The second 30 minutes have been more or less a reprise of the second half of the Yates Cup, with Western grinding down on a team that is not quite as together.
A lot of credit has to go to Western's offensive coaches. The Mustangs, both this week and last week vs. Ottawa, did not run the ball with much success in the first half, but after the break, they began to open some creases for John Leckie and Nathan Riva, just enough to keep them in manageable down-and-distances and keep the clock moving. Defensively, Paul Gleason, who might be one of the country's best co-ordinators, called a great game.
One wonders what Saint Mary's might have been able to do with the services of Erik Glavic, but that is neither here nor there. Western's D played a very good game, bending but not breaking. Whether that approach will work against Laval is another story. Laval is much better equipped to move the ball in 10- and 12-yard chunks, and they demonstrated how well they run the ball against Calgary.
Really, this has boiled down to Western having a fifth-year passer, Michael Faulds, and SMU having freshman Jack Creighton. We've run out of ways to make that point. Creighton, who is going to be very good, threw a 64-yard touchdown that briefly staked the Huskies to a 10-8 first-half lead, but those two interceptions sent an electic shock coursing through the Saint Mary's sideline. Oh, right, this is Canadian football ... you kind of need to have a passing game.
SMU is used to pushing people around, but a bully, once exposed, will sometimes withdraw. Saint Mary's, let's be honest, did nothing in the second half, although the credit for that has to go for Western for shutting the door.
Mike Morreale on The Score repeatedly questioned why Saint Mary's d-backs, a veteran group, were playing off a younger group of Western receivers. It was like picking cherries for a veteran passer such as Faulds. Saint Mary's got three sacks on Faulds by virtue of having great athletes, but overall, his offensive line did an excellent job.
Craig Butler was a very good choice as game MVP ... the Mustangs secondary held up very well and his pick-six, a 57-yard interception-return touchdown, was a backbreaker.
Nathan Riva's status for the Vanier Cup could be in question. He took a helmet in the thigh on Western's first offensive series, and got a knock on the head later on. He is a burner, a track star, but you wonder how well he is built to take the pounding. As for the Vanier Cup, one wonders how well Western will be able to run the ball. The Mustangs' best running play is a toss sweep, and "the semi-pro team from Quebec City" pursues better than anyone.
Early Vanier Cup storylines for Western ;
- Greg Marshall trying to win a Vanier Cup as coach in the town where he previously coached -- by god, are you all sick already of hearing about this? It's university football. It's about university students.
- Riva's status.
- Western's defensive line against Laval's offensive line, which cleared out Concordia's and Calgary's front sevens pretty well in the past two games. Today was the first time all season that anyone ran for more than 200 yards against Western, but it did not translate into much for Saint Mary's.
- How well their receivers, who no less a source than Morreale called, "mostly possession receivers," will do against Laval's linebackers and deep backs. Faulds has shown he can hit those 15- to 20-yard passes in between levels of a Cover-2 or Cover-3 defence, but the passing windows slam shut a lot quicker against the Rouge et Or. Laval's linebackers are also pretty good on their pass drops.
- Kicker Darryl Wheeler's state of mind. He's been an immutable until today, when the slippery footing contributed to him going 2-for-5 -- and on his first made field goal, he slipped on his follow-through and sent a line drive that probably never got more than 15 feet off the ground -- but, point being, went through.