In consecutive games Dustin Crum has led the Ottawa Redblacks to victory since taking over the starting role. Heading into his third start, he will face arguably his easiest test yet. Can the young quarterback make it three in a row to start his CFL career?
Hamilton is coming off of their fourth loss having been defeated by Toronto 31-15 points. In just two and half games Dustin Crum has produced 84 points with his offensive unit after the team limped to just 55 points in 3 1/2 games with every other quarterback at the helm. There is no denying it at this point, Dustin Crum deserves to be the guy to finish out the season. Especially given his ability to set team and league records in just his first two starts. Keep in mind, he nearly led a game tying drive in the loss against Hamilton as well.
Week in Review
While the Redblacks held the lead for most of the game, the Stampeders took the lead late in the game forcing more heroics by Ottawa’s young quarterback. Dustin Crum threw his first career CFL touchdown pass to another former NFL player who had yet to catch a touchdown in the CFL.
Finally we got to see the running game with Ante Milanovic-Litre, and the Redblacks found more ways to get Tyrell Pigrome involved in the rushing attack as well. The team as I mentioned in my last article, crossed the century mark which helped them control the game flow, and manage the clock keeping the ball out of Calgary’s hands for much of the game.
In this game the Redblacks had four different ball carriers average over 5.3 yards per carry, with Crum again adding over 70 yards rushing to his total. His mobility has really opened up this offense creating passing lanes due to the fact that the defense has to account for him as a runner at all times.
Pigrome showed how big of a factor he can be in this game. 5 carries for 29 yards and 1 reception for 2 yards on the day, he often was called upon to keep drives going, and he delivered every time. I expect him to only continue to be involved in a big way moving forward. Khari Jones has found a formula that works.
Defense Steps Up Big
Alonzo Addae picked up his first career interception, while Brandin Dandridge returned yet another interception for a touchdown. That makes two in two weeks, and three touchdowns total on the season for Dandridge.
Have a day Bryce Carter! Carter adds yet another sack, his third for the season and again contributes to a pass rush that seems to be doing damage every week. While it didn’t show up in sacks this week, it did show up with the defense intercepting two passes, and the line collecting two sacks. Jake Maier was under pressure all night and this caused mistakes which allowed Ottawa to stay in the game even when behind.
Despite the defense’s best efforts they still had a tough time containing Reggie Begelton. In the last game in week two, Begelton caught 8 passes for 141 yards on 12 targets. While he didn’t do as much damage in this game, he still managed 7 receptions for 80 yards. Marken Michel, was our real problem with him breaking two big time plays for touchdowns on just 4 receptions. He collected 134 yards, while Trey Odom-Dukes also topped 100 yards on the day. This is one thing that needs to be cleaned up going forward.
Passing Attack Finds It’s Feet
The defense kept the game in hand, and the offense down field to re-take the lead late in the fourth when Crum found Nate Behar in the end-zone. This game turned into a masterful performance by Crum, who completed just under 80% of his passes on the day. It seemed as if the Stampeders were more concerned about stopping his running ability, and daring him to throw after watching two games when he showed chinks in the armor.
It appears Crum came prepared and “Dyced up” this Calgary secondary. As expected, Justin Hardy had a big day, as he was again the number one option against this defense. Last time out Hardy was targeted 10 times, catching 6 passes for 54 yards, in this game he was targeted 8 times catching 7 for 94 yards and 1 touchdown.
Crum’s final stat line: 23 of 29 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 9 carries for 63 yards. Another amazing game. Crum has cemented his status as the quarterback for the Redblacks, and if he continues his performance going forward, he could play his way into the starting job full-time in 2024. Leading his offense to score 84 points over just two and a half games, Crum has shown this offense has the talent to move the ball, they just needed the quarterback play to do so.
Looking Forward to Hamilton
The Redblacks are getting a huge boost this week from players returning from injuries. Six of nine players that did not practice last Friday were full participants in Tuesday’s practice. Many of these players are key contributors that the team has sorely missed for most of the season.
Jovan Santos-Knox hasn’t suited up all season long yet. Ironically, the last team Santos-Knox suited up for was in fact Hamilton. I expect him to return to the field this week for the Redblacks, helping to solidify a linebacker group that could use the reinforcements. Santos-Knox is coming off of a career year in 2022 with 105 tackles, 1 sacks, and 1 interception. Can he repeat this strong performance in an injury shortened season?
Also full participants were LB’s Gary Johnson Jr, and James Peter a rookie looking to make an impact this season, WR Shaq Evans, DB Cariel Brooks, OL Dontae Bull, DL Nigel Romick. Jackson Bennett also returned to practice in a limited capacity. At this point Ottawa is just waiting on linebacker Chizi Umunakwe, wide receiver CJ Lewis, and defensive back Damon Webb.
