HAMILTON — If the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hope to get their sputtering offence turned around in CFL action on Saturday night, they're going to have to do it against one of the league's top defences.
Hamilton is winless in its first two games, has yet to record a first down in the first quarter, and has only scored one offensive touchdown. It sits in the league basement with an average time-of-possession of 25:13.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Lions (2-1) enter Tim Hortons Field on a two-game win streak, a middle linebacker (Solomon Elimimian) coming off a team-record 15 tackles in last week's win against Montreal, and a defence that leads the league in fewest points allowed (20.3 average per game).
"They've got good personnel, they're good up front," acknowledged Hamilton head coach Kent Austin. "They play their schemes very, very well. They're well coached. They play hard. . .
"It's a good challenge for us. Listen, teams are all going to get better as the season goes along. We're no exception, we need to get better. And so, it's a good challenge for us. It's a good football team. But our guys are ready to accept the challenge."
This will be Hamilton's home opener, four weeks into the season (they've played two away games and already had a bye week). And they're in the middle of a tough six-game stretch against West Division teams.
Austin said protecting the quarterback will be an area of focus. The Ticats have allowed six sacks, but quarterback Zach Collaros has been under constant pressure.
"One thing is we've got to win first down," said Austin. "We haven't been winning first down. There's been a lot of second-and-longs. And that's another problem on defence. We haven't been winning second-and-longs on defence."
Collaros admits to the frustration of being outscored this season 69-35, but he says there will be no tweaks this week, just the normal focus on executing the plays.
"We're getting paid to score points on offence and we haven't been able to do that so it's very frustrating," said Collaros, who has completed 45 of his 73 pass attempts in the first two games for a total of 431 yards, one TD and one interception. "At the same time, we can't let that creep in during the game and cloud our minds while trying to execute the play call."
The Lions may be on a roll, but B.C. linebacker Elimimian is wary of the Ticats.
"You always want to understand your opponent's mindset, and them being 0-2, it's a dangerous mindset," he said. "For them, I'm sure it's a must-win game, so we have to match their intensity, come out and just play good fundamental defence. Come out and play fast. And you know what? I don't think their record is indicative of how good their team is. That's one of the best quarterbacks in the CFL and any time you have a great quarterback like Zach Collaros you're always going to have an opportunity to win any game you're in.
"So, for us, we have to stay focused, we have to understand it's going to be a tough physical game early on."
It's not just the B.C. defence that's been impressive. The offence is third in the league in time of ball possession (32:35) and the ground game is second in the league with 286 yards for a 95.3 yard-per-game average. Jeremiah Johnson leads the league with three rushing TDs (plus one in the air).
Head coach Wally Buono is adamant a team's record means nothing heading into a game.
"To me, it's about coming to a hostile place," he said. "It's going to be loud. It's the opening game of the season. There's going to be more energy. There's going to be more confidence. So as a club, we have to be aware of all of that. You've got to take the crowd out of the game. How are you going to do that? You've got to play good football. You've got to not give them any juice. But that's all predicated on us."
NOTES: Hamilton DB Will Hill will serve his one-game suspension after making contact with an official against Saskatchewan. . . Hamilton centre Mike Filer and LB Simoni Lawrence are in the lineup despite suffering injuries last week. . .The Lions released veteran kicker Swayze Waters this week. He had a quad injury through training camp, which opened the door for Ty Long who has made eight of nine field-goal attempts and leads the league with a 46.4-yard punting average.