July 18, 2018

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Record: 2–3–0

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Blue Bomber Report (2–3–0)

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Tougher the second time around

Bombers expecting Leos to put up fierce fight in rematch

Winnipeg Blue Bombers sack BC Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg last week. The Bombers are expecting a stiffer test from the Lions in their rematch, Saturday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers sack BC Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg last week. The Bombers are expecting a stiffer test from the Lions in their rematch, Saturday.

Vancouver — One week after dismantling the B.C. Lions at home, what do the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have planned for an encore?

The Bombers, who improved to 2-2 with a 41-19 win over B.C. last Saturday, wrap up a home-and-home series against the Lions (1-2) at BC Place tonight. A victory would keep them within striking distance of the Calgary Stampeders (4-0) for top spot in the West Division.

For B.C., the game is all about redemption from a lacklustre effort put forth a week ago. A victory would not only keep the Lions’ heads above water in the standings, but also help turn the corner on a disappointing start to the season after a rough 2017 campaign, where they finished last in the division and snapped a 20-year run of consecutive playoff appearances.

With that, here are five storylines to keep in mind for tonight’s game.

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Vancouver — One week after dismantling the B.C. Lions at home, what do the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have planned for an encore?

The Bombers, who improved to 2-2 with a 41-19 win over B.C. last Saturday, wrap up a home-and-home series against the Lions (1-2) at BC Place tonight. A victory would keep them within striking distance of the Calgary Stampeders (4-0) for top spot in the West Division.

For B.C., the game is all about redemption from a lacklustre effort put forth a week ago. A victory would not only keep the Lions’ heads above water in the standings, but also help turn the corner on a disappointing start to the season after a rough 2017 campaign, where they finished last in the division and snapped a 20-year run of consecutive playoff appearances.

With that, here are five storylines to keep in mind for tonight’s game.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols hands off to Andrew Harris during the first half against the BC Lions last Saturday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols hands off to Andrew Harris during the first half against the BC Lions last Saturday.

BACK-TO-BACK BATTLE

Whatever good feelings were built up from last weekend’s triumph were no longer lingering when Winnipeg returned to practice this week. While the victory certainly helped ease the pain from a Week 3 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the main takeaway coming out of Investors Group Field was despite getting quality performances from all three phases, nothing was guaranteed this time around.

The Bombers understand the obstacles that are ahead of them. The Lions are reeling from their lack of execution and will be extra motivated in front of the home crowd. The fact the two teams are playing each other again so soon should only add to that fire, with the chance of emotions boiling over being that much greater.

"It’s like when you get into it with one of your kids or you wrestle with one of your friends, the second time you wrestle with them they know a little bit about you and it’s going to be a little more heated," Bombers offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick said. "I know this game will be nothing like the last on. I’m expecting a battle."

The Bombers’ 22-point margin of victory last weekend was a stark departure from what’s been a series of tight affairs between the teams in recent memory. In fact, in the previous eight regular-season matchups between the divisional foes, dating back to 2015, a victor wasn’t determined until the final three minutes.

There have been particularly nail-biting games at BC Place, where over the past two seasons both contests have been won by just three points, with each team claiming a victory.

"The fans and the critics look at us as a 1-2 ball club that went out and kind of got embarrassed two weeks in a row and they ask, ‘what kind of butt-whooping can they give anybody?’" Lions receiver Manny Arceneaux said. "Every time I line up, that’s what I’m hoping I can serve a team."

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols wasn't perfect last week against the B.C. Lions, but he didn't need to be.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols wasn't perfect last week against the B.C. Lions, but he didn't need to be.

PERFECT STORM FOR BOMBERS OFFENCE

Bombers QB Matt Nichols wasn’t spectacular in his return to the lineup last week following a three-game hiatus with a knee injury. He completed 55 per cent of his passes and threw for just 162 yards and one touchdown.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris leaps over BC Lions' Anthony Orange last Saturday.  Andrews ran for over 100 yards in the first half alone.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris leaps over BC Lions' Anthony Orange last Saturday. Andrews ran for over 100 yards in the first half alone.

But he also didn’t need to be his usual dominant self, not with a running game that saw Andrew Harris rumble for more than 100 yards in the first half and a short-yardage package executed perfectly by backup quarterback Chris Streveler, who punched in two scores from the goal-line.

