NEWS
09/21/2011 06:55 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

Improved running game contributes to B.C. Lions four-game win streak

SURREY, B.C. - Finding their legs has helped the B.C. Lions keep stride in the CFL playoff race.

With running backs Andrew Harris and Tim Brown carrying most of the load, the Lions have rushed for 498 yards while winning their last four games. The Lions carried the ball 27 times in their 32-19 win over the Calgary Stampeders last weekend, their highest total in 17 games.

"It has been important to what we are doing," quarterback Travis Lulay said after the Lions finished practice Wednesday under a dark, threatening sky at their training facility.

"There's no question to be what we want to be, we have to be balanced."

After a horrible 0-5 start B.C. has improved to 5-6 and are third in the CFL West. The Lions will face the CFL's other hottest team when they travel to Regina for Saturday's game against the 4-7 Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are riding a three-game win streak.

The B.C. run attack was in full retreat early in the season. Over the last six games the offensive line has got better and allowed the ground game to find some traction.

"It's tough to build a scheme and tough to execute it properly," said Harris, who has 178 yards on 32 carries over the last four games.

"Our offensive line is doing a much better job now than they were at the beginning. The coaches are getting more confident in us."

At five-foot-11 and 195 pounds Harris isn't a bruising runner who grinds out yards. Instead the 24-year-old from Winnipeg uses his quickness to dart through holes.

The more Harris gets the ball, the better he's become.

"When you don't get into a rhythm, when you don't get that many opportunities, it's tough to find the holes and it's tough to be back there," said Harris, nicknamed Twizzy by his teammates.

"You get more confidence in what you are doing (and) you see things. You start to take more chances and start to feel the game a lot more."

Harris is in his second full year with the Lions. Wally Buono, B.C.'s coach and general manager, said the team was patient with his development.

"We took it slow," said Buono. "He's reaping the benefits of it and so are we.

"It's a long season and to put all the burden on one young fellow isn't necessarily the smartest thing."

Harris has 239 yards on 51 carries this year. Brown, who leads the league in punt returns, has rushed for 196 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries.

The Lions running attack is a little like a used car lot. There's the standard, reliable models, plus the more exotic and risky options.

B.C. has used short shovel passes and reverses to receivers. The Lions have even done some direct snaps to fool defences.

"Just being able to show those looks, a defence has to prepare for those things," said Lulay, who has 223 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

"We want to be able to do some of the things we have with misdirection. The offensive line has been playing really well giving those guys a crease. That's all they need. When they get a little bit of a crease, and get us four or five yards on first down, that makes everything go."

A good run game also helps the Lions passing attack.

"It makes the play action and things like that more of a threat," said slotback Geroy Simon, who is second in the league in receiving with 846 yards from 51 catches.

"It makes it easier for everybody."

At the start of the season the Lions trailed early in many games. That forced Lulay to pass more in an attempt to get back into the game.

In the last few matches the Lions have scored early, then used the run to manage the game.

"A very big part of that is we have started football games better," said Lulay. "We've been playing with the lead and been able to sustain drives."

B.C. has found success along the ground with their best running back watching from the sidelines. Tailback Jamal Robertson has been a healthy scratch for four of the last five games, but still leads all B.C. rushers with 258 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries.

If Robertson is frustrated with the situation he has kept his feelings to himself. He's works hard at practice and continues to mentor the other backs.

"It's more mental than anything," said the 34-year-old who rushed for 953 yards last year. "I have to stay in mentally and keep trying to prepare myself."

Buono said there's a chance Robertson will dress against the Riders.

Harris said working with Robertson has helped his game.

"The last two years Jamal has been a big mentor for me," he said. "I still look to him for help with things.

"He's been a good guy for that and he's still there helping."

While improving, the B.C. running game still has some catching up to do.

The Lions are ranked sixth in the league for total yards rushing (1,084) and average yards per game (98.6). They are second last with just 200 times rushing.

Buono believes those statistics will improve.

"Running the football is important because it gives you opportunities not to get into second and long," he said. "It also gives you opportunities to wear the opponent out.

"It also gives us the opportunity to be a little more aggressive."