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CFL Blitz

CFL Blitz: Coach challenges will play huge role down stretch

By Kirk Penton, Winnipeg Sun

Calgary Stampeders coach John Hufnagel doesn't throw the challenge flag a whole lot, but has won most of his disputes this season. (Reuters)

Calgary Stampeders coach John Hufnagel doesn't throw the challenge flag a whole lot, but has won most of his disputes this season. (Reuters)

It's that time of year when one play could make a huge difference for a team trying to make the CFL playoffs.

Maybe the official didn't see that tug on the jersey or the ball touch the ground on that completion granting the opponent a critical first down. Throwing the challenge flag could be what helps your team make the playoffs or causes them to watch the post-season from home.

So it's the perfect time to see which CFL coaches win the most challenges and which ones need better spotters up in the booth. Of course, not all challenges are created equal. Also, some are thrown late in a game because they have one left and it's their last opportunity to use it, but let's go on the theory that every coach has done that at one time or another.

Not only that, but most coaches would say there is a lack of consistency when it comes to the standard by which some plays are judged.

Regardless, the king of the challenge this year is Calgary's John Hufnagel, who doesn't throw a lot of flags and is batting over .500 because of it. His Stampeders not only lead the league with a 12-2 record, but he is 4-for-7 in the challenge department for a 57% success rate.

Rookie Bombers boss Mike O'Shea has shown the ability to know when to hold it and when to toss it, getting 44% of his challenges overturned, while Toronto's Scott Milanovich is the thriftiest of the bunch, challenging only five plays and winning two of them.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ottawa's Rick Campbell, who is still looking for his first challenge victory of the season. Granted, his six challenges are second fewest in the league, but he and his staff have whiffed every time.

It's just another thing for the expansion RedBlacks to get better at going into the 2015 season.

LATE HITS

Practice rosters last Friday expanded for CFL teams, who can now have up to 15 players on the reserve list for the next several weeks ... The CFL announced Tuesday its plans for finding a new commissioner. It has hired headhunting firm Spencer Stuart to locate the best candidates, and CFL chairman Jim Lawson will chair the search committee. If you feel you have what it takes to lead the CFL after Mark Cohon, send your resume to cfl@spencerstuart.com. Hey, what's the worst they're going to say? ... The trade deadline is next Wednesday afternoon ... The Stampeders became the first team to clinch a playoff berth when the Bombers lost last week ... The CFL players of the week are RedBlacks running back Jonathan Williams (offence), Stampeders defensive end Shawn Lemon (defence), Argos kicker Swayze Waters (special teams) and RedBlacks defensive end Justin Capicciotti ... Toronto snapped a league-wide 29-game streak in which the winning team had the same number or fewer turnovers than its opposition. The Argos beat the Eskimos on Saturday despite committing two turnovers to Edmonton's one ... Speaking of numbers, the RedBlacks scored more points on Friday night against the Bombers than they had in their previous five home games combined.

UNDER PROTEST

A look at which teams have won the most challenges this season:

Overall Pass Interference

Team Wins Chal. % Wins Chal. %

Calgary 4 7 57 2 3 67

Winnipeg 4 9 44 3 5 60

Toronto 2 5 40 1 3 33

Saskatchewan 4 12 33 1 7 14

B.C. 3 10 30 1 5 20

Hamilton 3 11 27 2 4 50

Montreal 2 9 22 1 7 14

Edmonton 1 10 10 0 5 0

Ottawa 0 6 0 0 4 0

PENTON’S PREDICTION

The winner of Friday's game between the Ticats and Argos at Rogers Centre will finish first in the East Division. If the Ticats win it, they'll capture the season series and have a four-point lead with four games to go. If the Argos win, the teams will be tied and the Boatmen will have the ability to win the season series at home against the Tabbies on Oct. 25.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

“Logs on Twitter. Learn I have a sprained ACL... OMG I wonder if I'll be okay!?!?! Goto @calstampeders, see tweet saying I'll be okay. Whew!”

– Stamps RB Jon Cornish (@jonnycornish), using a unique way to question a Twitter report about the health of his knee

BY THE NUMBERS

2005 – The last time the Bombers won at Commonwealth Stadium

108 – Two-and-outs the Eskimos defence has forced this season, the most in the CFL

7 – Drives started inside the opponents' 30-yard line after Montreal kickoffs this season

21 – Average number of drives started inside the opponents' 30-yard line after all kickoffs this season

BOSS BLUNDER

Winnipeg rookie head coach Mike O'Shea made another mistake late in the second quarter on Friday night in Ottawa.

About a month after his decision to not go for it on third-and-one late in the Labour Day Classic came back to bite him, this time it was his decision to go for it on third-and-five near the end of the first half that ended up spelling doom for his Blue and Gold.

There were 49 seconds left in the second quarter when the Bombers faced third-and-five from Ottawa's 38-yard line. A field goal wasn't the call, because Lirim Hajrullahu was good from only 40 yards in that end of the field in warmup. Instead of punting it deep, quarterback Drew Willy ended up trying a pass that sailed over Romby Bryant's head and gave the RedBlacks the ball with plenty of time on the clock.

Henry Burris and the RedBlacks ended up marching down the field with ease, needing just six plays to score a touchdown that gave the hosts a 28-17 lead at the half and plenty of momentum heading into the third quarter.

