Two seasons ago, Brannagan would not have been throwing downfield in the final seconds of the first half, right after his defensive mates had been scorched for a long touchdown with 20 ticks on the clock. It would have been take two kneeldowns and get more coaching points at halftime. Instead, Queen's spread the field and Brannagan completed a 40-yarder to Mark Surya as casually as you would toss your keys on the kitchen table at the end of a long hard day, setting up a Dan Village field goal that cut Guelph's lead to a point. That more or less got Queen's pointed toward a rousing 41-30 road win.
Two other plays that indicated how opponents are looking at Queen's offence came earlier in the first half. Guelph coach Kyle Walters gambled on third down twice in his own territory -- a third-and-2 where QB Justin Dunk's sneak came up short, and a fake punt on a third-and-20 that also failed. That showed how much Guelph really wanted to keep Brannagan, Mike Giffin, and Co. off the field -- not to mention that powderkeg of a punt-return team -- even if it did take them 30-plus minutes to get into the end zone.
Such a worry was justified. Starting the second half, Queen's defence forced a pair of two-and-outs that set up touchdown drives. First, Brannagan hooked up on a 37-yard score to tight end Chris Ioannides, who had time to load his iPhone as he jogged into the end zone after the entire Guelph defence bit on a play fake to Giffin and left him alone in the middle of the field. On the next drive, Giffin went 25 yards untouched on a stretch play to put Queen's in command with a 23-10 lead.
Guelph got back within six points twice, but that was it. Regardless, it was as if self-doubt started to seep through the Gryphons when Queen's didn't waver after taking some pretty good shots in the first half. Justin Dunk had some absolutely sick scrambles on his way to a 23-of-33, 449-yard day passing. The one throw that might stay with him -- or should if he's ever going to be more than just a human highlight reel -- was the one he forced into the end zone in the first half, which Jimmy Allin intercepted.
Guelph had some red-zone issues in their opening loss vs. Laurier. They needed to finish a sustained drive with a straightforward play, rather than getting in the end zone via Dunk and/or scatback Nick Fitzgibbon doing something YouTube-worthy. Even though they piled up some 600-plus yards in offence, one almost gets the sense like Guelph failed somehow, by getting their first three TDs all through the air, two on broken plays and one by having such a devastating backfield tandem. The first was on a well-designed bomb to Fitzgibbon (227 yards from scrimmage) on the first play after a roughing-the-passer call on Queen's. That's just not a sustainable way to move the ball, however.
Brannagan was all about sustainability. His O-line let him stay in the pocket and he kept almost all of his receivers involved. It was mentioned a while back that now that Brannagan's in his fourth year, his pass distribution would be bound to improve, now that's he lost two all-Canadians in as many years. He spread his 19 completions around to seven receivers, including favourite target du jour Ioannides (seven catches, 126 yards, two TDs), who's not even a regular starter.
Dunk's 23 completions went to only five different pass-catchers. That's somewhat telling.
The point is, Queen's showed it can beat opponents by several means on Saturday. Brannagan threw for 437 yards -- it might have been 500 if not for a few drops in in the first half. Giffin, aided by great work from his blocking group and some crafty play calls, including some carries in second-and-long situations when Guelph went to a three-man line, ran for 214 yards.
As for the defence, the numbers look better once you factor out two long catches by Fitzgibbon, who is a nightmare to match up against, as well as he broken-play 74-yard TD to speedy Zack Stacey. Starting corner Jay Oduwole was out, and Guelph was able to take advantage early on until Allin was assigned to cover Jedd Gardner.
Strange as it might sound in a 41-30 game, outside 'backer T.J. Leeper was an unsung hero -- he had a first-half sack that stopped a Guelph drive and also was in coverage early in the third quarter when Fitzgibbon couldn't come up with a first-down catch, forcing the Gryphons to punt. Queen's scored on the ensuing drive.
The upshot is the defence made enough plays to win. It also got burned enough that they should have no problem getting their focus for next week vs. Laurier.
This was the first time since Brannagan's frosh year, 2005, that Queen's had to outscore an opponent to win a game. There's comfort in knowing they can, with an older and wiser Brannagan.
The Giff that keeps on giving
Actual e-mail from a neutral observer who was actually at the game: "Mike Giffin is a tailback. Mike Giffin is not a fullback. Hell, Mike Giffin is not human. Hamilton is nuts. That is all. Post it."
Only he didn't say the Tiger-Cats are nuts. It was something stronger.
Imaginations -- and a little a Hec Crighton speculation -- must be running as wild after Giffin's 214-yard day included:
- Averaging more than eight yards per carry, without a run longer than 25 yards
- Picking up several second-and-longs with big runs on draw plays;
- Slicing through a left-side hole -- centre Dan Bederman and left guard Vince De Civita were superb -- time and again;
- Almost never going down on first contact;
- A scoring run where he made a 200-lb. safety, Jermaine Blake, look like he wanted no part of any contact;
- Doing the high hurdle over Guelph DB James Savoie near the sideline;
Please keep in mind, he had four carries early on where he lost and footing, otherwise he might have really done some damage.
Four months ago, Giffin converting to fullback seemed pretty reasonable; other CIS runners have had to do it to earn a CFL paycheque. Two weeks ago, it seemed reasonable to wonder if the whole fullback/tailback debate might load him down with unnecessary mental fat.
Giffin kind of delivered a powerful reminder. No one gets into sports to be reasonable.
- Here's a fearless forecast -- the Ottawa Gee-Gees' first-string defence will not give up a touchdown between now and October.
This is part of a personal theory. There's an endless battle between Carleton and uOttawa to build a buzz around its sports programs. Carleton's been doing well on the front, thanks in large part to Dave Smart's basketball dynasty, with its five national championships and knack for down-to-the-wire battles against big-name NCAA teams, like the Kansas Jayhawks.
Ottawa's football team is also a consistent winner. They're a tough sell in a city that's infamous for fickle fandom, considering the Gee-Gees' four home games inevitably include a glorified scrimmage such as Saturday's 71-3 walkover vs. York.
Considering how university football has taken off in Quebec, Ottawa would be so much better off it had to produce or perish in the QUFL vs. Laval, Concordia, Bishop's, Sherbrooke, et al., every week.
Of course, Ottawa couldn't say publicly that it would prefer to be in a better conference when it's not even defending OUA champion, and also lost its opener at Western.
That's why it figures they really want to make a statement against the lineup of second-tier teams -- McMaster, Waterloo, Windsor -- they face the next three Saturdays.
- Punting to Jimmy Allin is just silly. He has 290 punt return yards through two games. He could threaten the OUA and CIS (686 and 777, respectively) records unless teams start kicking it out of bounds each time.
- The Score does a fine job with the University Rush package, but showing Guelph DB Sean Riley cheap-shotting Gaels kicker Dan Village in its recap was not cool.
Football imparts discipline, or so it's said. Where does taking a run at a 170-lb. kicking specialist fit into the concept of discipline?
- Seeing "Queen's Gaels" on a TV screen did look weird. Members of the '68, '78 and '83 championship teams will each be at Richardson Stadium for Legacy Weekend, so it will be a hot topic of conversation.
- A round-up of all the action is over at The CIS Blog.
- Jeff Chan captured the game in all its photovisual glory.
- For anyone who didn't see it last winter, here's the greatest moment in amateur or professional sports history, as described by CFRC's Tyler King and Matt Bisson.
- Seriously, how does the notion of Ottawa and McGill switching football conferences sound? McGill's already in the OUA for men's hockey.
- The Guelph Mercury also came through with a great slideshow:
The third shot is pretty good approximation of how Giffin left Guelph's tack-- don't say it!