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Home > Articles > CIS Football > Gaels look to establish running game today in Ottawa

Gaels look to establish running game today in Ottawa

Posted: September 21st, 2013 @ 12:31am


It can be challenging for an athlete, Jesse Andrews allowed the other day, to be a good teammate when you're dying to get back in the football game yourself.

"At times you think, 'OK, I got the team rolling there and now my couple of series is up,'" said the Queen's Golden Gaels running back, one of three who has been sharing the workload at tailback so far this season.

"It's discouraging at that point, but at the same time you know that there's a well trusted athlete going in right behind you, or starting in front of you. You have trust in the guys but it's hard to keep the ball rolling like that."

It's tempting to speculate that, since Andrews was the one of the three who was invited to appear at the football team's weekly news conference on Thursday, the Gaels have decided it's time to (a) concentrate more of the workload in one place and (b) Andrews is where they've decided to concentrate it.

If he's been told he'll be starting Saturday in Ottawa against the Gee-Gees, Andrews wasn't sharing it, beyond a wish that the folks back home in Arnprior will be pleased with whatever they see. "Rumour has it there's going to be a big fan base for me," he said. "It's very exciting. I hope I don't disappoint them too much."

The third-year civil engineering student is part of an interesting troika of tailbacks at Queen's this year. Playing ahead of him so far has been fifth-year man Ryan Granberg, the former all-Canadian. Behind him is Daniel Heslop, the former NCAA player. Any of the three could start on most any team in the land.

All have made good accounts of themselves when they've had the chance. Granberg, one of only two Queen's players ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, leads the team with 142 yards, averaging a little less than five yards per carry. Andrews, who hasn't had a game of less than 100 yards as a starter in his brief intercollegiate career, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Heslop has averaged better than seven yards per carry in his last two games.

Collectively, however, the Queen's running attack has been unspectacular - and quite unbefitting a team ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Gaels have rushed for an average of just 134 yards per game, 17th among the 27 university teams in Canada.

It's an area the coaches have vowed must - and will - improve.

"Even though we've scored (a lot of points) our time of possession has been lower than our opponents," said coach Pat Sheahan, whose team has run 161 offensive plays this year, compared to 213 by the other guys. "That allows your opponent to wear down your defence. The thing to do is go out and make more first downs.

"Everyone knows our running game is a work in progress and that is a big part of ball-control football. We've got some talented guys who can make big plays but you get a day where the quarterback is just a little bit off, or you get bad weather or you get a tough cover team, and all of a sudden those explosion plays disappear and then you've got to rely on the other aspects of the game."

If the Gaels had relied solely on their running game to get them this far, they wouldn't be 3-0. One hundred and thirty-four yards as a team? In the last 23 games, a single Queen's back has rushed for more than that 13 times.

None of them did it as part of a commune.

No doubt the return Saturday of veteran centre Mike Sullivan will help, but conventional wisdom says improving the running game won't happen as long as three tailbacks rotate in and out of the lineup. Backs tend to need several carries to gain the requisite confidence, consistency and coalescence with the offensive line to be maximally effective.

"That's the tricky part," Andrews said. "The first couple of series, you run through them and you sort of build it up and keep it going, but when you're only playing a couple of series and you're subbed out and the other guy goes in, it's hard to keep moving forward while another guy's going in fresh.

"There's a lot of talent there but it's hard to share it."

Andrews acknowledges there is much room for improvement.

"Our goal is to get three first downs, at least, before we have to punt it away," he said, "Enough of these two-and-outs. It's time to perform the way we really can."
* * *
At a point in his career where a veteran player might expect to be comfortable - and good ones might even find themselves in systems created with them in mind - Concordia Stingers linebacker Max Caron finds himself doing lots of new stuff this year.

And it suits him just fine.

"You've got to take it all in stride," the former Frontenac Falcon said after last Saturday's game in Montreal against St. Francis Xavier.

It was a game the 2011 President's Trophy winner as the nation's top defensive player didn't start, and one throughout which he was in and out of the defensive lineup.

Caron said that's because the team is now using as its basic formation three down lineman and four linebackers, after being a 4-3 team the last couple of years.