THE INSIDERS SAY

CFL coaches and managers give their anonymous thoughts on what they’re talking about behind closed doors:

Don't care what you media people say. I've coached with Mike Gibson, and he's a good football coach. Ottawa kicked Winnipeg's asses by exposing (Gary) Etcheverry and his screwy fronts. Game ball should have gone to Gibby. Good game plan and game calling ... I hope the Riders keep (Chris) Milo as their kicker. Increases our chances of getting to the Grey Cup ... With the expanded practice rosters, you're looking for one of two things: You're either evaluating for next year, or you're looking for that one guy who might come in and provide a spark for the stretch drive. Likely one or two out of five you bring up will last and get active or be in camp next year ... Who has the best neg list? Besides us, I would say Hamilton or Saskatchewan ... I like our commissioner. He's done a good job. Gives us a good image. I wish he would put in a dress code for coaches before he leaves. Head coaches shouldn't wear T-shirts on game day. Makes our league look unprofessional ... The crossover is not a lock just yet ... With Chris Jones you get the good with the bad. I've coached with Chris and you get some of both – headaches and rewards. (Ed) Hervey hired him, and he's probably figured that out by now. They say Hervey is a temper guy, a do-it-my-way guy. Jones won't back down from him or anybody. One day those two are going to argue about a player, a coaching decision or penalties, and it's going to get ugly ... (Jon) Cornish is going to win the rushing title, but it doesn't mean the rest of the tailbacks are bad. There have been more injuries and shared backfields. Most teams are using backs in roles, so two guys split touches and stats ... It all starts up front. One of the reasons Calgary is 12-2 is because they got (Brander) Craighead and (Brett) Jones in the same draft (in 2013). Pisses me off looking back. We could have drafted both of them ... There's one reason why the Argos are going to beat the Tiger-Cats on Friday night: They have to ... (Antoine) Pruneau in Ottawa is rookie of the year ... Great move by the Riders getting Kerry Joseph. There's still five to seven games left, and what happens if (Tino) Sunseri gets hurt? They knew they needed another backup after (Seth) Doege struggled ... If there's one team that gets away with the most penalties that aren't called, it's Calgary ... Look at the film. I don't think any of us have a better short-side combo than Hamilton does with (Delvin) Breaux and (Brandon) Stewart. They are long and physical and tough for us to play against. You guys might not vote them all-stars, but a lot of offensive co-ordinators would ... There might be one or two minor trades next week before the deadline, but no more than that ... The Bombers haven't been the same on offence without Nick Moore ... The RedBlacks should get Matt Nichols to be their quarterback next season ... It's doubtful that Tim Tebow, Vince Young or guys like that show up this week, but a future CFL standout likely comes out of the 45 new additions to the expanded practice rosters ... Seven teams are tight right now, feeling playoff pressure. Not Calgary. Not Ottawa. Ottawa is loose. No pressure and coming off of a big win. They might beat B.C. on Friday and make it two in a row ... Kerry Joseph gives them a vet and can run their offence if needed. He can also help on game day with Tino (Sunseri) or Seth (Doege). They'll probably give him a package of plays, too.

SMOOTH MOVE

Kent Austin has finally figured out the coin toss, and it played a big role in helping him win Saturday night's game over the B.C. Lions.

Last year, for instance, when the Ticats travelled to Saskatchewan in July for a regular-season game, Hamilton won the toss but decided to receive the opening kickoff despite the huge Prairie wind that was blowing that night. That gave the Riders the wind in both the second and fourth quarters, which have more plays than the first and third due to clock stoppages.

The final score was 37-0 for the Riders, and Saskatchewan head coach Corey Chamblin just smiled after the game when asked if he was surprised that the Ticats didn't take the wind in the second or the fourth. Chamblin knows how important the wind can be in a football game.

That wasn't the only time Austin made the wrong decision when it came to the wind, but on Saturday night he nailed it. There was a big south breeze at Tim Hortons Field, and the Ticats deferred after winning the toss.

The news got even better for the Tabbies when the Lions made the mistake of choosing to receive the opening kickoff. That gave the Ticats the wind in the second and fourth quarters.

There were 36 points scored in the game, and 33 of them came with the wind. That's not a coincidence, folks.

And it was the Lions who were stuck deep in their own end against the wind on several occasions in the fourth quarter. They were giving up safeties like they were going out of style.

The Ticats won 19-17, and a big reason why was the coin toss and how well Austin handled it.

POWER RANKINGS

1. (1) Calgary

They let the Riders think they had a chance for a while, but the cream ultimately rose to the top.

2. (3) Hamilton

Now that most of their players are healthy, their great off-season is starting to pay dividends.

3. (5) Toronto

Two wins in a row over West teams is nothing to shake a stick at for the surging Boatmen.

4. (2) Edmonton

The Green and Gold have lost four of six, but a home playoff game is still there for the taking.

6. (4) Saskatchewan

The addition of Kerry Joseph is not a bad move. He's no Henry Burris, but at least he's a veteran.

6. (7) Montreal

What's it going to be, Alouettes? A continuation of decent play or a fade to black?

7. (6) B.C.

The Leos have lost three straight, and injuries are starting to bite them in the behind.

8. (9) Ottawa

The expansion lads deserve a bump after their dominant win over the Bombers.

9. (8) Winnipeg

Lots going wrong in the Manitoba capital, where the losing streak has reached five games.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Friday, 7 p.m. EDT

Hamilton at Toronto (-3.5)

The Ticats are red hot and have won four straight over the Boatmen. Ticats by 6.

Saturday, 10 p.m. EDT

Ottawa at B.C. (-10.5)

The RedBlacks winning streak will end at one. Lions by 15.

Monday, 1 p.m. EDT

Saskatchewan at Montreal (-3.5)

The Als defence should have a field day with the Riders QB(s). Alouettes by 7.

Monday, 4:30 p.m. EDT

Winnipeg at Edmonton (-8.5)

The Blue and Gold are reeling, and the Green and Gold are strong at home. Eskimos by 9.

Last week: 3-1

Overall: 45-16


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