Ottawa Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice leads the team's training camp in Ottawa, on Sunday, July 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Redblacks host Alouettes in matchup of two teams with a lot to prove

Redblacks host Alouettes in matchup of two teams with a lot to prove

Ottawa Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice is not a patient man by his own admission, and with his team struggling offensively change could be inevitable.

The Redblacks (1-2-0) will play their first game against a division rival this season on Friday when they host the Montreal Alouettes (1-2-0) at TD Place.

The Alouettes are having their own share of struggles after dropping their last two, leaving both teams with a lot to prove.

The Redblacks stumbled in their home debut last week, falling 24-12 to the B.C. Lions. Ottawa failed to find the end zone and is averaging just 188.7 yards of net offence in three games. That’s the lowest first three-game total since Winnipeg in 2005 at 140.3 yards.

Quarterback Matt Nichols has had his share of struggles this season. The Redblacks have scored just once on offence in 40 possessions and were forced to rely on kicker Lewis Ward last week for all 12 points.

It’s easy to point the finger at the offence, but LaPolice says everything needs to get better.

“Our defence has to take balls away, you can’t go two weeks without a takeaway,” LaPolice said. “Our special teams have to help; how can they score for us? It’s a team game. There are certain aspects in which we have to get better defensively and on special teams. There certainly are aspects we have to get better at offensively.

“I’m not a patient person, but the past is the past. I have to go move on from the past and prepare the guys to play this week and hopefully we put them in position to be successful.”

Both Nichols and Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. are looking to find some consistency in their game.

While Nichols has made improvements each week — he’s passed for 71, 176 and 206 yards — he still hasn’t been able to produce the explosive plays that LaPolice is looking for.

Backup Dominique Davis saw a significant increase in first-team reps and could see action if the offence sputters Friday night.

The Redblacks defence has been solid, takeaways aside. Ottawa has held its opponents to just three touchdowns in 44 drives, but will have a challenge in the Alouettes, who lead the league in converting second down chances.

There is little room for error in a shortened 14-game season, and for veterans like Antoine Pruneau it’s time to turn things around.

“I’m tired of losing,” said Pruneau. “It sucks to lose. Use that as a fuel for the next game. Have it in mind what it felt like the other game. We have to flush what went wrong last time, but we have to keep those emotions alive during the game and understand in the fourth quarter, when we’re in the game, that this is our game to win.”

With a bye week following Friday’s contest some might call this must-win game for the Alouettes, but head coach Khari Jones prefers to see it as an opportunity for his team to get back on track.

“I don’t buy into the must-wins all that much,” said Jones. “Some teams when you turn a corner, you turn a corner. So if I backed us into a corner and said this is a must win and we didn’t win and we went on and won 10 in a row I’d be wrong.

“This is a game that I just want to see us play really solid football and get to playing the way I think we can play. That’s the biggest thing that I’m looking for and if we do that the result will take care of itself.”

Montreal receiver Dante Absher will make his debut Friday replacing a struggling Quan Bray. Changes to the Redblacks lineup include the return of DB Gump Hayes and DL Cleyon Laing.

MONTREAL (1-2-0) AT OTTAWA (1-2-0)

Friday, TD Place Stadium

REUNITED: In 2002 Paul LaPolice worked as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Offensive Coordinator while Khari Jones was the Bombers QB.

HISTORY ON HIS SIDE: Matt Nichols has a terrific record as a starter vs the Alouettes. He is 5-1 in six starts with nine TD passes.

SOLID RETURN: Montreal’s Mario Alford continues to lead the CFL in punt returns with an 18.9 yard average.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept 2, 2021.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press

CFL