VANCOUVER — The way coach Wally Buono sees it, things can’t get any worse for his B.C. Lions.
They are 0-3 and off to their worst start to a CFL season since 2002 and face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats today in what has become an early must-win game.
“I’ve stressed over and over again that there is a sense of urgency here,” said Buono. “I said in my post-game comment (after last week’s 33-17 loss to the Eskimos in Edmonton) that I hope we’ve hit rock bottom. Usually rock bottom means that you can’t get any lower than you are.
“At the end of the season you can always look back at a game that verifies your season. I hope this is the game.”
The Lions began with losses to Montreal and Calgary by a combined six points but their sputtering offence has been forced to play from behind all season.
Against Edmonton, they managed only four first downs in the first half compared to 17 by the Eskimos who wore down the B.C. defence.
Quarterback Travis Lulay said the poor start was the result of making mistakes and then compounding them.
“Myself included, we’ve been guilty of trying to make amends for mistakes as opposed to just playing the play and playing confidently and moving forward,” Lulay said.
“Regardless of whether the last play was a good play or a bad play the next play’s more important anyhow.”
A good start is paramount against Hamilton which won its first game of the season last week, 33-3 over Saskatchewan.
“We know we want to play well from the get-go and the biggest thing that will do for us — yes it takes the defence off the field — but from a mental standpoint it allows us to play with confidence throughout the game,” Lulay said.
He’ll be throwing into a Hamilton pass defence that has allowed only 47 completions, fewest in the CFL.
Slotback Geroy Simon, who had his 57th career 100-yard receiving game last week against Edmonton, said the Lions must learn to play their way out of slow starts.
“At times the defence is going to be out there longer than they want to be and they’ve got to suck it up,” Simon said. “Just like when we have two-and-outs we’ve got to find a way to get out of that.”
The Lions have surrendered 56 first-half points and Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn wants B.C. to play from behind again.
“It’s big, especially going out to their place to come out fast,” Glenn told the club’s website prior to facing a winless team for the second time in as many weeks. “I wouldn’t say putting doubt (in their minds) but get some momentum in our favour.”
One area where the Lions attack has failed is the running game with a league-low 52.7 yards a game.
Lulay leads B.C. ball carriers with eight carries for 58 yards, some of that scrambling under pressure.
Tailbacks Andrew Harris and Jamal Robertson rank 16th and 18th in the league with 40 yards apiece.
“It’s just a matter of execution and we’ve just been under the gun for the first three games and it’s tough to scratch and claw back,” Harris said.
That’s not the case in Hamilton where Glenn said he sees an opportunity for running back Avon Cobourne who has 164 yards on 34 carries in his first three games as a Tiger-Cat.
The B.C. secondary will have a different look this week as defensive back David Hyland was released and will be replaced by J.R. Ruffin, who hasn’t played a CFL game since 2007.
The Idaho product, who was a rookie with Calgary in 2006, has been playing arena football after undergoing five knee procedures.
He’ll be backed up by Jerome Dennis who was released by Hamilton this week and has rejoined his former club.
“Change is inevitable when you’re 0-and-3,” said veteran centre Angus Reid. “People are going to be kept being brought in until we improve.”