As each CIS football team is officially eliminated from playoff contention, we'll reflect on what they did this year and compare their results to our expectations.
Up next: the Jekyll-and-Hyde Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Record: 5-4 (5-3 regular season, lost OUA quarter-final 50-33 to Windsor Lancers)
Per-game stats (including playoffs):
Points for: 30.9
Points against: 27.7
Passing yards: 275.7
Rushing yards: 189.6
Passing yards against: 296.8
Rushing yards against: 120.0
Looking back at our preview questions:
Q: Who becomes the new quarterback to replace Hec Crighton-winning Brad Sinopoli, Aaron Colbon or one of four newcomers?
A: Colbon, a fourth-year player from Sir Wilfrid Laurier in Orleans, Ont., became The Man ... or, The Man Who Could Not Make People Forget Brad Sinopoli. That's a terrible label since it is (a) a mouthful to say and (b) no one could replace Brad Sinopoli.
Gee-Gees followers, going back to the late 1990s, have been spoiled by success at quarterback. The line of succession includes two Hec Crighton winners (Sinopoli in 2010 and Phil Côté in 1999), a five-year starter who threw for nearly 10,000 yards (Josh Sacobie) and a dual threat who became a wide receiver in the CFL (David Azzi). At many other programs, Colbon's first year as a starter would rate very well. He was one of OUA's three 2,000-yard passers and his 8.2 yards per attempt was seventh in the country among QBs with at least 150 pass attempts.
The downside is that the counting stats obscured the obvious. Colbon piled up a lot of his 2,052 yards when the Gee-Gees were playing catch-up in road losses at Western, Laurier and McMaster. There were also times when he seemed to be a beat or two late getting the ball out or failed to notice a wide-open receiver downfield. Ottawa also averaged more than one interception per game. In fairness, there were so many cast members to keep track of the receiving corps to track that it almost seemed like a Robert Altman movie, which doesn't sound ideal for any quarterback. Ultimately, Colbon proved himself to be a good game manager. That is enough vs. OUA's lesser lights, but not enough in the arms race against your Austin Kennedys and Kyle Quinlans.
Q: Will the ground game of hometown tailback Brendan Gillanders and returning Franck Ngandui and a retooled defence tide them over until the passing game takes wing?
A: Yay to Gillanders and Ngandui, nay to the defence, which fell apart like Tony La Russa's explanations of his pitching changes in Game 5 of the World Series. Gillanders, aka the 100-Yard Slasher, was well-suited to the Gee-Gees' zone blocking schemes that ask a back to be an aggressive inside runner, but be patient on the outside stretch play before his blockers set up the 'rail' that gives him a path to dart through. Gillanders finished seventh in rushing in CIS with 767 yards, averaging 5.8 per carry. He also finished second in OUA in yards from scrimmage with 974 and tallied a team-high nine touchdowns. Ngandui was a pretty capable change-up back, too.
The defence, though, couldn't hold up. What no one knew in August was that the bills were about to come due, in a matter of speaking, for coach Denis Piché's departure in February 2010. Piché, who guided the Gee-Gees to a Yates Cup in '06, left at the peak of recruiting season, meaning Ottawa basically lost a class. The talent, as a result, was just not there this season. No amount of creating defensive scheming can remedy that shortcoming. Gee-Gees defensive coordinator Cory McDiarmid used a lot of creative, shifting fronts and tried applying max pressure, often to little avail.
Q: Are there sufficient replacements ready to step in and replace the five fifth-year seniors who graduated on both offence and defence?
A: 'Perhaps in time' is the most constructive answer. There were bright spots among the new starters. First and foremost, slotback Simon Le Marquand (867 yards, 15.2 per catch) should be an all-Canadian. The other slot, Bogdan Raic (497 yards, 19.8 per catch), also emerged as a very good complement. Other new pass receivers such as rookie Ian Stewart and Justene Edwards, who did not play until Ottawa's penultimate game, showed they were pretty talented. Young O-linemen such as Devon Millar, Taylor Servais and Adam Valchuk were more than serviceable.
Defensively, though, the Gee-Gees proved wanting. Their stock in trade over the years, sideline-to-sideline closing speed, frankly was not there. Their secondary, which had four first-time starters by season's end with halfback Chris Daly as the lone holdover, got burned repeatedly. They just didn't have enough giddyup and teams exploited it with crossing and seam routes. Ottawa allowed 40-plus points four times and gave up seven 100-yard receiving games, including 201 to Laurier's Shamawd Chambers on Oct. 1 and 198 to Windsor's Jordan Brescacin in the playoff game.
A better question is why was this not so obvious at the outset? Success and star power tend to make outsiders' eyes less prying. Ottawa had gone 6-2 or better in five of the six previous seasons and reached the Yates Cup the one fall it went 4-4. Perhaps we took them for granted. In hindsight, perhaps Sinopoli was the rising tide that raises all boats in 2010. The current Calgary Stampeders rookie QB authored fourth-quarter comebacks to beat Laurier, McMaster, Queen's and Western. All of those games were within a two-hour drive of the uOttawa campus, which surely helped the Gee-Gees' cause.
This fall, Ottawa started great by dusting Guelph and Queen's by a combined 54-14 score. The Gryphons, though, were a hot mess for much of the season and Queen's had no offensive identity whatsoever during the first two weeks. That early success was a vapour.
Q: Will they ever get a fair shake with the plethora of penalty flags?
A: This was a tongue-in-cheek question, in the same vein as Monty Burns wondering, "Oh, Ziggy, will you ever win?" Ottawa was the fourth-most penalized OUA team at 109.1 yards per game. McMaster was the country's most penalized team and they're a Top 5 team. Marauders, indeed.