-25 overtime thriller which saw the Bombers emerge victorious.
The Tiger-Cats will look to put a 33-30 Week 2 overtime loss to Calgary behind them, while the Blue Bombers carry a 2-0 record into the contest after a pair of wins over Ottawa to open the season.
The Ticats offensive line allowed quarterback, Dane Evans to find time in the pocket last Saturday, throwing for 425 yards and three touchdowns against the Stampeders. Not only did Evans find success against the Stamps through the air, he also led the team in rushing with six carries for 22 yards.
On Friday, Evans and the Ticats will need to be firing on all cylinders against a Winnipeg defence that held the new-look Ottawa REDBLACKS to under 20 points in both of their wins.
While putting together sustainable dives and scoring points hasn’t seemed to be an issue for Hamilton through their first two games of the season, scoring touchdowns has. As the Ticats quarterback explains, the team needs to improve on finding ways to score touchdowns.
“We need to be better in the red zone,” Evans said in his press availability on ticats.ca. “We’re producing all the way down the field and producing points, but we need to end in touchdowns. We need to finish and not just talk about it.”
The Ticats have recorded 43 points this season, but have scored only four majors, all of which have come from the arm of Evans.
Receivers Tim White, Bralon Addison and Steven Dunbar will look to build on their impressive showing from Week 2. The pair of Ticat receivers combined for 292 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Stamps. White caught 11 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown to lead the way.
After allowing eight sacks to Saskatchewan in Week 1, the Ticats offensive line held Calgary to just one sack on Saturday night. They will need to be ready ahead of Week 3 as they prepare for a Bomber defence led by two of the league’s most revered defensive linemen in Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson.
The Ticats running game has been held in check through two games this season. White led the team in their season opener with 11 rushing yards and Evans’ 22 yards was tops last week.
According to the team’s injury report, Hamilton will be without running back, Don Jackson on Friday. The primary back duties will fall on Sean Thomas-Erlington, who had five carries for 18 yards and added another 72-yards receiving and a touchdown in the overtime loss.
Production with the ground game won’t be easy for the Black and Gold, as the Bombers have allowed just 155 rushing yards and zero rushing touchdowns in their first two games.
Defensively, Hamilton showed off their ability to disguise coverages and bring pressure from different places, as defensive back Tunde Adeleke had a sack on Bo Levi Mitchell, while linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox intercepted a Mitchell throw last week.
The Ticats defence needs to have another solid showing in order to slow Zach Collaros and his plethora of receiving options in Week 3. Collaros completed 15 passes for 212 yards. Receiver, Greg Ellingson caught four of those passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Rookie, Dalton Schoen continues to be a factor for the Bombers to start the year. He brought down a pair of passes for 58 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against Ottawa in Week 2.
As if Ellingson, Schoen, Rasheed Bailey and Nic Demski weren’t enough for the Tabbies secondary to worry about, they’ll need to be aware of Drew Wolitarsky who had 41 receiving yards for the Bombers a week ago.
The Winnipeg receivers will have plenty of opportunity to make plays this week against a Hamilton defence that is allowing an average of 312 yards through the air to start the season.
What makes the Bombers group of receivers so dynamic is that they do a lot more than just catch passes, says head coach Mike O’Shea.
“All these guys have a great understanding of what’s going on in the offence,” O’Shea told BlueBombers.com. “When they look at plays as a whole, they like the fact, and their teammates recognize, when they make a good block or show extra effort to capture another guy to get more yards in the run game. We have a lot of guys that get it.”
When the Bombers look to run the ball on Friday, like their receiver room, they’ll have options.
Brady Oliveira carried the ball 14 times for 48 yards in their Week 2 win. If it’s not given to Oliveira, it will likely go to Johnny Augustine who has 10 carries and 53 yards this season.
While the ground game continues to find its footing early in the season, head coach Mike O’Shea has liked the improvement his running game has shown.
“I think we got better from Week 1 to Week 2,” said O’Shea. “I think all we can do is keep practicing the way we do. The idea is just to stick with it. We have a great group, a lot of these young guys are mature beyond their years.”
On the defnsive side of the ball, the Bombers have shown why they are so highly regarded through the first two weeks of the season. As a unit they’ve given up just one touchdown this season, while holding the opposition to 29 points through two games.
Linebacker, Kyrie Wilson and defensive tackle Casey Sayles each had a sack against the REDBLACKS in Week 2. As a team the Bombers have four sacks on the year and will look to add to that number against a team that has allowed nine through two games.
The Blue and Gold are looking to stay unbeaten, while the Ticats try to pick up their first win of the new season in a rematch of last two Grey Cups.
Kickoff in Winnipeg is set for 8:30p.m. ET and the game can be seen on TSN, RDS, ESPN2 and can be followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.