The ALSternative

Here’s hoping that this game doesn’t go “off the rails”….

The Montreal Alouettes are in search of their second victory away from Percival Molson Stadium as they have taken the VIA Rail train down to face the Toronto Argonauts in what will be a major divisional battle. Depending on the outcome of the Hamilton-Ottawa game tonight, tomorrow afternoon’s match could very well determine first place in the CFL’s Eastern division!

Both Montreal and Toronto are coming in hot, winning their last three games and peaking at the right time. Both teams are also facing some long-term injury woes, with Andre Durie and Jason Barnes out for the Argos while Montreal will have to continue running the ball without Brandon Whitaker’s lightning-fast feet.

Both teams have a superstar receiver that has been on fire in both Chad Owens and Duron Carter while the steady feet of Swayze Waters and Sean Whyte will no doubt be called upon to kick a clutch field goal should the opportunity present itself.

In fact, I’d say that the biggest storyline of this match will be each team’s defense versus the opposing quarterback. Ricky Ray is the elite quarterback of the CFL nowadays, but Montreal’s defense is second to none in the East. They will be looking to feast on Ray and if they manage to knock him out of the game, the Argos’ backup plan really isn’t all that pretty.

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On the flip side, Jonathan Crompton is playing some solid football but that alone won’t guarantee first-round byes or even playoff spots. He’s been winning, but it hasn’t been dominant save for this past Monday’s beatdown of the Roughriders. And even then, no one is going to mistake Crompton for Peyton Manning even if he also wears #18 and is also a former University of Tennessee QB.

Simply put, Crompton has to step it up even more and stretch the field as much as possible. He’s been using the read option wonderfully to move the ball frequently, but Argos defensive coordinator Tim Burke is no fool. He’s surely done his homework on young JC and will be able to counter this style of play. I expect to see Crompton face a lot of blitzing and he will have to get rid of the ball very quickly.

Crompton has developed a great chemistry with Duron Carter and the Argos will be focusing a lot of attention on him. In which case, the young gunslinger will have to get to know S.J. Green, Brandon London and Kenny Stafford very quickly. All three can provide some magic if given the chance so let’s hope their numbers gets called tomorrow early and often.

All things considered, this match looks fairly even overall. The Alouettes have embraced the “57+3″ mentality and they would be wise to follow it to a T by not taking ANY plays off. These two teams will face off one more time on November 2nd in Montreal and should the Alouettes walk out of Rogers Centre with their 7th victory of the season tomorrow, the upcoming rubber match will have MAJOR playoff implications.

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Both of these teams control their own destiny. A win will be a major boost to what had been until recently a shaky season for both clubs. And if all of these factors weren’t motivation enough for the Alouettes, they will have a nation behind them tomorrow: Alouettes Nation is invading the Rogers Centre!

Yes, this is the Fan Train game; held every year where the fans will hop on a Via Rail train tomorrow morning and ride on down to see their Alouettes in action. After the game, both the players and fans will ride back to Montreal on the train together. A great way for the fans to get some personal time with the Alouettes’ players and hopefully celebrate a hard-fought victory in enemy territory.

And don’t think for a second that the players don’t appreciate this particular event; since it started back in 1998, the on-field record for the Alouettes Fan Train game has been very positive. The players also love being able to interact with the hardcore fans and continue building that strong fan/team relationship that you just don’t see in other professional leagues.

Win or lose, a good time will be had by all. I’ve been on two fan train trips and they have always been an incredible experience.

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So the Montreal Alouettes did what seemed unthinkable at the start of the season and released former Heisman trophy winner Troy Smith. Simply put, Smith just couldn’t get it going and Jonathan Crompton has supplanted him in every possible way as starting quarterback for the Alouettes.

I had said in previous blog posts that Smith’s days were numbered and the only way he was going to get back behind centre in Montreal would be a poor showing by Crompton or by injury. Well Crompton, Tanner Marsh and Alex Brink are all healthy and Crompton is 5-1 since assuming the starting role from Brink, who had replaced Smith when he went on the 6 game injured list.

It’s unfortunate, as the talent was certainly there for the former Raven/49er. Perhaps had Smith been given at the start of the season the tools and coaching staff that are in place now, this story would have a far different ending. But Smith’s inaccuracy and inability to properly adapt to the Canadian game completely sealed his fate. Even Troy’s one victory this season felt more like it was in spite of him rather than as a result of his play.

Due to his being released after Wednesday’s trade deadline, Smith cannot sign with another Canadian Football League team until the 2015 season. I do think that someone will take a flyer on him next season. And if I’m Ottawa RedBlacks GM Marcel Desjardins, I give some serious thought to signing Troy Smith to be Henry Burris’ understudy.

Imagine if Smith had the benefit of truly learning at the feet of Anthony Calvillo last season and then taking over when AC called it a career. Ottawa could be doing exactly that but with Smilin’ Hank! As of now, Burris has two backup QBs who are wet behind the ears. Burris is a true legend, but will be turning 40 and it’s doubtful he plays much longer than next season.

The mentoring of the next great quarterback is going to be paramount for the RedBlacks after this inaugural season. It may not seem ideal at first glance but if Burris could mold Smith into a stellar CFL quarterback like what Tracy Ham did for Anthony Calvillo in Montreal, the fans in Ottawa that make up RNation would be sitting pretty. And what better legacy for Burris to end his career with than to create another potential star in this league.

No matter what, I don’t believe that this is the end of the line for Troy Smith as a professional quarterback. He’s a hard worker, a true gentleman and if given the right tools, has proven to be a winner. I think being up north has given Smith a new perspective on things and he will be back in the CFL for 2015.

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That’s all for now. If you aren’t on the Alouettes Fan Train, be sure to head over to Station Des Sports to see the game if you’re in Montreal. As always, you can follow me on twitter for live game tweets and last minute news/thoughts.

Enjoy the game tomorrow, regardless of where you watch it.

GO ALS GO!!!