McMaster knows the conference well, but not this opponent.
In the 2014 Vanier Cup, Mac will take on the Montreal Carabins, in Montreal. The Carabins, who compete in the RSEQ conference, have never played the Marauders. McMaster has played RSEQ powerhouse Laval in their two previous Vanier games.
The new opponent won’t bother Montreal, though. This whole scene is brand new for the program. It’s a storybook scenario for the Carabins: this is their first Vanier game and they get to play it at home in front of their fans. They topped Laval while neutering the Rouge et Or’s stud quarterback. Now, they can hop on a subway and hit up practice.
It won’t bother Mac, either. As offensive co-ordinator Jon Behie says, the team has been there before. But there are still inherent differences that come when you’re preparing for a non-OUA team.
“When you play out-of-conference, you don’t have a ton of context. You can’t really tell from film what you’re seeing,” said Behie. “When you see Western, and they just played Guelph and we have already played Guelph, there’s a measurable there for us.”
“We know the kids at Guelph – we recruited them too. We know Western’s personnel better. Instantly, you get better context. Now, we’re watching Montreal play Manitoba on film. There aren’t a ton of players that we know well and so we are trying to figure out who is stronger or weaker.”
Behie’s point offers great insight into the coaching struggle of a Vanier-bound team. Between Behie, head coach Ptaszek, defensive co-ordinator Greg Knox and a handful of other coaches, they are trying to figure out a number of different variables at once while also picking up on schemes that they do not typically see. Mac isn’t without their own personal struggles though – the team has only scored one offensive touchdown in their last two games.
“It’s tough because ultimately, the goal is to win the game, and we’ve won our games. Are we happy with where we’ve been the past two weeks? No, not at all,” said Behie. “I simply think we have to better. We have to do better than one touchdown, I know that and our guys know that.”
Make no mistake, the Marauders seem like a conservative offence because they are one. Behie says they do not want to turn the ball over or give the opposing team good field position because their defence has been playing so well.
“There’s some people who still have [our old play style] in their mind, where we aired it out like we did in 2011 and 2012,” said Behie. There were some deep shots taken in the Mitchell Bowl that hit the receiver but were not caught. Behie agrees that if those are caught then the conversation about the offence is different.
Regardless, this is the game plan right now: hold on to the ball, give the defenders rest and if you can’t score points, pin the opponent deep in their own territory. No one is saying it is the most inspiring brand of football to watch, but it is inarguably effective.
The question becomes how effective Marshall Ferguson and the rest of the offense will be against Montreal.
The front seven of the Carabins is among the best in the country. Mount Allison was given similar praise last week, but they had inflated stats because of an easy schedule. The Carabins have played seven games against ranked teams.qMontreal has sixth-round CFL pick Mathieu Girard on the defensive line, as well as two other players that Behie says will be CFL prospects. In seven games against ranked opponents, the Carabins have allowed 135.3 rushing yards per game. Five of those games came against teams who finished in the top ten for rushing yards per game.
Where they struggle is defending the pass. In seven games against ranked opponents, they allowed 302.5 yards through the air per game. Six of those seven games were against top ten passing offences, and Mac finished second in passing yards per game this season. If the Marauders can get their passing game figured out, they will be in great shape.
Montreal’s offence has come around too. It hasn’t been consistent to start the year, but they figured it out as the season went along.
29 points against Manitoba is an impressive mark, but they needed 421 passing yards to get there. That will be a problem for the Carabins, though. Mac’s passing defence is peaking at the most important part of the season and shutting down passing attacks. If the Carabins get in an early hole and have to pass, the Marauders will be playing with house money.
The offence doesn’t inspire confidence, but the defence – led by defensive backs Joey Cupido and Steven Ventresca, linebacker Nick Shorthill, as well as linemen Mark Mackie and Mike Kashak – is one of the most dominant groups to don the Maroon and Grey in any sport.
How this all comes together is the difference maker. Mac has not been consistent, but they look good now. This is different than the 2011 and 2012 Vanier Cup games: the Marauders control their own destiny. If McMaster weaves everything together – something more likely than not – the Vanier could be coming back to Hamilton for the second time in school history.