The real downer in the Queen's Golden Gaels' first loss, 23-4 to the Laurier Golden Hawks on Saturday, is it pointed out the limit to what the Gaels are trying to do on offence.
Before getting into that, 23-4 was perfectly indicative. It went mostly badly for the Gaels, but the D with Osie Ukwuoma, D.J. Mulholland and Jimmy Allin, et al., and the offensive line, which gave Mike Giffin the chance to outrush Laurier's Ryan Lynch 165-78 (small cheese, though, after a fumble in the first half), kept hitting and playing like it could still be won. There was no quit in the Gaels, which is a small victory. Still, coach Gary Jeffries' Golden Hawks, a genuinely elite team, not only beat the Gaels on the scoreboard, but also beat them on a general principle, which makes it even worse to a sports supergeek.*
The Gaels (4-1) were living on being high-risk, high-reward in the passing game. They seem to be, at least from afar, conscious of a reality QB Dan Brannagan (159 yards, two picks on 10-of-30 passing) might not make anyone forget Google Earth when it comes to accuracy, but can air it out to group of good receivers who can overwhelm a lot of OUA secondaries, when his confidence is helping him. In a sense, that's good coaching: Put what the players can do on the front burner, then work on what they don't do so well.
If that's what Pat Sheahan and Warren Goldie are trying to do, then it's reflected in the Gaels having the biggest gap of any team in the country between their CIS ranking in yards-per-pass, the most important offensive stat, and completion percentage, which the TV guys worship without thinking about what it means. They're sixth nationally in the former (8.31 yards a shot), but 25th out of 27 CIS teams in completion percentage.
That kind of disparity is brain candy. The top five teams in yards-per-pass are Ottawa, Laval, Saskatchewan, Laurier and Saint Mary's. See a pattern? Those are all top teams (combined record: 22-1). It doesn't work that way with completion percentage. Western is third in completion percentage and we all know how that's working out for the Mustangs.
The Gaels seem to have the right idea with what they want to do -- go downfield. It does makes for a lot of teeth-gnashing when a sideline pass ends up being completed to the band. True, the first of the two picks Brannagan threw to Laurier's Jahmeeks Beckford yesterday was a cringer, to be sure. So was a third-down pass to a double-covered Rob Bagg with about eight minutes left.
Saturday raised the question of whether the Gaels can beat a Top 5 team being so fits-and-starts throwing the ball. It might work against weaker teams, but what about well-coached groups like Laurier and Ottawa who cover very well?
The Golden Hawks, who are built more around the high-percentage pass (Ian Noble is averaging exactly 9 1/2 yards per attempt, which counts for more than whatever his completion percentage is), took the Gaels' best shots early. Like everything else in this life, it ccomes down to confidence, and after the Gaels missed a couple early scoring chances, they kind of descended into penalties (11 for 81 yards) and turnovers (eight).
It was a downer, but the Gaels ran the ball well and played respectable defence against a Top 5 team. They do need to more consistency throwing the ball so defences won't just lay back in soft zones, but the deep ball is clearly a bigger part of their game.
It is tough to play that way. It puts a lot on the offensive line and it can put a strain on the running game. (Look at how the Chicago Bears have suddenly become unable to run the ball after compensating so well for Rex Grossman last season.)
The Gee-Gees, who host the Gaels next Saturday, have a CIS-best 13 interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Their defence has more "touchdown catches" than the offences of five other teams. How are Brannagan and the Gaels going to stand a chance swimming with those sharks? Well, if it's true fortune favours the bold, they have to try to keep trying to be aggressive through the air, but be smarter about it and rebuild the QB's confidence, get him to not worry so much about the underthrown balls. It's their best shot at landing a haymaker on an OUA heavyweight.
Bullet point thingies:
- One of the principles behind the newish The CIS Blog (please, give it a whirl) is that it wouldn't be such a bad thing if, once a decade or so, the Hec Crighton Trophy was actually awarded to a player from a school outside Ontario. Bishop's tailback Jamall Lee (pictured) is our pick.
Lee is averaging a CIS-best 9.5 yards per carry (753 on 79 attempts) against defences that are stacked against him since Bishop's doesn't have much of a passing game, the way Laurier does to off-set Lynch,. The Gaiters play two soft defences over the next two weeks, McGill and Acadia, so if Lee averages a modest 150 yards across those games, he would break current Montreal Alouettes president Larry Smith's Quebec single-season rushing record (1,050, set in 1969) with two games to spare.* Lee is still flesh and blood, not a machine guaranteed against breakdown, but he seems like an analog to Arkansas' Darren McFadden in the NCAA -- an impressive player on a team that's off the beaten path.
By the end of yesterday's games, Lee had only 23 fewer yards on 38 less carries and was averaging almost three full yards per carry better than Lynch.
- This is what it's might be like for the hockey Gaels while they play home games in Napanee. It's no surprise the women's team couldn't hold a three-goal lead in a 3-3 tie vs. Western, since they were on the ice for an 11:30 start barely 12 hours after completing a game that started at 8:30 p.m. (a 1-0 loss to Windsor). The Gaels might have been lucky to keep the tie, as Katie Boyd made 17 of her 34 saves in the final period, when her teammates might not have had much left in the tank. Western also played Saturday, but in the afternoon.
Fortunately for the women's team, they don't have to do that again; they get night games for the rest of their "home" stands. (It's sad to actually know the possible two best goalies in CIS women's hockey, Windsor's Jamie Tessier from Copper Cliff, who made 19 stops to blank the Gaels on Saturday, and Carleton's Valerie Charbonneau from Sudbury, hail from towns a slapshot away from each other Northern Ontario.)
(* Especially when it doesn't become obvious until, oh, 4 a.m.)
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