"I think the biggest thing is we got to get our play count up," Harris said. "Those games where we only have 40 plays, and we’re doing a lot of two-and-outs, it’s tough to go into all the plays we have in our playbook. We have those games where we have 70 or 80 plays, it gives you the opportunity to run a bunch of looks and it definitely opens up what we can do."

Nichols said rust wasn’t an issue prior to his return and earlier this week he was defensive when talking about his final stats from his first outing of 2018. But he also vowed to be better.

"I felt like we did a good job moving the ball on offence at times but I also feel like there were times where they made some plays that kept us off the field," Nichols said. "You expect to go out and be more consistent week in and week out."

The Lions’ defence just might be the right recipe for a breakout game. B.C. has given up at least 40 points to their opponent the last two weeks, the first time that has happened to the organization in 13 years.

B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono seemed to take issue with Matt Nichols assessment of his team's play.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono seemed to take issue with Matt Nichols assessment of his team's play.

THOSE BE FIGHTING WORDS

Nichols appeared to ruffle some feathers among Lions’ brass when he told reporters after the game that he had hardly been touched by the Lions’ defence. He didn’t suffer a single sack, nor did he face all that much pressure from pass-rushers while delivering throws in the pocket.

Those words seemed to trigger Lions head coach Wally Buono, who earlier this week told TSN 1040 in Vancouver: "If I was Matt Nichols, I would be careful about what I said about the opponent."

Asked Friday if he hoped to see a dirtier jersey on Nichols this time around, Buono took a moment before speaking, noting he didn’t think Nichols’ intention was to throw shade on his players.

"Why should the truth harm you?" Buono asked. "If that’s the truth, then you can do two things about it: you can feel like you’ve been insulted or you can do something about it. If you don’t like it, then you do something about it."

In case those weren’t enough fighting words for the rematch, Lions defensive end Odell Willis wouldn’t give Winnipeg’s offensive line props, either.

"Regular O-line, regular CFL O-line to me, just like the rest of them across the league. What I find they’re good for is chippiness and extra play," Willis said. "When you got elite quarterbacks like that you’ve got to get to him. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long night."

JENNINGS OUT, LULAY IN

Jonathon Jennings has led the Lions to just one victory this season — a 22-10 win over the lowly Montreal Alouettes in Week 1 — and has yet to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark. He’s gone two games without throwing a touchdown and has put up three or fewer points in half of the 12 quarters he’s played in.

B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay will get the start against the Bombers in Vancouver, on Saturday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/DARRYL DYCK

B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay will get the start against the Bombers in Vancouver, on Saturday.

So the Lions have decided to make a change at quarterback, giving veteran backup Travis Lulay the start.

"Most people aren’t surprised, most people aren’t questioning the decision," Buono said. "If you’re a B.C. Lions fan, it’s ‘what took you so long?’ If you’re a Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan you say, ‘Oh crap, I hope he doesn’t (start).’ Unfortunately, when your quarterback loses a bit of confidence it affects the whole team."

Lulay said he is fit to go despite a long break from action. After replacing Jennings midway through last season, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and hasn’t taken a snap in a game this year.

"Throwing the football, I feel good about my eyes and as soon as the knee caught up I now feel ready to roll," Lulay, a 10-year CFL veteran, said. "If you didn’t know I was coming off injury, if you were watching the tape you wouldn’t know. That gives me the confidence to go in and play."

Even though Lulay is still relatively raw, his return shouldn’t be seen as good news for Bombers fans. The last time Lulay played against the Bombers, he went 28-for-43 passing for 404 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-42 win at BC Place.

FENNER STILL GAME-TIME DECISION

Chandler Fenner will be a game-time decision for Bombers coach Mike O'Shea.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chandler Fenner will be a game-time decision for Bombers coach Mike O'Shea.

It’s still unsure whether Bombers strong-side linebacker Chandler Fenner will play.

Fenner didn’t practise this week, putting his availability for tonight’s game in doubt. He was listed on the Bombers’ depth chart Friday morning lined up in his regular spot.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Fenner remains a game-time decision, meaning there’s still a chance he won’t dress. If he can’t play, the expectation is for Maurice Leggett to play the strong-side linebacker position. The Bombers are already without Brandon Alexander, so if Fenner can’t go that will likely mean dressing two rookies in the secondary in Marcus Sayles and Tyneil Cooper.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

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.

Read full biography

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