Friday night’s 27-24 win by the BC Lions to complete a home and home sweep of the Saskatchewan Roughriders was big for a few reasons. Most importantly, it should be a huge boost to a young team, with a new head coach. In the first game, the Lions had to come back to win. In the second they had to hold off a late Riders push to walk out with the victory and the season series in their back pocket.
In both cases, the Lions showed great resolve and it’s clear the Lions are buying into what Jeff Tedford is preaching early in the season.
Travis Lulay of course is the key to everything. His play in the last two games has made the difference for the 2-1 Lions, but the bigger intangible is that this team rallies around him and how could they not after what he’s been through the last two seasons?
The fact that Lulay is returning to his 2011 MOP form is a testament to his dedication and willingness to change his game from a quarterback with a win at any cost attitude, to a more cerebral pivot who realized and bought into the fact he needed to make those changes. Even before the Lions hired Tedford, General Manager Wally Buono made it clear that Lulay would need to play smarter if he wanted to extend his career.
That new approach didn’t happen overnight and the Lions and Tedford deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve brought Lulay along. From retraining him to the way he falls, to his limited throw counts in training camp and for convincing the ultra-competitive quarterback that it his value comes from being on the field, not getting that extra yard at all costs.
Friday night it was Lulay’s feet that did most of the damage and it was a game plan that the Riders clearly were not expecting and didn’t adjust to, as they continued to crash linemen down on Andrew Harris leaving options open for Lulay to the tune of 105 yards along the ground, the best number he’s posted in his CFL career.
There is another group of course that deserves to be mentioned, and that is the offensive line. Heading into the season, the group was perceived by most as a huge question mark and the early injuries to Hunter Steward and Matt Norman didn’t help improve the outlook. But the group has been solid, and has only allowed two sacks in three games (none in the last two), which is tops in the CFL.
Not only has their pass protection been solid, but their run blocking is starting to come along as well, as evidenced by the third quarter touchdown run of Harris, who was basically escorted into the end zone.
The big concern for the Lions is the defence. The Lions had some good moments but at the same time, giving up 517 yards (454 yards on average over their 3 games) isn’t going to be a statistic that sees them win more games than they lose. As Solomon Elimimian told us on last week’s BC Lions Den Pawdcast, he expects the defence to get better as the season goes on, given their youth and inexperience with the Canadian game in some positions.
The good thing is that the Lions have bought themselves some time for the areas in their game that need to improve. It doesn’t hurt that no one in the west has come flying out of the gate, while the Lions have exceeded the expectations of many early on.
There will no doubt be more challenges thrown the Lions way, but for now the good is by far out weighing the bad and the Lions are in the thick of it in the West division.
Change has had positive for Travis Lulay and so far at least his team is displaying the determination and resolve that is a trait of their star pivot and leader, and that can only be a positive for the BC Lions moving forward.