HAMILTON - If the Hamilton Tiger-Cats want to beat the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night, they'll have to stop the run game.
Specifically, they will have to stop Jon Cornish.
"What the run game allows them to do is obviously control the clock and keep your offence off the football field," said Ticat head coach Kent Austin on Friday.
For the Ticats, Austin said that means being "more efficient" on first downs, and making sure they can sustain long drives. Otherwise, it may be a while before they get the ball back.
While the Ticats under Henry Burris have a league-leading passing attack, throwing for 322.8 yards per game, its ground game is lacking. The Ticats have only rushed for an average 84.2 yards per game, second last in the CFL.
The Ticat passing game will also face the challenge of operating without its leading receiver, Greg Ellingson, who is reportedly out with a lower-body injury. He will be replaced by rookie Luke Tasker, who was just signed on Sept. 17 and whose father is former Buffalo Bills pro-bowler Steve Tasker.
Meanwhile, the Stamps have a more balanced attack, thanks largely to Cornish who is the CFL's second-leading rusher with 1,093 yards to date. Calgary is fifth in average passing yards (263 yards per game) and second in rushing (132 yards per game).
Former Ticat Kevin Glenn is back as the starting quarterback for Calgary, in a season where the Stamps have had to rely on all three of its pivots. Glenn spent three years in Hamilton before being traded to Calgary in January 2012. But while Ticat linebacker Jamall Johnson agreed that he may know Glenn's tendencies better than most, stopping Cornish is the priority.
"First of all, we've got to stop the run," Johnson said. "I think everything they (Calgary) do revolves around their running back and their running game."
Calgary (9-3) has already clinched a playoff berth and sits atop the West Division, one game ahead of B.C. and Saskatchewan heading into this week. They are coming off last week's 33-27 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
Hamilton (6-6) is second in the East Division, behind Toronto, and is hoping to continue the momentum from a 28-26 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in Moncton.
"Right now, just to get on a roll, I think that's the biggest psychological thing that could happen right now because you want to start to peak at the right time," said Burris, who spent a combined 10 years as the Stampeder quarterback before coming to Hamilton and currently leads the league with 3,765 passing yards.
The two offences are evenly matched. Calgary is second in the CFL with an average of 377.2 yards per game and Hamilton is third with 375.3 yards per game. The defences are also close in numbers. Calgary is fourth in the league, having allowed 337.4 yards per game while the Hamilton defence is fifth with 359.3 yards allowed.
But the Calgary defence also boasts a couple weapons of which Burris, in particular, will have to be aware. They have two of the league's top-three sack leaders with Charleston Hughes (13) and Cordarro Law (nine), and Fred Bennett has three interceptions, tied for tops in the CFL.
The Stamps and the Ticats met in Calgary on Sept. 13 with Calgary squeaking out a 26-22 victory when back-up quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell hit former Ticat receiver Marquay McDaniel for a 15-yard TD late in the fourth.
Austin blames mistakes made late in the game that allowed the Stamps to come back.
"We left the door open for them and good football teams will take advantage of that," he said. "You've got to close off a good football team because they will find a way to win."