OUA notes: Laurier's offence needs to play on a national stage

We can't blog games like we used, but what we can do is tell long stories that don't go anywhere ... each week, we're keeping a digest on OUA football.

Somewhere in the internal between Kurleigh Gittens Jr. laying out for a the-rout-is-on-signalling touchdown and Ente Eguavoen Matrix-ing his way inside the end zone pylon as Laurier began to really pile it on on against Queen's on Sunday, there was a twinge of anxiety.

More sophisticated minds can break down why Laurier, which grilled a 40-burger at Richardson Stadium for the second September in a row, has had such a production line on offence. Those concerns about the experience of Tristan Arndt at quarterback might be validated yet — keep telling yourself, it's early — but they have put on a show. The 44-18 scoreline against Queen's really did not do justice to the trouncing of the Tricolour, as Laurier had 621 yards, with 388 in the passing phase. Queen's is holding a Kids' Day promotion next weekend against Toronto, but it was men-against-boys on the other side of the ball too where Laurier limited the Gaels to 226 yards; 86 of that total came on one touchdown drive and a further significant chunk came on some window-dressing drives in toward the end.
The qualm is whether it can last. Could Laurier potentially win a scorefest against that other purple team, the Western Mustangs, on their home field? The Golden Hawks were pumped real good by Western in last year's Yates by a score that resembled the blood-pressure reading of an unhealthy person. They were full value for that comeback for the ages in the 2016 Yates (scoring 24 points in the final eight minutes to win 43-40), but the way that Western exacerbated the collapse does make it look like lightning in a bottle.

There are at least two really good OUA teams. Laurier, though, could be faced with problems at each end of the competitive spectrum: how much of a test will they get over the next five games and will they hold up if their game at Western on Oct. 20 ends up being like the movie we've seen before, where the Mustangs dictate terms with their steady chain-moving, will-imposing ways?

The last paragraph probably makes the bias obvious. As a first-gen stat nerd whose geeklove started with baseball, part of a personal infatuation with the sport, starting around 1990 or so, was seeing the fan-dangled offences pile up points and passing yards; those were the days when the run-and-shoot was being unleashed on the NFL and CFL teams' willingness to explore the possibilities presented by unlimited motion and a 65-yards-wide field made 6,000-yard seasons the norm, collectively laying waste to hoary coach-speak about using the run to set up the pass.

(Are you saying offence sells tickets, Captain Obvious?)

It is unfair to say one purple powerhouse's mode of attack offers more for the mind than the other. The lessons one can take from Western come down to how Greg Marshall often seems to be a step ahead with anticipating when he's going to have another big body or fresh legs and hands coached up and ready to contribute. On the field, they're very creative with using eligible receivers at the point of attack. But it is about the rushing phase at Western, just like it was in 1989 or 1979, and it is tough for a born against-the-grainer such as I to go along with that. 

At Laurier, it comes off as if coach Michael Faulds, who as a Western quarterback set national season and career records for passing yards within that prescribed framework, has taken some of that and combined it with the field-stretching goals of the modern football scientist. They have had more rush attempts than pass attempts through two weeks against Ottawa and Queen's, both teams in the meaty part of the OUA curve. As OUA.tv's Bill Miklas wondered on Sunday night, what does a defence prepare for against Laurier? Future pro Gittens and Eguavoen are a fine 1-2 punch as the outside receivers, while they have a steady-as-rent rushing phase with Levondre Gordon carrying most of the mail behind a blocking group of centre Myles Methner, guards Drew Mairleitner and J.D. Richardson (the two seniors on the unit) and tackles Bryce Bell and Sukhneet Kahlon, plus Cal Taylor and Mario Villamizar as H-backs.

The crux of this is that with an expanded Vanier Cup championship, be it six teams or eight, this Laurier team would be probably be national in November as either a Yates Cup winner or as the second representative from Ontario alongside you-know-who. However it happens, and we know the stakeholders are working on something for 2020 (if not then, 2021; if not then, 2022), it needs to happen.

That preamble might have just served to set up future posts about the playoff talks. That's a lesson from Faulds, one supposes.

Quick hits on the games. Top-ranked Western is the bye team.

