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Big Blue pursue perfection Packed house expected as Bombers face Als at IG Field

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers return home for the first time in a month following games on the road the last three weeks.

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers return home for the first time in a month following games on the road the last three weeks.

It was a successful run away from IG Field, as the Bombers won all three games to improve to a perfect 9-0 on the season, and now find themselves on the brink of history. After victories in Edmonton and then Calgary, Winnipeg wrapped up its run on the road with a 35-20 win over the Montreal Alouettes at Molson Stadium last Thursday.

The Alouettes are back on the docket this week, arriving in Winnipeg for the back half of a home-and-home series and the final hurdle before the Bombers earn their first bye week of the season. Montreal has struggled this year, its loss to Winnipeg its second straight defeat and fourth in its previous five games.

While the Bombers managed to tuck away a 15-point victory, it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. The Alouettes have hit desperation mode, and at 2-6 are desperate for wins to keep pace in the lowly East Division.

“The score was 14-14 heading into the fourth (quarter), that’s as tough of a game as we’ve played,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said, looking back at last week’s win. “It was physical. You could see that they were drained after that game, and it wasn’t just the humidity and the heat, it was the battle that was going on, on the field.”

With that, here are five storylines to keep an eye on heading into Thursday’s game.

CHASING HISTORY

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Kenny Ploen was the starting quarterback in 1960.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the opportunity to join some rare company with a win over the Alouettes. A victory would extend the Bombers regular-season record to 10-0, tying a franchise record for the most consecutive wins to start a year, a mark that was originally set back in 1960.

In that season 62 years ago, the Bombers finished the year 14-2 to finish atop the Western Interprovincial Football Union. Despite having the likes of Bud Grant as head coach and Kenny Ploen as the starting quarterback, the Bombers fell to Edmonton in best-of-three series in the Division final.

Prior to this season, there had only been six teams in CFL history to begin a year 9-0, with all six of them moving on to win a 10th straight game. The most recent club was the B.C. Lions, in 2005, with their streak extending to 11-0.

Needless to say, the Bombers have been a dominant bunch this season and with each win they’ll threaten to rewrite the history books.

 

HOME SWEET HOME

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The folks in Bomberland have clearly taken notice of how special this group is as the stadium on Chancellor Matheson Road will be packed once again this week.

Speaking of history, the Bombers have won 12 straight games at home and are 21-1 at IG Field since Sept. 2018. If the Bombers can take down the Als to make it 13, it’d be the first time the club has won that many games at home without dropping one since 1983-85 when they rolled to 16 straight at Winnipeg Stadium.

What makes this current run even more special is how they’re doing it. Since Sept. 2018, 14 of the 21 home victories have been by 10 or more points. And if you focus on their current 12-game streak, they’re plus-169 in that stretch and winning by an average of 14.1 points per game.

We can’t forget the weekly reminder about Zach Collaros. The Blue and Gold are now 26-1 with him at the helm in games where they don’t rest their starters.

The folks in Bomberland have clearly taken notice of how special this group is as the stadium on Chancellor Matheson Road will be packed once again this week. As of Wednesday morning, 28,500 tickets had been sold which is already the third-highest total for a CFL game this season. The highest attendance in Winnipeg this season was 29,756 in Week 6 when the Calgary Stampeders came to town.

 

STAYING GROUNDED

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There’s no denying that Oliveira is in a better place compared to the start of the season.

Brady Oliveira had a slow start in his first year as the Bombers starting running back. But the 24-year-old Winnipeg native has caught fire over the last two games, registering 110 rushing yards against Calgary, followed by a 92-yard performance last week versus Montreal.

There are a lot of factors that have contributed to the resurgence of the run game, including an O-line that is starting to better communicate following a couple key injuries, and the willingness from receivers to help out with protection and create lanes.

While it’s certainly not a one-man operation, there’s no denying that Oliveira is in a better place compared to the start of the season — both mentally and physically. Oliveira put a lot of pressure on himself heading into a season where he was expected to fill the big shoes of future Hall of Famer Andrew Harris.

He cut his weight by nearly 15 pounds, in an effort to be quicker, only to put it back on in order to return to the punishing north-south runner he’s always been. His confidence is at an all-time high, and it will be important for him to continue that progress before getting a week off.

The Alouettes averaged the second-most rushing yards against, at 112.6 per game (only the Edmonton Elks are better at 123.1). Expect the Bombers to try and establish the run game early, in response to a Noel Thorpe defence that prides itself on blitzing.

 

PLENTY OF OPTIONS

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Thursday night will mark the first time since Week 3 that QB Zach Collaros will have both Nic Demski and Greg Ellingson on the field with him.

Zach Collaros should be ecstatic as this is the healthiest the Bombers’ receiving core has been in weeks.

Thursday night will mark the first time since Week 3 that he will have both Nic Demski and Greg Ellingson on the field with him.

Ellingson, who was leading the CFL with 518 receiving yards through six games, missed the last three contests with a hip injury.

When playing, Ellingson’s clearly No. 8’s favourite target, which is what makes these past three weeks so impressive. Ellingson was missed, but Dalton Schoen, who’s second in the league with seven touchdowns and third in yards with 641, stepped up in the veteran’s absence. It’s been a group effort as the Bombers have had a different pass catcher break out each week. In Week 7, it was Schoen. In Week 8, it was Demski. Last week it was Drew Wolitarsky, who reminded everyone that he’s not just here to block.

Now with a full arsenal of weapons, outside of Carlton Agudosi who remains on the six-game injured list, the biggest problem for Collaros and the passing attack might just be the fact that there’s only one football.

 

NEW COACH, SAME STORY

The annoying air horns are the least of Montreal’s problems right now.

The Alouettes are a disaster. You know how teams often smarten up and play a bit better after a coaching change? Not Montreal.

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Things haven’t improved at all since general manager Danny Maciocia took over as interim head coach.

Things haven’t improved at all since general manager Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones on July 6 and took over as interim head coach. His reasoning for letting go of Jones after four games was the team’s undisciplined play as the club averaged more than seven penalties a game to cost them a total of 275 yards. With four games under Maciocia, the Als have gotten even worse in that department, averaging nearly 10 penalties per game, for 467 total yards.

To Montreal’s credit, they played the Bombers tough for three quarters last week at home. But their collapse in the fourth quarter, and the fact they scored just three points off of four turnovers, is what did them in.

There likely isn’t a single person at IG Field that has the Als winning, but they do have some history on their side. Montreal hasn’t been swept in a back-to-back since 2013 and Winnipeg has only swept opponents in two straight meetings eight times out of 50 tries since 1996.

If the Als can somehow pull off the massive upset, it would breathe life into an East Division that’s desperately seeking some credibility.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JeffKHamilton

@TaylorAllen31

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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