Stampeders RB Cornish favourite to win MOP in pass-happy CFL
Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish pushes off with Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Henoc Muamba at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Oct. 5, 2013. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI Agency)
CFL teams are running less than they have in several seasons, yet the leading name for the league's most outstanding player award is still a running back.
It's just a different running back than it was earlier in the year. First it was Saskatchewan's Kory Sheets, and now it's Calgary's Jon Cornish.
And the fact Cornish is getting a lot of love makes it doubly interesting because a Canadian hasn't won the MOP honour since Tony Gabriel did it in 1978 -- or six years before Cornish was born.
The New Westminster, B.C., native has been a steady performer all season, but he didn't put up the gaudy numbers early like Sheets did. Other teams have found a way to cool off Sheets, and then he sprained his knee.
Meanwhile, Cornish kept humming behind a dominant offensive line and is now a front-runner for the award along with the likes of Fred Stamps, Chip Cox, Henry Burris and Sheets.
Cornish's season is notable in that he increased his average per carry from 5.9 yards last year to 7.2 yards this season. As a result, there is now talk he could get to 2,000 yards, which Sheets was trying to do before he got hurt. Cornish has 1,545 yards, meaning he needs to average 152 yards per game over the Calgary's final three contests to get there.
If Cornish captures the MOP, he'll also become the first running back to do so since Montreal's Mike Pringle in 1998. But it's not because teams are rushing more this season, which one might suspect considering the number of fresh-faced quarterbacks teams have been forced to throw under centre this year.
Going into last weekend's action, teams had run the ball 34.3% of the time. That was down from 36% in 2012 and 37% in 2011.
An interesting scenario is unfolding in Montreal, although maybe less so now after Josh Neiswander's forgettable performance on Monday against the Bombers.
Legendary quarterback Anthony Calvillo told reporters last week he will be recovered from his concussion and ready to go for the final game of the season. The question is: Will that be the best thing for the Alouettes?
Head coach and GM Jim Popp is keeping his options open, saying it's not a slam dunk that Calvillo will play in the final game of the season or in the playoffs. After all, throwing a 41-year-old quarterback into the fray for the first time in more than two months, even if he is one of the greatest passers in league history, would be a little risky.
Then again, he might be better than the alternatives after watching Neiswander serve up three interceptions on Thanksgiving afternoon.
A familiar name is back in the CFL. The B.C. Lions added running back/returner Stefan Logan to their practice roster on Tuesday after he spent the last few years in the NFL. Logan had 889 yards on 122 carries with B.C. in 2008 and also hauled in 52 catches for 477 yards "¦ Adding some fuel to the Sheets-Cornish rivalry was word out of Saskatchewan that Sheets, during a charity event in Saskatoon last week, pointed out Cornish had played more games than him. The only problem with his argument is Cornish still has fewer carries despite playing more. That didn't stop Sheets, who had this to say according to CKRM's Rod Pedersen: "I sat out three games, he hasn't, and that's pretty much all that matters," Sheets said. "Everybody knows that I'm a better back than he is, and I'm pretty much not thinking about what he does anymore. Somebody told me about what he was talking about, but he knows what's going on over here. He knows that I'm a better running back than he is. You wanna talk about it? We'll see what the numbers do at the end of the season." "¦ Defensive end Alex Hall, acquired by the Roughriders last weekend, had three tackles in his Saskatchewan debut, a 14-9 win over Edmonton on Saturday "¦ The Bombers went into Monday's game in Montreal with seven interceptions in 14 games. They had four against the Alouettes and should have had six if safety Cauchy Muamba hadn't dropped two sure picks "¦ The Ticats can clinch a home playoff game with a win over the Alouettes on Sunday, while Montreal can grab one with a victory. Toronto gets a home playoff game if it wins or Montreal loses. In the West Division, Calgary will lock up first with a win and a Saskatchewan loss. The Riders will snare a home playoff game if they win, and a Stampeders win or a B.C. loss will give Calgary a home playoff game "¦ The Eskimos were the first team eliminated from playoff contention on the weekend. The Bombers are still alive despite their 3-12 record "¦ Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer has switched CFL allegiances three times in the last few years. He told the Toronto Sun he started out as a Bombers fan since he hails from Manitoba, but he became a Leafs supporter when he joined the Leafs. Well, now he likes the Ticats after his friend, offensive lineman Joel Reinders, got released by the Argos and signed with the Ticats.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
"To everyone I mooned yesterday... I'm sorry! Ha! @CFLonTSN."
-- Lions RB Andrew Harris, whose rear end made an appearance on national TV when a Calgary defender tried to bring him down by grabbing the back of his pants
1. (1) Calgary
From top to bottom, the Red and White are ready for long playoff run
2. (4) Saskatchewan
They almost gave it away at home against Esks but stood tall at end
3. (5) Hamilton
Back-to-back wins for the first time since August, and both versus Argos
4. (3) Toronto
Two losses against the Tabbies do not set the right tone for post-season
5. (2) Montreal
Coughed up the ball seven times against Bombers; defence still solid
6. (6) B.C.
