EDMONTON — Micah Awe’s first game at middle linebacker with the Alouettes — July 14 against Edmonton — must now seem like a distant memory.
That night, which coincided with Danny Maciocia’s first game as interim head coach and Noel Thorpe’s as defensive coordinator, Montreal blew a 19-point third-quarter lead, losing 32-31 to the Elks.
Awe then said that the Alouettes’ defense lacked killing intent.
While the unit still seeks to play the perfect game, and perhaps never has, it has gotten better under Thorpe’s tutelage, allowing just 26 points and two touchdowns in straight wins against BC and Hamilton.
“This is the most unique defense I’ve ever been on,” Awe said. “Sometimes I call myself the fifth defensive lineman. I always felt like he had versatility as a linebacker. A lot of times I’m on the line of scrimmage or covering a guy. I’m doing everything. Now I bomb and I’m working on my fast pass.
“I have a huge responsibility and I cannot be the weak link. As long as he’s strong, everyone else can make plays. It is the first time in my career that I feel that responsibility. It is a challenge.”
The Alouettes will attempt to win a season-high third straight game on Saturday afternoon. (4pm, TSN1, TSN3, RDS, TSN690.ca, 98.5 FM) when they battle the Elks at Commonwealth Stadium. Montreal (6-7) can reach the .500 mark for the first time this season with a win, while Edmonton (4-10) hasn’t won at home since Oct. 12, 2019. Another loss would tie a CFL record. with the Ottawa Rough Riders from 1988 at 15.
Last Friday, Montreal defeated a Tiger-Cats team looking for its first road win this season. Montreal doesn’t want the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to lose to the Elks in the Commonwealth since the Lions.
“They are a good team,” Maciocia said. “Don’t let the record fool you.”
The Elks certainly looked good against Montreal in July, particularly quarterback Taylor Cornelius. He passed for 230 yards and a touchdown that night, while also gaining 20 yards on four carries. Edmonton outscored the Alouettes 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
“We played good football in that game,” Thorpe said. “We had chances to close out the game. Give them and Cornelius credit. He made plays with his legs. They made plays, continued to push themselves and gave themselves a chance to win in the end.
“But our defense has evolved since then,” Thorpe added. “I think you’ve seen it from the course of that first game to where we are now. I think we are miles ahead. We see areas where we have improved and areas where we need to continue to improve. By being in the system, the defense and the scheme for a longer period of time, guys have a deeper understanding of what we’re trying to do, accomplish and what our goals are. That takes a period of time in the beginning because things were new.”
Thorpe wants his defense to be physical and run to the ball, while remaining disciplined in the pocket. Thorpe often relies on a three-man frontline that, at times, doesn’t seem to put much pressure on the quarterback. But he also allows him to put nine players in coverage, something required in the CFL due to the larger field dimensions and affinity for passing in the three-down game.
Thorpe maintains that the three-man line is becoming a trend throughout the league.
“You’re weighing things up, coverage-wise, with nine falls, but you also have the ability to have versatility in what you do,” he explained. “You can attack offenses in different ways…because of who can rush. It depends on the opponent, down and distance, position on the field, their personnel grouping and offensive tendencies.”
While the Alouettes have lost fast end Nick Usher indefinitely to a knee injury, they have depth at the position following the recent return of Jamal Davis from the Los Angeles Chargers. He teams up with Mike Moore and Thomas Costigan.
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