Despite Historic Playoff Performance, Trevor Harris’ Greatest Test Lies Ahead in Grey Cup Matchup With Stampeders
Photo credit: Patrick Doyle (CFL)
Trevor Harris has often been doubted during his time as a CFL starting quarterback, mostly regarding his consistency and his ability to play well in big games. He shed many of those doubts with his masterful performance in the Eastern Final blowout of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but his biggest test will come this weekend. The suffocating Stampeders defense stands in the way of Harris and Grey Cup glory.
Harris’ stats in the Eastern Final were quite literally unprecedented. He completed 29/32 passes for 367 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He set CFL playoff records for both touchdown passes and completion percentage (90.6%).
“We’ll take time to reflect on the East Final somewhere down the road but we’ve got business to take care of this weekend,” said Harris.
They certainly do. The Ti-Cats are not the Stampeders, who are preparing for their third consecutive Grey Cup. The West Division champion Calgary Stampeders boast one of the league’s top defensive units. They lead the CFL in several defensive categories in the regular season, including:
- Points allowed (20.2 per game)
- Passing touchdowns allowed (11 total)
- Opposing passer efficiency rating (79.9)
“They’re an outstanding defense. We expect them to be very stout just like they have all year. It’s going to be a tremendous test but we are looking forward to it,” said Harris. “It’s the Grey Cup so why wouldn’t you want to play against the best”.
The Stampeders have been far and away the worst matchup for Harris and the Redblacks passing offense this season. In their two meetings, Ottawa fell 24-14 and then 27-3.
Both games against the Stamps were double-digit losses but the scores were still not fully indicative of the Redblacks’ offensive struggles. They were flat-out contained. In addition to failing to put up points, Ottawa lost the turnover battle 10-3 over the two games and gave up a combined seven quarterback sacks.
This year’s two Calgary games could quite possibly be the two worst starts of Harris’ CFL career. Here are his averages over the two matchups:
- 53% completion percentage
- 144 passing yards per game
- 4.5 yards per attempt
- 0 touchdowns
- 1.5 interceptions per game
They faded late in the first matchup and were never really in the second, but both demonstrated the matchup problems that the Stampeders posed.
D-linemen Micah Johnson and Ja’Gared Davis control the line of scrimmage more often than not for the Stamps, shutting down the run game and muddying a quarterback’s passing pocket. Then you have to deal with the next level of the defense, with linebackers Alex Singleton and Jameer Thurman. Both are adept at making open field tackles and limiting yards after the catch.
A big part of the Stampeders’ success is their ability to make offenses one-dimensional. They have allowed the least rush yards per game, forcing opposing passing games to shoulder much (or all) of the load in moving the ball. That means the pressure will be on Harris to win the game from the pocket; a pocket which may not always be clean.
If there is anything the Redblacks can take solace in regarding those two convincing losses in the regular season, it is that they have not played Calgary since mid-July. Both teams look different four months later. The play calling of Jaime Elizondo has been incredibly inventive as of late. In the East Final, the Redblacks prioritized quick hitting passes to help neutralize the Ti-Cat pass rush.
Look at the play design and execution on Diontae Spencer’s first touchdown in the game:
ICYMI: Diontae Spencer showing off his speed for a 22 yard @REDBLACKS touchdown and then joining the CFL on TSN panel to celebrate is your @belairdirect #CFLMustSee moment of the game. pic.twitter.com/5PL2EvJ1Oz
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 18, 2018
A similar strategy seems likely against the Stampeders.
This Sunday will mark Harris’ first career start in the Grey Cup. Harris nearly started in the 104th Grey Cup when Henry Burris tweaked his knee in warm-ups. Burris was on the verge of being ruled out but was able to start and lead the Redblacks to an overtime victory.
This time around, Harris knows he is getting the start and says he is prepared for the circus that is Grey Cup week. This is how he responded to a question on ignoring the distractions.
“You don’t, you just embrace it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity possibly and you understand that can be a distraction if you’re not ready for it,” said Harris.
Harris will be attempting to pull off what Burris did two years ago, lead the underdog (by betting line understands) Redblacks over the Stampeders for a Grey Cup championship.
The season’s biggest game will kickoff at 6:00 from Edmonton on Sunday evening.