MONTREAL -- The Montreal Alouettes turn to an unfamiliar face at quarterback on Thursday night at Percival Molson Stadium, as they search for a much-needed win against the BC Lions without Anthony Calvillo under centre.
Prepared to make his first career start is 26-year-old Josh Neiswander, as the Als look to build on a strong showing in a difficult environment in Regina that resulted in a 24-21 loss to the Roughriders.
Neiswander took the majority of snaps after Calvillo was knocked out of the game in the first half, and endured a number of ups and downs in his first substantial regular season action – none of which were higher or lower than in the dying minutes of the game.
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After Jerald Brown returned a fumble 54 yards to the house to give the Alouettes a late lead, Darian Durant unleashed a 65-yard game-tying bomb to receiver Taj Smith to tie the game at 21. Then after the Riders held Neiswander and the Als, Saskatchewan got the ball back just in time to drive for a game-winning field goal.
The end of that game epitomized Montreal’s season to date according to Popp, who said this week that there’s one thing standing in his team’s way of having a much better record.
“I think the biggest word for us is finish,” Popp told MontrealAlouettes.com.
The General Manager-turned Head Coach said he’s stressed to the team vision, execution, and finish, with the latter being something that’s been particularly lacking this season.
“We haven’t done that well,” he continued. “We’ve won some of those games and we’ve lost some of those games that we should have won.”
“Most every game other than that Toronto game we’ve been right there and we were able to win every game, and we haven’t – we’ve got to be better at doing that to win games.”
Vision and execution didn’t appear to be much of an issue, as the Alouettes showed a lot of fight in taking the league-leading Roughriders to the final round in front of a rabid sold-out crowd at Mosaic Stadium, despite having their backup quarterback in the game.
Now that very same backup, after completing just 12 of 30 passes and being picked off twice in the loss, will get a chance to show what he’s made of as he gets the call against the league’s stingiest defence after receiving first-team reps in practice.
“I think going in knowing that you’re going to be the starter certainly helps, because more than anything a week’s worth of preparation that you get as far as the reps in practice are always really big,” said Neiswander, who joined the Alouettes in 2012.
“You start to understand and get a rhythm and timing of the receivers and the backs, and just all the mechanics that are involved with being a quarterback from getting in and out of the huddle to going through your reads and making decisions in live action like you do in practice.”
While they won’t be in a hostile environment this week, the challenge doesn’t get any easier as the Lions bring to town the league’s number one defence. The Lions specialize against the pass, currently leading the CFL with just 197 passing yards against per game.
Given that it’s been 32 years since the last time a team went the entire season allowing fewer than 200 passing yards a game, which the Lions are on track to accomplish, Neiswander has his work cut out for him.
Veteran slotback Arland Bruce said it’ll be on the receivers to do all they can to help out.
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“I would always put it on myself, whether I’m leading the league or not I’ll always be a pro and try to help the guys in the room, the receiving core or the quarterbacks – any type of advice I can give in a situation because I’ve been fortunate enough to play for over 15 different quarterbacks in this league,” said Bruce, who in his 12-year career has suited up for the Blue Bombers, Argonauts, Tiger-Cats, Lions, and now Alouettes.
“I’ve seen different things and I just want to share that knowledge with the new quarterback because I know a lot’s coming at him right now and I don’t want to be the one that frustrates him or puts him under pressure, I want him to have fun and loosen up and be a guy that everyone respects.”
Bruce said Neiswander showed some positives in last week’s loss to Saskatchewan, and will need all the support he can get from teammates to get a win against the Lions.
“He came in last week unexpected and did what he could do,” Bruce continued. “It would’ve been great if we could have come out with the victory, we would have been carrying him on our shoulders but it’s a process for him and we’re backing him up 100 per cent.”
Meanwhile, Popp said 23-year-old Tanner Marsh could challenge Neiswander for playing time as early as this week.
Marsh was actually the team’s second-best quarterback in training camp and pre-season according to Popp, making Quinton Porter expendable, but the veteran head coach now in his third stint with the team opted to go with Neiswander’s experience – at least for now.
“Obviously Josh has more experience, he’s been here tutoring, this is his third year,” said Popp. “He knows the ins and outs, the players know him and he’s very comfortable.”
“It’s one of these situations where he got the nod this past week, we were planning on playing both guys and we may this game, we still want to see Tanner play, see how he does – but we’ll start with Josh and depending on how the game goes, it may go like last game, Josh may get every rep, but we’ll see how it goes.”
While the Alouettes look to do some soul-searching at home, the Lions hit the road on their biggest high of the season after making an important statement at home against Calgary.
The Lions prevailed in a battle of the defences, avenging a sour Week 1 loss to Calgary with a 26-22 win while also showing off brand new all-black jerseys.
|The last time they met|
Saturday, September 8, 2012
BC 43, Montreal 10
The Lions scored four touchdowns through the air as they took the second half of a back-to-back with the Montreal Alouettes 43-10 at BC Place Stadium on Saturday.....Read more.
It proved to be a character win for the Lions as they moved into a second-place tie with Calgary at 5-2 after a 60-minute grind.
“They did great,” said Lulay of the league’s top-ranked defence, which forced the Stamps to a season-high eight two-and-outs. “When we couldn’t get things going on offence, they were holding [Calgary’s] offence from getting things going and that’s why we were able to maintain that lead for so much of the football game.”
“When you’re playing good football, when one unit’s not going the other unit’s got your back.”
Special teams also played a role in that notion, as Tim Brown’s 97-yard kickoff return gave the Lions a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, marking the first time all season the team scored twice in the opening 15 minutes. The defence clamped down the rest of the way, containing Jon Cornish and Kevin Glenn to lead to the win.
“It was hard-fought and beating Calgary at home feels really good, later on in the season we’re not going to remember how we got this win, we’re gonna remember that we found a way to get it done,” Lulay told BCLions.com following the game.
“So a lot of good situational football, defence played lights out, feels good to come home with a win.”
Perhaps most fired up about the win was the defence, which again allowed an opponent to under 200 yards passing as Glenn went 22-38 for 199 yards and a touchdown.
“It was a defensive battle and we knew that we had to bring the intensity, the performance that we showed the first game was not something that we want to see on film, it embarrassed us and it motivated us to come out there and play with the passion that we did,” said linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the team’s leading tackler with 37 so far this season.
“We knew that to stop Calgary we had to stop the run game, it was going to be physical and up front that gave us a chance, our defensive line played tremendous and it showed.”
Without Calvillo under centre, the Lions may have a better chance of once again holding their opponent under 200 yards through the air. But Elimimian and the Lions’ ‘D’ won’t be thinking about who’s in the lineup, but rather worrying about their own responsibilities.
“Anthony Calvillo’s a great quarterback, one of the best in the CFL,” said Elimimian. “But we feel like it’s always about us.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, execute the way that we’re supposed to execute, and play fast and physical, we’ll be OK no matter what quarterback’s in the game.”
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from MontrealAlouettes.com/BCLions.com