Stifling the Hamilton Passing Game
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have had to deal with injuries and ineffectiveness from their quarterback position for much of this season to this point. That fact continued after Mathew Shiltz was injured and the Ti-Cats had to turn to Taylor Powell. Per Pff.com, during this two game win streak, the Hamilton passing offense has been carrying their team. Grading out at 82.5 in his first action, you can see Taylor Powell had a decent game in relief of Mathew Shiltz two weeks ago, and looked like a competent quarterback in his start this past week.
However Bo-Levi Mitchell returned to practice this week, so it could be either one of these quarterbacks. If I am Hamilton, and I have any doubts about Mitchell’s health, I roll with the rookie and continue to get him reps. This could prove to be fruitful for the long term future of the position given Mitchell’s age we know he isn’t the long term solution at the position. Powell however could be. So far this season he has attempted 45 passes completing 29 of them for 329 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, adding 6 carries for 39 yards and 1 touchdown. Not a perfect stat line, but not all that different from what Ottawa saw from Crum in his first appearance. This also came against the Toronto Argonauts.
Redblacks Need to Lean on Rushing Attack
Against Winnipeg, PFF.com graded Dustin Crum as the fourth highest runner in the league. As a team they scored an 87.7 grade an impressive number against one of the better teams in the league. Last week against Calgary the offense produced 184 yards rushing. Most importantly it looks like the team is finally starting to get healthy in the backfield. Ante Milanovic-Litre was expected to be a big part of the offense when he was signed, but injuries stood in the way of him making an impact.
Finally in Ottawa’s sixth game of the year Milaovic-Litre got involved and looked every bit the part of the bell-cow back that Ottawa envisioned when they signed him. Known as a bigger back, it was his second touchdown run late in the game that truly displayed he is more than just a bruising fullback, as he raced to the corner of the endzone and beat the defender to the pylon for 6 points. I believe this was the first game we truly saw what Ottawa had envisioned for their backfield.
Crum ran 9 times for 63 yards, Williams had 10 carries for 57 yards and 1 touchdown Milanovic-Litre had 7 carries for 35 yards and 2 touchdowns, while newly signed quarterback Tyrell Pigrome had 5 carries for 29 yard and kept drives moving with short yardage conversions on multiple occasions. Ottawa has always wanted to incorporate a rotation, and this was the first week they had the healthy personnel to do so.
When Pigrome was signed I mentioned that he was essentially a glorified running back, and so far his role with Ottawa has proven me right. What I didn’t anticipate, was that he would also see a reception at some point. Pigrome in this game had 6 touches for 31 yards, including 1 reception for 2 yards. This is just one way to increase his value to teams as a QB3. Adding value as a runner, and now as depth at receiver and/or running back will only help his case to remain on this team going forward. He could turn into a not-so-secret weapon moving forward if he can continue to perform when he is called upon.
Defense Needs to Get Pressure
Whether this defense faces Taylor Powell, or Bo-Levi Mitchell doesn’t matter. Priority number one has to be pressuring the quarterback. Ottawa is currently fourth in the league with 20 sacks in 6 games, however Hamilton has allowed just 13 sacks in that same time. Something has to give here, and Ottawa needs to assert their dominance in this category if they are to find their third victory in a row.
Currently Hamilton’s defense has allowed the most points per game in the league at 30.8, or a total of 130 points. Ottawa has scored a total of 140 points, although 122 of them came on offense. I’m not certain we can continue to count on Brandin Dandridge to score a return touchdown every game in order for Ottawa to find victory. I mentioned it before, Ottawa has gone from producing 15.7 points per game under three other quarterbacks to 33.6 points per game under Dustin Crum. This is a rather small sample size, but if Crum can continue this in week 8, it doesn’t appear Hamilton has what it needs to stop him.
While Ottawa’s offense currently holds the worst ranking in offensive yards per play, at 5.37 yards, Hamilton’s defense has allowed over 7 yards per play to this point. The match up on the opposite side seems a bit more even. Ottawa has allowed 6.6 yards per play, while Hamilton has forced just over 6 yards per play. Hamilton’s defense could be in for a rough day, but so could Ottawa’s. This game could turn into a shoot out quick if each team is allowing over 6 yards per play in this game.
Check out my sponsor Betus for all your betting needs including CFL betting odds. Use our link to help support my writing career! In this game the Redblacks are favored by 3.5 points. This breaks down to the advantage given to any home team. The over/under is 48.5 points for the game. The moneyline is -180 for Ottawa currently. After watching Ottawa win a 43-41 shoot out, making it back to back overtime victories, I can’t help but think this will be another close game that comes down to late game heroics by our very own Superman Dustin Crum.
With that in mind my prediction is 31-28, while the Redblacks don’t make it three straight overtime victories, I do expect it to come down to a late game winning field goal by Ottawa. If Ottawa is able to win this game, there is a good chance they stand atop their division by the end of the weekend.
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