Winning that first game of the season is pretty sweet. The other thing better? Winning the second game of the season.
The Montreal Alouettes will be looking to do exactly that as they return to Percival Molson Stadium to face the Ottawa RedBlacks. It will be a homecoming of sorts for many former Alouettes who now sport the colours of the nation’s capital.
The most notable of that group would be RedBlacks defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, who revamped the Alouettes into a defensive powerhouse in his five year tenure in Montreal. Despite all he did to improve the Alouettes, the organization never seemed to completely trust all of his work enough to be named head coach.
Passed over multiple times when the vacancy became available, Thorpe tried to leave the organization late in 2015 but he and the team were forced to honour the contract he signed. Eventually, Thorpe was relieved of his duties as DC along with then head coach Jacques Chapdelaine in 2017.
Thorpe was surely a candidate for many head coaching opportunities in USports but he decided that he still wanted to be a part of the CFL and accepted the role of DC for Ottawa. It’s early still, but you can already see the foundation of the identity that the RedBlacks want to form on defense. Adding Thorpe and his schemes immediately improves your team and Ottawa’s defense needed a shot in the arm badly.
On the other hand, Montreal’s defense came together in a major way versus Saskatchewan last week. With four interceptions and keeping the Riders at bay on the scoreboard, this Rich Stubler defense proved that they could bounce back from a lacklustre performance. If the Alouettes are going to post their second straight win of the season, they will have to eliminate the talented trio of Dionte Spencer, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson.
These three are a major threat every time they step on the field and RedBlacks QB Trevor Harris does a great job in finding these guys open at the right time. Especially in Montreal, where the RedBlacks have won their last 4 meetings against the Alouettes and often in convincing fashion. Harris has looked great in many instances despite being knocked out of the preseason game against Montreal earlier this year. He’s well aware of what this defense can bring.
The Alouettes will also have to find a way to corral William Powell, who has been a beast on the ground for Ottawa. Racking up over 100 rushing yards last week versus Calgary, the RedBlacks will be looking to this speedster for some offensive punch if Harris cannot connect with his talented receiving corps.
Montreal’s offense has been quiet at best in 2018, but there will be a new name under centre that will hopefully change that. Jeff Mathews is slated to make his first CFL start at quarterback in almost a year (Note: His last CFL start was in 2017 and also at Percival Molson Stadium, but as a member of the Toronto Argonauts). If Mathews is going to keep the Als in the win column, he cannot play the same conservative football that Drew Willy has been in 2018.
That means moving the ball down field and finding his receivers. Willy finally awoke a sleeping giant in Chris Williams last week and Mathews would be wise to lean on the former RedBlack. Posting an incredible 130 yards on the ground, Williams is finally showing that promise that came when he was traded over from BC. Mathews will also be looking for BJ Cunningham and Geno Lewis to flex their play-making muscle and help move the chains.
But perhaps the biggest wild cards for Montreal’s offense will be both Ernest Jackson and Tyrell Sutton. Both were held in check last week by a Riders defense that spent most of its time chasing its own tail. Sutton needs to have a breakout game and re-establish himself as the premier back of this league. Jackson has dropped some very easy passes and has not come close to playing up to his potential in 2018. If he cannot establish a rhythm with former college teammate Drew Willy, perhaps a new QB will be the key for E-Jack to get back on track.
The biggest advantage that Montreal has in this game is the absence of former Alouette Kyries Hebert, who is serving a one-game suspension for attempting to decapitate Calgary’s DaVaris Daniels with a very high tackle. That being said, Noel Thorpe will have his defensive players ready to step up and make life miserable for Mathews. They’ve look ordinary at best in 2018 but if Montreal’s O-Line can find their way to protect the QB, that will be a major boost to this team in their search of a home win.
Another major boost for the RedBlacks will come in the form of the RNation Invasion descending down upon Percival Molson Stadium. Ottawa’s vociferous fanbase travels well and have been able to claim Montreal as their own in recent years thanks to their booster club’s efforts.
As the Alouettes organization looks to find ways to attract and keep new football fans coming to the stadium, they could learn a lot from this group on how to engage new fans and make them want to attend more games in the future. I’ve often said that winning football cures all woes, but the RedBlacks have actually played better AWAY from TD Place.
Hopefully Montrealers will come out to enjoy a beautiful summer night on the mountain and party it up with the RNation Invasion during the tailgate and throughout Friday’s game. You can always find Montreal’s “Les Gars Qui Vivent” tailgate crew in the park on the stadium’s east side. Just look for the silver trailer and blue tent. The BBQs will be fired up and ALL fans are welcome to join in the fun.
That’s all for now. Be sure to follow along on Twitter for all your last-minute news, thoughts and so much more as the Alouettes look to build on last week’s big win. Now it’s time for a divisional victory and those are so crucial as the season rolls on.
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you are watching.