Stefan Logan has been brought in to push -- or replace -- Andrew Harris
7. (8) Winnipeg
Now have won twice at Molson Stadium this year but only once at home
8. (7) Edmonton
Solid effort against Riders, but first team out of playoff contention
(Last week's rankings in parantheses)
Kirk Penton talks to league execs to get you inside the CFL:
If Anthony Calvillo is cleared, you have to play him "¦ I had forgotten what a great coach Kent Austin is. He just carved up Chris Jones' defence again. I bet Jones wishes Austin had stayed down there at that U.S. college. He's hell to defend "¦ Our protected list for the expansion draft is fluid because of potential free agents and because of any guys who are looking at the NFL, too "¦ Calgary's the best team in the CFL, but the best team doesn't always win the Grey Cup. This ain't hockey. It ain't four out of seven "¦ The Argos seem to be out of sync, and what's the deal with the two suspended defensive backs? That raises some questions "¦ I still haven't seen enough of Max Hall to say he's the answer. If I was in Winnipeg, I would want a true CFL veteran QB on the roster as soon as possible for 2014 "¦ I keep hearing that Dave Dickenson is a strong candidate to be the head coach in Ottawa next year "¦ Three of us watched the Eskimos-Riders game together, and we all thought Mike Reilly scored the winning touchdown. But the refs can't change what the review doesn't show them clear enough "¦ Alex Hall's addition allows the Riders to rotate their defensive ends and keep them fresh. They can even have all three on the field at the same time "¦ If Kory Sheets stays healthy, the Riders have a shot. But if he gets hurt again, I think they'll be one and done. They have to have the big back. QB Darian Durant isn't consistent enough to carry the team on his shoulders "¦ Jon Cornish isn't a candidate for the most outstanding player. He is the most outstanding player "¦ Beating Montreal on Monday might have helped Marcel Bellefeuille at two places. The Bombers have to see what he's doing with Max Hall and so-so talent. Lot better than they were with Gary Crowton. Ottawa has to see it, too. I don't know much about Ottawa, but I hear he has a couple of good ties to that new ownership group "¦ Hamilton can win with their kicking situation, but it's still a negative "¦ I screwed up. Should have talked to my coaches and traded for Jerome Messam. Now that it's getting cold, big backs can win games. He's Canadian, too. Jim Popp got him for almost nothing.
Jon Cornish will lock up the CFL rushing title this weekend when the Stamps battle the Eskimos. In three of his last five games against the Esks, Cornish has romped for 185, 180 and 131 rushing yards. Oh, and the Eskimos are dead last against the run -- by a mile.
BY THE NUMBERS
17 -- Quarterbacks who have won games this season after Bombers pivot Max Hall got his first CFL victory on Monday.
9,112 -- Catches and yards Alouettes receiver Duron Carter had in a game against the Tiger-Cats last month.
6 -- Consecutive victories for the Stampeders over the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.
1 -- Interceptions Ricky Ray has thrown this season after his late pick against the Ticats on Monday.
17 -- Interceptions Ricky Ray has thrown this season after his late pick against the Ticats on Monday.
Not sure if Ricky Ray is making his own play calls, but the decision to throw in the end zone on third-and-10 at the end of Monday's game in Guelph made no sense.
It should not be that difficult in the CFL to go 10 yards and make a grab, especially in that situation. The field is 65 yards wide, and you had to think the Tiger-Cats were guarding more against the touchdown than the first down considering they were up by six points at the time.
And no offence to Spencer Watt, the intended target, but where was Chad Owens? Covered? OK, where was Jason Barnes? Dontrelle Inman? Those are the play makers. Give them the ball, Mr. Ray.
The Argos were on the 37-yard line and didn't need to go to the end zone at that point. There was 1:19 remaining. There was no hurry to go deep.
But the Argos panicked, and now they're holding on to first place in the East Division for dear life.
Word has emerged out of Calgary that the Stampeders are going to stick with quarterback Kevin Glenn since he's playing so well.
That's a smooth move, because as recently as two weeks ago it seemed like the Stamps were bent on getting hot head Drew Tate back into the starter's role. There is no need to do that, not with Glenn playing so well. In fact, no quarterback has been better over the last five weeks of the season.
And if he struggles? Well, you just throw in Tate or Bo Levi Mitchell, the young phenom who hasn't lost a start yet in his career. Must be rough being John Hufnagel these days.
It's good to see coaches not blindly going back to their No. 1 guy, but instead showing a good feel for their team and sticking with the hot hand.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Stamps at Eskimos (+6) Friday, 9 p.m., TSN
The Esks have nothing to play for, which should result in a blowout.
WE SAY: Calgary by 18
Argos at Bombers (+6) Saturday, 3:30 p.m., TSN
Bombers haven't won two in a row since August 2011.
WE SAY: Toronto by 3
Lions at Riders (-4) Saturday, 7 p.m., TSN
Two struggling offences and two good defences. Flip a coin.
WE SAY: Saskatchewan by 1
Ticats at Alouettes (+2) Sunday, 1 p.m., TSN
The Tabbies are on a roll, and cracks are showing in Montreal.
WE SAY: Hamilton by 5