The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are the only winless team left in the CFL this season but head coach Kent Austin says there’s no point in dwelling on an 0-2 start.
“Oh and two doesn’t mean anything about today or about tomorrow,” he said Friday as the team prepared to face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday. “The only thing that matters is have we learned from those two games and have we learned to get better as a football team from those two games.”
After losing their season-opener 39-34 to the Toronto Argonauts in a game that came down to the last few plays, the Ticats found themselves down 16-0 in the first quarter last week against the Edmonton Eskimos. They ended up losing 30-20 as the game was marred by torrential rain at Guelph’s Alumni Stadium, the team’s temporary home this season while their new stadium is being built.
Winnipeg (1-1), meanwhile, split its first two games against Montreal, losing the home opener 38-33 but bouncing back in the re-match with a 19-11 victory on the road.
Austin said he addressed the 0-2 record at Friday’s practice.
“It’s good to continue to reinforce the things that matter and to make sure they understand not to focus on the stuff that doesn’t matter,” he said.
One thing that matters quite a lot to the team’s new coach is the number of mental mistakes his players have made, particularly the number of penalties. The Hamilton offence currently has the second-highest number of yards penalized in the league (199) and has the second-worst giveaway-takeaway ratio (minus-3.) Winnipeg is the worst in this category at minus-6.
When Austin was asked what worried him about the Bombers, he pretty much rhymed off everything from the team’s imposing defence to quarterback Buck Pierce.
“Watching him play, he has the ability to make plays under pressure,” said Austin.
The Ticats will need to “limit his playmaking ability,” Austin added.
As for the Blue Bombers defence, it currently leads the league in sacks (11) and fewest touchdowns allowed (3) and is second in points allowed (49).
Meanwhile, Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris leads the league with 595 passing yards and is his team’s leading rusher right now with 66 yards on 11 carries. He knows the Winnipeg defence will be gunning for him.
“Those guys have done a great job of making it hard on the running game, making it hard on the quarterbacks to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball,” he said.
Burris is also turning a blind eye to his team’s record.
“Everybody has a point during the season where they have to iron out some things and for us it’s been here, early on,” Burris said.
The Ticats will be without injured running back C.J. Gable, who shares the league lead with three touchdowns. Chevon Walker, a stand-out for Hamilton last season before injury, will fill in for Gable. Wide receiver Andy Fantuz will be out for his second straight game with a lower-body injury after posting 155 yards against Toronto.
Veteran linebacker Jamall Johnson recognizes his defence has something to prove.
“We’ve got to go out and show that we can compete with any offence in the league,” he said. “Winnipeg has a good offence. They’ve got a good running back. They’ve got some good receivers and a tough quarterback who wants to compete. We’ve got to go out and prove that we’re a fierce defence.
“We’re trying to bring that Ticat tradition back here. This is the next challenge for us.”