Football: Top 10, the Break Up The Warriors! edition

Ballots were due at 10 p.m. ET on Monday, or about 35 minutes after Guelph at No. 5 (on my ballot) Western kicked off after being delayed by an electrical storm. So one just had to go off of form and send in a ballot in, so you can anticipate what happened next. Western and Guelph ended up playing a barnburner, with the Mustangs prevailing 41-34 in overtime.

Anyone who told you Western, Ottawa and Waterloo would be the 2-0 2-0 teams in OUA after two weeks is lying. Laurier and McMaster are 1-0 after having their byes.

Is it hackneyed to start hashtagging posts #WaterlooIsActuallyGood? They are swarming the end zone like bumblebees, all apologies to the estate of Stompin' Tom Connors.

Waterloo, by early success and by sentiment and penitence on the part of the author (so. many. bad. jokes. over. the. years.), rates being "OUA 3" this week after Western and Laurier. As for a fourth (or fifth) OUA team or an AUS representative to fill the 9 or 10-hole?
  • McMaster (1-0 OUA) won by 14 points on the road against Carleton (1-1 after winning at Queen's the week prior). The Marauders gained fewer than 200 yards, though.
  • Ottawa (2-0 OUA) has eked out close wins, beating Guelph on the road in overtime and beating Queen's by one point in a rainy-day home opener. The Gee-Gees offence has yet to breach the end zone, as they got by Queen's 14-13 after Jackson Bennett's 99-yard kickoff-return TD with 1:46 left in the game.  
  • Saint Mary's (1-0 AUS) had a bye. But their lone game, a 15-point win against St. Francis Xavier, looks better since St. FX shut out Mount Allison last weekend. And SMU QB Kaleb Scott could be the real deal.

It gets really real this weekend, with Regina at Calgary on Friday while Montréal welcomes in Laval for the co-main event on Saturday.

  1. Laval (2-0 RSEQ, at Montréal on Saturday) — Let's not overlook the big story of the week. McGill was ahead of Laval for 21 minutes.

    Then Hugo Richard happened — eight completions in a row as Laval, assisted along by a takeaway in |McGill territory, scored three touchdowns in the final 2½ minutes of the second quarter.
  2. Montréal (1-0 RSEQ, vs. Laval on Saturday) — The road team has won the last three Dunsmore Cup finals. So that must mean you can't call a Week 3 game a "must-win."
  3. Regina (1-0 CW, at Calgary on Friday) — Have to tighten up discipline-wise after having 18 penalties during an otherwise thorough win against UBC.
  4. Calgary (1-0 CW, host Regina on Friday) — Have to tighten up discipline-wise after having 18 penalties during an otherwise thorough win against Alberta.
  5. Western (2-0 OUA, at McMaster on Saturday) — Chris Merchant (27-of-41 for 378 passing, 112 rushing, three total touchdowns) did the dual-threat thing very, very well against Guelph. Western has leaks defensively — it gave up an 81-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter — but there's time to repair that. After that drawn-out game against Guelph, which ended around 12:20 a.m., Western has only a 5½-day turnaround before trekking to McMaster on Saturday. The Marauders had the extra day of rest time.

    That will likely not be another 41-34 game. They might combine for 41 points. Maybe.
  6. Laurier (1-0 OUA, host Carleton on Saturday) — Get bumped ahead without playing since UBC lost. Calling it now: based on the offensive showing from Carleton and Queen's thus far, Laurier's defence will make it to Week 5 without allowing a touchdown.

    Of course, now that I said that, they'll probably play a 41-38 game next weekend. 
  7. Saskatchewan (1-0 CW, host Alberta on Friday) Good weekend for the green teams; the Huskies had more points and yards (44, 563) on the road against the Manitoba Bisons than the Roughriders (38, 467) did against the Blue Bombers at Taylor Field 2.0. 
  8. McMaster (1-0 OUA, host Western on Saturday) — Exhibition games are supposed to be considered, and McMaster did defeat Saskatchewan at home on Aug. 25. At the same time, the Huskies evinced a working defence and offence during their three-touchdown road victory.