Laurier 44, Queen's 18 (Sun.) — Understating that Queen's young secondary got a wee bit exposed will do, Pig, that'll do.

Impressive Laurier moment. The outcome was still theoretically in doubt at 23-7 in the third quarter when Eguavoen stretched out for a sideline catch on a second-and-15 play. That and a third-and-short conversion set up a Gittens Jr. touchdown. On the next drive, Eguavoen collected his just desserts for reviving a penalty-stalled drive by scoring a touchdown of his own.

Was there malice aforethought to get Eguavoen into the end zone? It probably just happened that way. But good teams keep the skill players slaked.

Laurier has a bye before what we full expect will be a 73-70 game against Waterloo on Sept. 15, followed by away at McMaster, home to Guelph, a short week before a Friday-of-Thanskgiving-weekend game at Carleton and Windsor. With the GTA teams off their schedule, that's a bit of gauntlet, eh?

Ottawa 18, McMaster 11 — Another matchup from The Verve division, as in the teams that seem to be "a million different people from one day to the next." It's good for the big picture that the Gee-Gees and Marauders are each 1-1, with a semi-exciting home win and an away loss, after two weeks.

The Gee-Gees' Bryce Vieira can't change his mold, oh no, and all of that was present on his 61-yard touchdown reception that broke the deadlock. Most running backs don't have the peripheral vision to make a one-handed catch. Then he broke through a couple tackle attempts from a young McMaster defence, and had the vision to turn it into a footrace.
Ottawa needed that one be on decent footing in the playoff race. Their itinerary as Guelph-bye-York before the Panda Game. They should be able to come into that healthy; for the last few years it's been a question of whether they can get out of it healthy, emotionally and physically.

The take-home with McMaster is that Andreas Dueck took over for Jackson White at quarterback and looked fairly poised, perhaps in a way not conveyed by the final stat-line on a day when it rained in the nation's capital. (Fun fact: there was rain during Mac's 2014 and '16 visits to Gee-Gees Field, and Ottawa won each of those games, too.) Sometimes when the future arrives, it's not noticed at the time.

Waterloo 41, Toronto 18 — The Tre & Tyler Show will face a legit team when Waterloo (2-0) faces Carleton on Saturday. There is a lot more afoot with the Warriors, though, than, being some world's tallest midget whaling on bottom-feeders. If that was the case, the games would have been close for a while and the Warriors have raced out to huge leads in each game thus far. Tre Ford and Tyler Ternowski, among others, would contribute on almost any team in Ontario.

Ford is averaging 13.5 yards an attempt — some quarterbacks do well to average 13½ a completion, but then again, he's completed nearly every ball — and a touchdown every 5.5 throws. Ternowski has six touchdowns in two games.

Get by Carleton, which will certainly have a seafaring defence but might not be able to win a game that goes into the 30s, and Waterloo will be more of a playoff lock. Perhaps this a sentiment best left back in 2017, but the fact Waterloo and playoffs is in the same sentence, legitimately, is a welcome development.

Guelph 33 York 18 — The unofficial award for Most Improved Webcast and In-Game Tweeting (it's given out right after the award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence) goes to the Gryphons webcast. Highlights and everything. Meantime, while one cannot be sure whether Guelph is very good, they were good enough and then some.

Also, is there anyone more deserving of giving the coach the Gatorade baptismal than linebacker, number 53, Luke Korol? I think not.
If Guelph comes through a four-game stretch of at Ottawa, at Windsor, home to Queen's and at Laurier with a 3-3 overall record, it will be in decent playoff position. It has a Thanksgiving week bye before a homestand against Toronto and Waterloo.

Carleton 38 Windsor 20 — what's more Peak Windsor, the colour commentator big-brain interjecting "good pass protection" a second before a pick-six touchdown given up by the Lancers offence, or the play-by-play displaying an incorrect final score hours after the game? You make the call!!

To be fair on the latter count, it's not often a team misses a field goal and then ends up getting a safety on the same play.

Carleton, one of the five 1-1 teams sharing fourth through eighth place, is also a blank slate. They almost beat Western at home, using home-field advantage to the hilt, but they rolled with having long the cross-province trip and put Windsor away with a decisive second half. An 18-point win after a long trip is still credible.
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