HAMILTON — It’s been a miserable start to the CFL season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but head coach Kent Austin has a simple cure for much of what’s ailing his club.
And that’s securing its first win of the season Thursday night against the unbeaten Edmonton Eskimos at Tim Hortons Field.
“Belief is a funny thing,” Austin said. “As far as somebody’s confidence and belief in what they’re doing and in their teammates, winning takes care of a lot of that stuff very quickly.
“The guys just need some positive things to happen for them. Get a victory and get back on track.”
Hamilton (0-3) is the only CFL team not to have registered a point this season. Edmonton is the league’s lone undefeated club.
“They’re playing well, they’re finding ways to win,” Austin said. “They’ve got really good leadership on the field and they’re making plays at the right time.
“We’ve had opportunities to make plays at certain times that might change the complexion of the game and those haven’t happened. A good team finds a way to make those plays at critical times of the game that maybe stems momentum and creates a more positive atmosphere.”
Veteran Ticats defensive lineman John Chick said getting that initial victory is big for a team.
“Until you get that W, there’s still that seed of doubt in some guys’ minds,” Chick said. “Once you get that win, I think it helps mitigate that for a lot of guys that, ‘Hey, we’re a lot better than what we think we are.’
“I think we’re so much closer than guys know. It’s a couple of Xs and Os, a couple of techniques here and there and if we can put those together I think we’re there.”
The Eskimos have shown a penchant for winning the close game thus far. Their three victories have been by a combined nine points and their largest margin of victory has been four points (23-19 over Montreal on June 30).
Quarterback Mike Reilly, the CFL’s passing leader last year, anchors a solid aerial attack that also boasts Adarius Bowman — the league’s top receiver in 2016 — and sophomore Brandon Zylstra (team-high 21 catches, 296 yards). But it’s Reilly, the 2015 Grey Cup MVP, who makes the offence click.
“He is a tough guy and I never love going against him for that reason,” Chick said. “He’s a great competitor and you know he’s going to bring it … he’s going to fight until he can’t.”
However, the Ticats can’t afford to concentrate all their efforts on Reilly. Edmonton also boasts the CFL’s second-ranked rushing attack (99.3 yards per game). Hamilton’s defence is last overall in yards (492 per game) and points allowed (35 per game).
After mustering just 208 net yards in its first two losses, Hamilton’s offence rolled up 424 yards in last week’s 41-26 home loss to the B.C. Lions. Edmonton is coming off a 23-21 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.
Despite sporting an 0-3 record, Austin said he’s not worried.
“We don’t worry but we’re always concerned,” he said. “We’d be concerned at 3-0.
“We’re always concerned about getting our guys better, making sure we’re making good choices on who we’re playing while we’re playing them, where we’re playing them, what we’re doing, all of those things.
“We evaluate the same every week. Obviously the focus will change based on where we have bigger deficiencies, where we see bigger deficiencies … but we don’t worry. We stay the course in what we believe.”
Austin said players handle losing in different ways.
“The less mature guys will tend to let (doubt) come in in regards to their psyche,” he said. “More mature guys will stay the course and focus on things that are under control (like) getting better as an individual player and helping their team get better.”
And, Austin added, coaches also play a role.
“I think it’s up to the coaches to know the room. Knowing your players inside and out and making sure your antennae is up and you’re recognizing when there might be a lack of confidence, a lack of understanding that’s creating a lack of confidence
“Whatever it is, the individual coaches have to be able to discern that, if they don’t then they’re not coaching.”