MISSISSAUGA — Nobody on the Toronto Argonauts enjoyed losing last Saturday’s season opener in Edmonton.
Not the coaches, who were completely nonplussed that their charges were flagged 18 times for 118 yards in penalties; definitely not quarterback Ricky Ray, who was statically sound — 29 of 39 for 298 yards and a touchdown — but came up short of making a statement against his former team; and not kicker Noel Prefontaine, who booted wide on a pair of makeable field goals in the 19-15 loss.
After weeks of arduous on field and classroom preparation, the Boatmen bungled their opportunity to set the season off on the right path.
“We can come up with a million excuses,” coach Scott Milanovich said after Thursday’s practice. “But we have to be more disciplined, we have to finish drives and we have to put points on the board.”
The running game was lacking punch, and finding a way to get lead back Cory Boyd more than eight carries this weekend against Calgary is imperative.
But it was not all bad.
A defensive unit comprised predominantly of players new to the CFL, including seven starters, held its own for the most part against the Eskimos. Continuity on defence was arguably Toronto’s most pressing concern coming out of training camp; new defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, purloined from Calgary in the off-season, spent June trying to not only install his menacing scheme, but stabilize a unit built with unfamiliar parts.
“We only gave up 19 points,” said defensive tackle Kevin Huntley, who missed the Edmonton game with a foot contusion. “You can win a lot of games giving up 19 points. Even with all the mistakes we made, we still had a chance to win.”
The Argos surrendered the fewest points among the four losing teams in Week 1, and by a wide margin — Hamilton, Winnipeg and Montreal each allowed more than 30.
Robert McCune — a late addition to camp after being released by Calgary — was a stabilizing force at middle linebacker, leading the team with seven tackles. Veteran safety Jordan Younger kept the Argos’ hopes alive with an acrobatic late-game interception of former Toronto quarterback Steven Jyles. As an entity, the defence played fast, they hit hard.
“The effort was there,” McCune said. “The effort, us being physical and us running to the ball. We know what we did wrong just from watching the film, and guys have made their corrections [in practice].”
Toronto allowed a very reasonable 236 yards through the air, and 68 on the ground; the Eskimos scored only six second-half points.
But Coach Jones was hardly satisfied with the performance.
“You win and lose as a team,” Jones said. “Defensively, we played just good enough to lose the game. We gave up too many explosions, and we certainly had too many penalties. And so, if we had eliminated one of those areas, we would more than likely have won the game.
“We were active, we had some guys that did some good things as far as running to the football, and beating people one on one. Cumulatively, we do have some good things we can move forward with.”
There is no extra incentive required in wanting to win this weekend’s home opener against the Stampeders, said Jones, viewing the fuss that comes with going against your former team as a distraction, if anything.
For others, like Argos linebacker Brandon Isaac, the Calgary game has been circled on the calendar for months.
“Anytime you leave a team, and you go back to play them, or they come to play you, you want to give your all and beat them,” said Isaac, who spent two years in Calgary before signing with Toronto in May.
Any knowledge of the Stampeder system that McCune, Isaac and Jones may impart to their teammates will likely do little to blunt Calgary’s weaponized assault. The Stampeders carved up Montreal last weekend to the tune of 38 points, including a pair of rushing touchdowns by running back Jon Cornish.
Calgary quarterback Drew Tate has a strong command of his offence, including veteran receiver Nik Lewis, who hauled in 12 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown against the Alouettes.
But the Argos are focused inward, hoping that last week’s infraction-fest was simply a one-off. Calgary presents a fresh start, and McCune believes his group is up for the challenge.
“We have to worry about us first,” he said. “After we take care of ourselves, we worry about our opponent. Just watching them last week against Montreal, they looked good. So we have to come with our ‘A’ game this week, and just come prepared to play, because they are going to be prepared to play.”