The Gee-Gees (2-4) will be hoping to rekindle some of the late-season magic they captured a year ago when they travel to face the no. 3 ranked Western Mustangs (6-0) this Saturday in London, Ont.
Ottawa was in a similar situation last season, facing then undefeated McMaster with a spot in the playoffs hanging in the balance, and emerged with a 38-18 win. This time, the challenge in front of the team is to earn its first win over Western since a 20-19 thriller 2010.
The Mustangs ground attack has been particularly dominant this season, averaging 358.7 yards per game - 85.7 yards more than the second best running team in the country. Western does not only have the best running game in the country but they can also air it out and average 409.2 passing yards and per game. The combination has resulted in big scoring all season long, with the lowest point total of the year standing at 48 points. The Mustangs defensive unit leads the country in interceptions with 13 and sacks with 23.
Ottawa head coach Jamie Barresi recognizes the challenge he faces and is hoping his defence is less timid than the unit that took the field last week against the Laurier Golden Hawks. “Watching us against Laurier I thought we sat back too much on defence. I didn’t think we attacked things like the kids used to do it. I’ve seen them play much differently and much more aggressively and I was really stunned that they played with the hesitation they played with.”
For most of the year, Barresi felt that in game consistency was main issue plaguing his players. The last two weeks have caused him to change his tune. Despite having the third ranked passing offence in CIS and one of the most prolific passers in the country in Derek Wendel, Barresi says that the continuing mistakes when throwing are hurting the Gee-Gees. “We need to catch the ball. We had so many deep balls thrown that were there and it could have made a difference,” says Barresi. Citing early interceptions in against Carleton and Laurier, Barresi says that Wendel has to be “better with his decision making.”
The offensive line play is also an area of concern for Barresi, but he understands that he must put the group in situations where they can develop all aspects of their game not just pass blocking. “We really need to be more patient in the run game. When you’re down 21, 28 you get in modes where you have to throw and that really takes away from the development of the offensive line.”
In season, issues can often addressed during the bye week. However, for the Garnet and Grey, their bye came on the very first week of the season. Though Barresi has often stated that their early bye week is good for quick turnarounds and a great advantage “because we had to get some kids ready”, he also admits that having one at this time “would have been a big thing at this stage.”
For Barresi, the ending of the Panda Game still looms with the team. Not controlling their playoff fate is not as frustrating as the decisions that put the team in this situation. “I take more frustration out of my performance. Had I gone for two at the end of the first overtime, the game would have been over and we’d have been in a different mindset right now. ”
The game will be streamed on OUA.tv and carried on Rogers Cable 22 in Ottawa, courtesy of Rogers Cable 13 in London.