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View From The South: Kudos to Riders, Ticats, Argos in Week 6!

A week of easy picks turned out not so easy after all, but who could be dissatisfied with the exciting results of CFL week five? Kudos to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for truly earning their first win in the Chris Jones Era, while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have got to be pleased to be going into the bye week (and the maybe, yes, probably, possibly, return of savior QB Zach Collaros) with a nice 3-2 mark.

More specifically, below run the takeaways from the week that was.

Calgary Stampeders 33, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 18. The numbers were all against the Bombers going in. Among the facts revisited in a rant off from Matt Dunigan and Milt Stegall on the TSN pregame show: The Bombers can’t win at home; the Bombers can’t score in the first half; the Stamps’ seven-game win streak against Winnipeg; Paul LaPolice’s offense on 1st and 10 is awful … and, at this point, it’s fairly patently obvious that these Bombers are hardly a history-defying lot.

Despite the bizarre write-up on the league’s official website which may have been dispatched from another universe, the Bombers lived down to expectations while barely testing the Stampeders on either side of the ball. Bo Levi Mitchell started somewhat slowly but got his Stamps out to a 17-3 lead after just over 17 minutes of playing time. When Matt Nichols showed that the Bombers can be lifelike with a quarterback who can reliably throw deep, the Stamps offense snapped out of garbage time mode to stomp 72 yards for a touchdown, killing four minutes of clock along with the Bombers’ desperate hopes.

At least two things now seem certain: The Stampeders are among the CFL’s top-flight teams and Drew Willy won’t be starting next week.

Saskatchewan Roughriders 30, Ottawa RedBlacks 29. How many times in a top-level professional football league have you seen a team field a left guard and a QB, each starting in his first game in said league? And how often does that team win? Against the no. 1 team in said league, no less? Sure, the Riders first win came against third-string QB Brock Jensen after the white-hot Trevor Harris left the game early with a knee injury, but the Riders were running with unknown and unproven quantities as well, Josiah St. John and Mitchell Gale chief among the X-factors.

While St. John had his hands full with Zach Evans, who torched the Riders for three sacks, Gale nevertheless looked steady in the pocket and ultimately turned in a nice stat line of 21-of-36 for 354 yards and one TD against zero picks against a pass defense which had appeared to be improving over the past three weeks. His compatriot Jensen was good on 20 of 29 attempts for 271 yards and *two* TDs against zero picks.

So … not only did the RedBlacks start the season with the best no. 2 quarterback, they also have the best no. 3? Is that fair?

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 37, Edmonton Eskimos 31. How long has it been since the Eskimos won the Grey Cup? On Saturday, it looked like a long time indeed, with sorry play in all aspects of the game over the last 30 minutes. And amazing it was to see the veneer of a champion stripped away with the CFL record for consecutive completions – by Jeremiah Masoli, no less: A dude always intended to be a placeholder until the return of franchise QB Zach Collaros.

The woes began with the normally reliable offensive line, which crumbled to the tune of back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs leaving MOP candidate Mike Reilly and two of the league’s premier WRs in Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker stunningly irrelevant as the game was put into the hands of the Eskimos D. As Masoli (Masoli!) had his way with the Eskimos, the defending champs inexplicably brought no pressure to bear on the QB – geez, after the 12th or 13th straight completion, don’t you kinda want to, you know, take a chance or two to dare the guy to go deep.

Once again, Edmonton gave us far too many points for even a super-powered offense to contend with; the Eskimos have now surrendered 568.5 total yards per game. The only defenses more generous are those of the Argonauts (at 590.5) and the Blue Bombers (575.4).

Toronto Argonauts at Montreal Alouettes – It doesn’t take Ricky Ray in his prime – though the Argonauts QB did turn in a fantastic line of 29-for-34 for 325 yards and three TDs against zero picks –  to beat these Alouettes when they’re so busy beating themselves. Kevin Glenn (now at exactly .500 lifetime as a starter) pitched a nifty 45-yarder on the opening drive and a 61-yarder in the third, but these completions accounted for over 50% of his total yardage until the final garbage-time drive. Montreal got flagged seven times in the first half, even taking away an end-zone interception, only to … well, draw more flags in the second half – like the three times in the single drive following a turnover gifted the Als on Anthony Coombs’ fumble or the fourth-quarter roughing the kicker penalty which killed two more minutes of game clock in Toronto’s favor.

