I’m always looking to try new things, make things easier on myself and add to the breadth of opinion on this blog, so … I asked Claude Scilley, no doubt one of the leading experts on Queen’s football and CIS football in general, to share his perspective on Saturday’s game with this blog’s readers. Scilley is a Queen’s University grad [Commerce ’78] and a professional journalist who covered amateur sports for the Kingston Whig-Standard for over 40 years. He now writes about “Queen’s football and Kingston high school sports” on his sportkingston blog.
1. I don’t think Guelph fans think of Queen’s as one of our traditional rivals. Mac, Laurier and Western would normally be the teams we really want to beat. But, because of last season, this has to be the most anticipated game of the 2013 for both teams. National TV. Playoff bye & homefield advantage at stake. Is this the game of the year to date? What is the perspective in Kingston?
• The most anticipated game of the season for Queen’s was actually the Western game. Queen’s was undefeated at the time and feeling very good about themselves. Of course, when they lost that game the focus shifted to Guelph. It was always going to be an emotional game, based on the way Queen’s lost twice to the Gryphons with badly blown leads, and was eliminated from the playoffs as a result, and a veteran team hoping to reverse those outcomes in similarly important games this year. Post-Western it took on all the added practical importance of home field, bye, etc.
Likewise, Guelph has always just been just another opponent since Queen’s returned to the OUA in 2000. Other than being the team Queen’s beat in the 92 Churchill Bowl, it’s been a nondescript series, with no sense of rivalry there from this end, either (despite the fact that Stu Lang is in Queen’s Football Hall of Fame, and Pat Tracey was a star and coached at Guelph). However, the game, one of two Homecoming games this year — as Homecoming returned to the fall after a five-year hiatus — has been sold out for weeks.
2. In spite of winning 14 consecutive OUA regular season games a lot of people still don’t want to give Guelph any credit. “Easy schedule”. “They’re just lucky”. “They haven’t proven anything yet”. What is your take on the Gryphon football program?
• You don’t win 14 games in a row on luck. You can only play the opponents your schedule gives you. For many years in the old OQIFC, seen elsewhere as the weak sister of university football in Canada, Queen’s faced the same kind of condescension, so I feel Guelph’s pain. I see Guelph as a program on the rise, with the leadership and resources to sustain it into the future. However, they really haven’t proven anything yet, in the grander scheme. One trip to the Yates Cup is a nice start, but until they perform at that level for a few years, Guelph will be seen as a program on the up side of the regular university sport cycle — and let’s wait and see what they do when it matters. (Queen’s was 14-2 in the regular years 2007-08, but lost at home in the first playoff game each time and people looked on them the same way until they won the Vanier in 09).
Consider this: in 2012, the Gryphons gave up 69 points in two playoff games; they gave up 117 points in the three games against Mac, Western and Queen’s. That’s not championship calibre defence. This year, Guelph has yet to play a team that was above .500 at the time they met. Don’t forget, many people believe Guelph’s semifinal win last year over Queen’s was more Queen’s blowing it than Guelph stealing it. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but that’s the conclusion people will jump to when an upstart does that to a traditional power. Fans need to see more of it to be convinced it wasn’t a fluke, but a harbinger of a new era.
3. The Golden Gaels defense doesn’t seem to be up to the standards of the previous couple of years. They are giving up a lot more points and yards in spite of returning almost everyone. What is the explanation for that?
• Injuries. Period. Queen’s has started three different safeties this year; at Waterloo of the three starting linebackers, two were making the first start of their university career; on defence alone, nine players who have started for Queen’s were not available last week — four DBs and four linebackers among them. That linebacking corps had one guy who would start if everyone was healthy, one kid who dressed for his first game two weeks ago after two years on the scout squad and a true freshman. As Coach Tracey said last week, it makes it not only difficult to play, it makes it difficult to practice, because you never know which 12 guys are going to be available on Saturday. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few of those injured players who weren’t given an extra week to recover since Waterloo wasn’t a threatening opponent. When it comes to injuries, the team makes the Pentagon seem like it’s staffed by blabbermouths so we won’t know the updated status until Friday. However, their best player, Sam Sabourin, hasn’t played in two weeks. It’s a credit to Tracey and the young athletes that they’ve been able to compete as well as they have.
4. I love natural grass fields but I still had to embrace Guelph’s move to install turf last year. It is so much more practical in Canada. And the Gryphons have totally geared their recruiting to building a team with speed – i.e. a team designed to play on turf. How good will the condition of the grass be this Saturday? Will it be cut short or will they leave it longer to slow down the Gryphons?
• I disagree. The game was meant to be played on grass and the groundskeepers at Queen’s do a spectacular job keeping the field maintained – even in the wake of the pesticide ban. It’s in terrific shape since it’s only used now for four home football games. I’m not sure how the length of the grass impacts a football game. It’s not like anybody’s going to bunt. The only thing that has puzzled me for two years is Queen’s plays on grass but they practise on turf. So any benefit they might gain from familiarity of playing surface would be minimal.
5. What type of game do you expect to see on Saturday? Do you have a prediction?
• Run and gun. I’m not about to predict an outcome in such a game, especially based on past performance, where clearly no lead was safe. I’d be very surprised if it descends into a defensive struggle. People have been waiting all year for Queen’s to play to its potential and, notwithstanding the fact that the opponent was Waterloo, the Gaels were firing on all cylinders on Friday night. However, they can’t afford to have a punt blocked on the 10-yard line, or have a fumble returned 92 yards, as happened against the Warriors. Such mistakes have been the bane of their season. Had they not turned the ball over twice at the Western five-yard line, that game would have had a much different complexion. Even in the victory at Ottawa U, they managed just three TDs from seven trips into the red zone, with two turnovers. That inability to finish has kept Queen’s from being the team people expected it to be. The fact the Gaels are 6-1 in spite of it gives you an idea of the strength of the team.
6. Gryphon fans are generally a very well behaved and tidy bunch. Should they expect to have any problems with Queen’s security during pre-game tailgating? Like the harassment they had at McMaster for the 2012 Yates Cup.
• I don’t think so. It used to be that anybody who so much as thought about opening a cooler or firing up a grill got a visit from the local gendarmerie but that is no longer the case. Queen’s tailgaters are still testing the water – they’re very sedate in the pursuit, but at least they’re allowed to take part. Here are a couple of suggestions, however: Don’t park where you’re not supposed to. The campus storm troopers were out ticketing cars that weren’t bothering anybody last home game (nice way to treat Homecoming alumni, n’est-ce que pas?). Also, arrive early. This year Queen’s went to an e-ticketing system (for a stadium, half of which was condemned as structurally unsound in the summer, if you can believe it) and anticipating a sellout crowd had one — that’s not a typo, one — ticket scanner at the entrance. I know of people who got tired of waiting in line and left. (another dainty dish for the Homecomers, right?) The response of an event person I spoke to? “Well, people should know to come early.” It’s one thing to screw up and own it. It’s quite beyond the pale to screw up and then blame your victims. Given the cavalier attitude suggests the debacle could be repeated, I’d say don’t wait past 12:30 to enter the stadium, and enjoy your visit to Kingston.