The Laurier Golden Hawks are going to have their hands full as they prepare to take on the 8-0 and second ranked Western Mustangs. The Hawks will be looking for a much different result than when the two teams met in September. The Mustangs came into University Stadium and beat the Hawks 59-9 in a game that was never competitive.
However, this is a different Laurier football team facing the Mustangs this week, as the Hawks are peaking at the right time. The Mustangs will be heavily favoured, however, the Hawks (under Coach Faulds) have shown an ability to rise to the level of their opponent.
Matchups to watch for on Saturday:
Western QB Will Finch vs. Golden Hawk Pass Rush:
The Golden Hawk defence is going to have to get to Western quarterback Will Finch on Saturday afternoon.
During the regular season, Finch threw for 2616 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 327 yards per game. Finch is big and physical, making him very difficult to bring down and caused problems for the Hawks back in September.
In the first match-up, Finch and the Mustangs offence ran an up-tempo, hurry up offence that was effective in confusing the Hawks defensively.
If the Golden Hawks are going to win this football game, they will need to swarm the pocket and cause problems for Finch. Defensive end Kwaku Boateng has been outstanding for the Hawks late in the season. After only getting to the quarterback once in his opening six games, Boateng has really turned up the heat. Last week in Hamilton, Boateng had two sacks and recovered a fumble. His best games and big plays always seem to come when the team needs it most.
Asante Mizan and Rashari Henry are two other contributors who will need to cause problems for Finch on Saturday. Mizan and Henry both scored touchdowns in Laurier’s regular season finale in Kingston.
Golden Hawks RB Dillon Campbell vs. the Mustangs front seven:
Laurier running back Dillon Campbell ran wild last week in Hamilton, however, the all-Canadian is going to have a much tougher matchup this week in London.
The Western defence has only given up an average of 13.8 points per game this season, good for third least in the country. Despite holding teams out of the end zone, the Mustangs have given up an average of 142.3 rushing yards per game. Earlier this year, the Mustangs shut down Campbell, holding him to just 74 yards on 13 rushes.
I think that it is safe to assume that Campbell will get more than 13 carries this time around. Campbell was known to be battling several minor injuries back in September, which limited his touches significantly. The Hawks’ workhorse is in line to see another heavy workload on Saturday. Campbell appears to be getting healthier and did not appear to be banged up after getting the ball 40 times last week.
If the Golden Hawks can run the football well on first down, it will set up second and manageable and allow Morelli and the passing attack to get more involved.
The Laurier receiving core vs. the Mustangs secondary:
The Mustangs secondary has given up just 240.4 yards per game this season, good for eighth in the country. The Hawks passing offence ranks 19th in the country with just 219.5 passing yards per game. On paper, it looks like a mismatch, and a huge advantage to the Western defence, however, I’m looking at the Laurier receiving core to make some plays this weekend.
Rookie receiver Kurliegh Gittens Jr. sat out last weeks win over McMaster with an injury and his status for this week is unknown. Gittens Jr., who led the Golden Hawks this season with 40 receptions for 461 yards, is not only important to the passing offence, but also to the return game.
If Laurier’s top receiver cannot play again, Daniel Bennett, Anthony Pizzuti and Greg Nyhof should see a lot of targets. Bennett filled in nicely for Gittens last week in Hamilton bringing in three catches for 83 yards. He also had an eight-yard touchdown called back after making an acrobatic one-handed catch.
Pizutti and Nyhof continue to be mismatches for opposing defences to cover in the red zone. They are both big physical receivers that go up and take the football away from defenders in the end zone. Both Pizzuti and Nyhof had touchdowns in the red zone last week and will continue to be a focal point of the Laurier offence once they get down past the Western 20 yard line.
Keys to punching a ticket to the Yates Cup
Pound the rock:
The Hawks are going to need to pound the football right down the middle of this Mustang defence on Saturday afternoon. If the Hawks are going to win this game, Dillon Campbell is going to need to touch the ball more than the 13 times he did back in September. Campbell has been a man on a mission as of late and, coming off of his first career playoff win, he is hungrier for more.
The Hawks offensive line will need to continue to dominate the line of scrimmage. They have opened up big holes for Campbell to run through all season long and will need another strong outing as a unit on Saturday afternoon. They have also done a great job of protecting quarterback Eric Morelli, not giving up a single sack last week. With a much better Western pass rush, the offensive line will have their hands full but are more than capable of leading this team to a victory.
Win the time of possession battle:
If the Purple and Gold are going to win on Saturday, they are going to need to keep Will Finch and the high-powered Mustang offence off the field. Even when they are not scoring points, the Laurier offence is going to need to move and possess the football. A balanced mix of Dillon Campbell and a steady passing attack will be needed to keep Western off the field.
Defensively, Laurier will need to get off the field when they can and avoid taking unnecessary penalties that keep the Mustangs on the field.
Win the turnover battle:
There are two components of winning the turnover battle in a football game. Firstly, you have to take care of the ball on offence. The Hawks cannot afford to give Finch a short field to work with. They also need to score points when they can. Even if that means settling for three points in the red zone, the Golden Hawks will need to avoid throwing interceptions or turning the ball over when they are in position to put points on the board.
Secondly, the Laurier defence will need to keep doing what they have been doing so well, forcing turnovers. Whether it is a sack fumble, or forcing Finch into a bad decision, it all starts with the defensive line. Last year in their playoff game against Western, Boateng had three sacks and forced their quarterback into throwing two interceptions. The Hawks are going to need the same intensity from Boateng and the rest of the defensive line on Saturday.
If the Hawks take care of the football on offence and force some turnovers on defence, they have a good chance of handing the Mustangs their only loss of the season.
It is going to be an extremely tough test for the Golden Hawks on Saturday afternoon in London. Faulds has completely turned this season around and has sparked the Hawks into playing a tough, smash mouth style of football. If they continue to play the way that they have been the past couple of weeks, they have a good shot of booking their ticket to the Yates Cup!