"It's something you've got to adjust to," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen at the next level. I've got to be prepared to play in different formations so for now I'm just doing what I can to help the team."

As a fourth-year player, Caron says it's his responsibility to know more than one position. "You've got to know a couple," he said. "Coach (Luc) Pelland has a lot of different blitz packages and I love it. I think our defence is a lot better when we're pressuring teams better than we've been over the last couple of years."

Identified last week by the CFL Scouting Bureau as one of the top prospects for next spring's draft - No. 7 - Caron makes no secret of the fact he has designs on a professional career. Just because it is his draft year, however, is no reason for him to approach this season any differently than any of the previous three.

"I think that's something that guys can fall into, trying to do too much," he said. "I think after my second year, when I won the President's Trophy, in my third year I went out and I probably missed a couple of plays because I was trying to do too much.

"My focus more than anything this year, and certainly for the rest of the season, is just to do my job, be a leader on the team, be vocal on the field, but also be sharp on my assignments. I'm doing everything I can to play on special teams because as a Canadian I'm going to have to play a lot of special teams to play professional football."
* * *
Aaron Brownlee was eager to be part of the football team when he went to St. Francis Xavier University this fall. The former Holy Cross Crusader and Kingston Grenadier didn't, however, expect to be playing so soon.

"I knew they were thin at middle linebacker so (I was hopeful) when coach said you'll get your fair chance to come in and compete and maybe play special teams. I didn't expect to be backup to (second-team all-Canadian) Brett Hubbeard my first year and starting on three special teams. I definitely didn't expect that.

"It's a lot of fun. I'm lining up against people who could be five years older than me. I don't always do as well as I did in OVFL. I'm just learning and busting my ass to get better and adjust to the different level of playing."

Brownlee is studying human kinetics and he said school is going well.

"That's the one thing I was really nervous about. Football, I've been doing all my life. School, I didn't know what to expect. I'm really enjoying my classes, actually being interested in what you're taking."

Brownlee made his decision to go to Antigonish long before his coach with the Grenadiers, Bob Mullen, signed on as the X-Men defensive co-ordinator, but Brownlee is delighted with the coincidence.

"To continue the journey with him is a lot of fun. This team has so much talent. When I came in and looked at some of the amazing players on the team, a handful of guys who could even go professional, and you look at (last year's) record, 1-7, and it just doesn't add up.

"I'm obviously biased, but I think Mully's the best defensive coach in the CIS. He's helped this team so much."

Notebook: Queen's today will find itself opposing Kingston kicker Lewis Ward, who in his rookie campaign with the Ottawa Gee-Gees stands sixth in the conference, 10th in Canada, in scoring with 33 points. A Bayridge Secondary School grad, he kicked his season-longest field goal, 36 yards, last week against Western. - The Gaels will play today without all-star corner Andrew Lue. Lue left the Gaels' last game against Windsor, spending most of it on the sideline with an arm in a sling. - McMaster scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of its 41-27 win last week over York and coach Stefan Ptaszek liked what he saw of quarterback Marshall Ferguson. "Our offence caught some rhythm in the second half," Ptaszek said. "That is as comfortable as he's looked for 30 minutes. Now I'm pressing to get that for a full game." - Guelph's all-star running back Rob Farquharson returns to the lineup Saturday for the Gryphons' Homecoming game against McMaster. Farquharson rushed for 936 yards last year, third best in Canada. McMaster, meanwhile, is expected to be missing some top players due to injury: Two all-Canadians - tackle Matt Sewell and defensive back Joey Cupido, possibly wide receiver Michael DiCroce, a 2011 all-Canadian, and slotback Tyler Loveday as well. - Sydenham High School grad Hayden Peters punted for a 37.7-yard average - outkicking his opponent by more than four yards per punt - but it wasn't enough for the St. Francis Xavier X-Men to avoid a 40-11 defeat at the hands of defending conference champion Acadia Friday night. Peters had a tackle for loss and he recovered a fumble, but he failed in an attempt to gain first down on a fake punt early in the second half. St. F.X., playing without four injured starters on defence, was outscored 30-3 in the final two periods.
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