EDMONTON — Micah Awe’s first game at center-linebacker with the Alouettes — on July 14, against Edmonton — should now seem like a distant memory.
That night, coinciding with Danny Maciocia’s first game as interim head coach and Noel Thorpe’s as defensive coordinator, Montreal lost a 19-point lead in the third quarter, losing 32-31 to the Elks.
Awe said the Alouettes’ defense lacked a killer instinct.
While the unit is still trying to play the perfect game, if ever, it has improved under Thorpe’s tutelage, taking just 26 points and two touchdowns in consecutive wins against BC and Hamilton.
“This is the most unique defense I’ve had,” Awe said. “I sometimes call myself the fifth defender. I’ve always felt like I had versatility as a linebacker. Often I am on the line of scrimmage, or I cover a man. I do everything. I’m blitzing now and working on my pass rush.
“I have a huge responsibility and should not be the weak link. As long as I’m strong, anyone can play. It is the first time in my career that I feel that responsibility. It is a challenge.”
The Alouettes will try to win a season-high third game in a row on Saturday afternoon (4pm, TSN1, TSN3, RDS, TSN690.ca, 98.5 FM) when they fight the Elks at Commonwealth Stadium. Montreal (6-7) can reach the .500 mark for the first time this season with a win, while Edmonton (4-10) has not won at home since October 12, 2019. Another loss would equal a CFL record with the 1988 Ottawa Rough Riders at 15.
Last Friday, Montreal defeated a Tiger-Cats team looking for its first road win this season. Montreal doesn’t want the dubious accolade of becoming the first team to lose to the Elks at Commonwealth since the Lions.
“They’re a good team,” Maciocia said. “Don’t let the record fool you.”
The Elks certainly looked good against Montreal in July, especially quarterback Taylor Cornelius. He passed for 230 yards and one touchdown that night, while also gaining 20 yards on four carries. Edmonton defeated the Alouettes 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
“We played good football in that game,” Thorpe insisted. “We had chances to finish the game. Give them and Cornelius the credit. He made plays with his legs. They made plays, kept grinding away and gave themselves the chance to win at the end.
“But our defenses have evolved since then,” Thorpe added. “I think you’ve seen it from the course of that first game to where we are now. I think we’re miles away. We see areas where we have improved and areas where we need to continue to improve. Being in the system, defense and schedule for a longer period of time, the guys have a deeper understanding of what we are trying to do, achieve and what our goals are. That took some time in the beginning because things were new.”
Thorpe wants his defense to be physical and run for the ball while remaining disciplined around the pocket. Thorpe often relies on a three-man front that sometimes doesn’t seem to put much pressure on the quarterback. But it also allows him to drop nine players into cover – something required in the CFL due to the larger field dimensions and affinity to fit in the three-down game.
Thorpe insists the three-man line is becoming a trend across the league.
“You weigh things, in terms of coverage, with nine traps, but you also have the opportunity to be versatile in what you do,” he explained. “You can attack offenses in different ways… because of who can rush. It depends on the opponent, down and distance, position on the field, their staff grouping and attacking tendencies. ”
While the Alouettes have lost Nick Usher indefinitely to a knee injury, they are looking to deepen the position following the recent return of Jamal Davis from the Los Angeles Chargers. He works with Mike Moore and Thomas Costigan.
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