Even hastily substituting Logan Kilgore for the injured Ray wasn’t enough; heck, the Alouettes even matched wounded for wounded when Glenn temporarily exited with a leg injury four plays after Ray left. On top of everything else, Boris Bede’s three rouges on three field goal attempts left another six points on the field, which a team averaging under 15 points per game might’ve used…

Call it confirmation bias if you wish, but I call this game further proof that nothing is going right for the 2016 Montreal Alouettes and fewer indications of a turnaround are apparent every week.

Oh yeah, congratulations to the Argos for taking their first-ever win at BMO Field.

Weird Canadian News Story of the Week

This part of View From The South typically begins with a snarky comment about how Canada is in fact an entirely different country. This week, a couple of Pokemon Go-obsessed youngsters proved this literally true.

In retrospect, the weirdest aspect of a possibly illegal border crossing into Sweet Grass, Montana, from Coutts, Alberta, is that it didn’t happen sooner. If you haven’t heard the story, you can probably fill in the blanks already: the pair of teenagers were reportedly so involved in their hunt for Pokemon that they “wandered across” the border. Border patrol agents rounded them up and returned the clueless lads to their mother in Coutts; no word on whether either caught that sneaky border-jumping Squirtle or Mewtwo.

One wonders what Donald Trump’s Pokemon border-crossing policy is…

Next week

Hamilton vs. Bye – So here the Tiger-Cats are, likely to the point of the CFL schedule that fandom has awaited for nearly a year. Tentative rumors have Zach Collaros, franchise QB upon whom a great many hopes are placed – returning to the field after the bye week. As the starter, Jeremiah Masoli has gotten the Ticats to 3-2. Personally speaking, I’m still skeptical of the Collaros-as-cure-all theory, but the Ticats showed last week in the second half that they can spin the scoreboard without him. Look out, CFL – the beast is awakening…

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Edmonton Eskimos – The Blue Bombers remain difficult to take very seriously. Sure, the Nichols-to-Jamaal Westerman combination looked pretty good in the fourth quarter against Calgary, but we can apply an asterisk for at least a partial garbage-time qualifier. And Nichols is certainly better-equipped with the arm strength to pick on Eskimos defenders deep than is Willy. Regardless, let’s wait to see if the Bombers can actually get started in the first half before picking ‘em to win … Eskimos win by less than a touchdown.

Saskatchewan Roughriders at Montreal Alouettes – Saskatchewan is looking forward; Montreal is spinning its wheels. And the Alouettes get a three-day break? Come on, now … Saskatchewan wins by double digits.

BC Lions at Calgary Stampeders – The two most complete teams in the CFL right now square off in this early-season rematch. BC did just enough not to lose at home in opening week, coming away with the 20-18 victory over a sluggish Stamps side. Calgary hasn’t looked nearly as bad since while the BC defense rallying around the fully recovered Solomon Elimimian looks sharper than it has in years: They’re quire probably the league’s best going into this game. BC gets further pluses from the bye week and the fact that the Stamps OL has yet to face pressure this strong this season. Of course, the Stamps defense could well toy with the notably inconsistent Jonathon Jennings. Or they could be ruined by penalties (stand still, Alex Singleton, dammit!). Or … a million either things either way. I’m going with an extremely close BC Lions win – if only to contradict my Rouge White & Blue podcast co-host Joe Pritchard…

Toronto Argonauts at Ottawa RedBlacks – No word as of this writing as to the return of Andrew Harris, and Henry Burris is at best still a couple of weeks away from returning. Here’s to thinking that, barring massive bye-week makeover, the Argos have found a solution to either their porous defense or shaky offensive line. RedBlacks win.

Next week: The RedBlacks’ fourth-string quarterback leads Ottawa to a comeback against the Argonauts, thereby setting up a rarely-seen four-way quarterback controversy. Not to be outdone, Alouettes GM/head coach/dark overlord Jim Popp signs Johnny Manziel.