    There were a combined 12 sacks and 13 first downs via the pass during Mac's 23-9 win at Carleton. Mac had only one drive longer than 50 yards, and it was one that was only completed due to a fumble recovery in the end zone. The other Marauder TDs were through a Robbie Yochim pick-six and a short-field score set up by a strip-sack.   
  9. Saint Mary's (1-0 AUS, at Bishop's on Saturday) — Out of sight on a bye week means out of mind so the eastern Huskies might not get any love from the cognoscenti this weekend. It also seems weird to put them when they didn't play and drop Ottawa, who did play, and did win, just in a rather turgid game where neither team got much accomplished offensively.

    The situation will change if the Huskies come away from Bishop's with a W this week.
  10. Waterloo (2-0 OUA, host Toronto on Saturday) — Hung half-a-hundred on York on Monday, after doing the same at Windsor.

    The favourable early schedule has helped the Warriors of Lucas McConnell and Tre Ford, but the rebuilding initiative seems to be taking. It's early yet. They might be a seat-filler while we await for someone, anyone to emerge from the ooze and land themselves an OUA quarter-final on home turf.

    The Top 10 is supposed to promote the game, which is why I am more inclined to give a vote to an improving team based on a small sample size. One is supposed to treat every team like they're starting from zero .
Also considered:

Ottawa (2-0 OUA, at York on Saturday) — Wait, Ottawa won and dropped out? Well, zero offensive touchdowns through two games against a pair of (likely) 0-2 teams.

Glad someone paid attention; in April 2016, All Canada Gridiron poster Leatherhead said Alain Pae, late of the Prague Lions, was the "surprise recruit of 2016 in the entire CIS." It was off by a year, but the 23-year-old from the Czech Republic had four sacks against Queen's, two in the first quarter and two on the final two plays of the game.

There's another player who makes the case for the CFL should consider international players who come through U Sports national players. We got a big tent!

Late Monday afternoon quarterbacking:

Queen's played with fire, and Bennett of Ottawa burned them. Without taking away any agency from the Gee-Gees hybrid defender and the 11 teammates blocking for them, that game-changer was facilitated by the newly adopted rule (following suit with the CFL) that a team must kick off following a field goal in the last three minutes of the half.

The Gaels outgained Ottawa by 133 yards and had zero turnovers and fewer penalty yards, and yet lost.  Playing conservatively and being unable to use up all of the remaining time will do that to a team. In fairness, leading rusher Jonah Pataki was injured with about 5½ minutes left, which hurt their ground-and-pound game.

Still, Queen's was living on the margins well enough, playing field position. With 2:04 left, it had the three-point lead and faced third-and-5 at Ottawa's 31. Granted, every traditional-minded coach in that situation opts for the field goal and the six-point lead because, according to ancient lore, it shows faith that the defence won't give up a game-deciding converted touchdown.

The new school would say keeping possession is paramount. A successful third-down gamble likely means using up even more time before extending the lead to six points, or even 10. Even with a turnover on downs, you're still playing on the opponents' tendency toward conservatism, since they'll take the field thinking, "Get the field goal, go to overtime."

Ottawa certainly would have taken that tack, especially in bad weather and with first-time starting QB Alex Lavric at the controls. (Lavric had 5.1 ANY/A* in his first start.) The Gee-Gees had run only two plays inside of Queen's 25-yard line the game's first 57-some minutes.

Given Lavric's callowness and the stressors upon him (rain, the clock, a pretty stout Queen's pass rush), what was the likelihood of Ottawa pulling off an 80-yard touchdown drive? I realize one might counter with, "well, it's not like kickoff return touchdowns happen frequently, either." (Queen's had been punting to the sideline all day, so clearly it was concerned about its coverage and Ottawa's returners.)

With the "must kick off" rule, Queen's opened that window for Ottawa through kicking the field goal. Point being, don't open that window. The rule change should make teams more inclined to gamble and leave less to chance.

Some kudos to U Sports for making a rule change where it's common sense to comply with what the pros do. It still seems odd kickoffs are from the 45-yard line. They've only had about 30 years to get into alignment with the CFL on that rule.

(* Adjusted net yards / attempt.)
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