B.C. Lions vs. Edmonton Elks gameday: Stop Ford, stop the run and clinch a playoff spot

Here are 5 things to watch for as the B.C. Lions (9-4, 2nd West) play the Edmonton Elks (4-10, 5th West) at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday.

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B.C. Lions (9-4, 2nd West) at Edmonton Elks (4-10, 5th West)

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Friday, 6:30 p.m. PT, Commonwealth Stadium

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TV: TSN. Radio: AM730

Friday’s game against the Edmonton Elks would once have been one whopping green and gold banana peel for the B.C. Lions. A motivated opponent, albeit one with the league’s second-worst record and a team that hasn’t scored a point against them in two meetings this season.

But these aren’t the Elks who started the season 0-9, or hadn’t won at home since that bombastic guy with the comb-over was president of the U.S.

Nope, these Elks have won four of their last five games, scoring an average of 29 points over that span, and the playoff hopes that were once dead and buried have popped upright in the coffin.

“They’re a good team, they got a lot of good players,” said Lions coach Rick Campbell. “This is the broken record speech from me; it’s another big game and they’re all going to be big these last five. It’s a tough task going to Edmonton, but we’ve had a good week and our guys are looking forward to it.”

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Here are five things to watch for …

Ford tough

The Lions may have inadvertently unleashed the beast within the Elks. Their 27-0 Week 8 demolishment of Edmonton at Commonwealth proved to be the end of the road for offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo and starting quarterback Taylor Cornelius.

With nothing left to lose, head coach Chris Jones turned to Tre Ford, and the Canadian quarterback has completely changed the team’s fortunes.

He has just one game where he’s cracked 300 yards passing — a 317-yard night in a 30-20 win over Ottawa that mercifully ended their 22-game home losing streak — and averaged 169 yards in the other five games. But the electric Waterloo grad has been tearing up defences with his legs, averaging 78.5 yards rushing, including a CFL single-game quarterback record of 135 against the Stampeders.

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“Tre, he’s doing a great job for them and he’s given them hope, he’s given them the best chance to win,” said Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.

“He’s an exciting player, man. I love watching him. I don’t want to watch him run around this weekend … but any other week, go ahead and do your thing, Tre.”

The runaround

The Lions faced a run-oriented team in Ottawa last week, and the Redblacks gave them trouble before B.C. made adjustments in the second half and stopped them in their tracks.

But the Elks have evolved into a nonconformist bulldozer of a team, mostly rushing for more yards than passing, including three-straight games with 200+ yards — a feat not accomplished in the pass-happy CFL since Saskatchewan in 2002. Under new offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson, the Elks have averaged 170 rushing yards in their last six games.

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Ford hasn’t been the only one doing damage; running back Kevin Brown has 318 yards and two touchdowns, and a 9.4 yards-per-carry average in his past two games. But the mission is simple for B.C.: Stop Ford, stop the Elks.

Defensive coordinator Ryan Phillips said the Elks QB doesn’t get enough credit for throwing on the run, and his focus will be on keeping Ford contained.

“You approach it with trying to eliminate the explosive plays that he creates. You want to keep him in the pocket — and that’s always easier than then getting it done,” he said. “He’s the guy that obviously can extend plays and guy that has DB-type speed, so he definitely presents a different dynamic than any other quarterback in the league.

“ … oftentimes he’s throwing the ball 25 yards downfield, and he’s giving guys like Geno (Lewis) a chance to make plays. So you got to stay in coverage. You got to do all those things that are necessary, and that’s gonna be the hardest thing for us as far as containing him.”

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Rumbling, bumblings out of the gate

In three of their last four games, the Lions have found themselves down by double-digits, with flat starts putting them in deep, dark holes. They found a way back against Ottawa with a comeback for the ages, but the problem has persisted.

“I know our players’ hearts are in the right place,” said coach Rick Campbell. “It’s certainly not lackadaisical … it’s more about having the confidence to go out there and make plays. I can’t get too mad at these guys. We flew all the way across the country to Montreal and got a win and you got a win at home.

“The more coaches I talk to, (I hear) every week is a grind because everybody can beat everybody. Obviously everybody doesn’t have the same records but man, you got to work hard to win in this league.”

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Smoke ’em if you got ’em

A promising start to the Lions ground game — they averaged 111 yards per game through Week 3 — ground to a near halt. B.C. is last in the CFL in both yards per game (78.2) and attempts (223).

There have been situational reasons, like the fact the Lions have been playing from behind in several games, leading to a drop in attempts for Taquan Mizzell. He’s averaging 11.5 rushes per game this season, but has seen games of seven, nine and five runs in three of his last four games.

But he’s only gone over 50 yards once in his last six games, a 14-carry, 68-yard performance in a win over Montreal, where he did pick up some crucial yards late in the game.

As the leaves change colours in CFL cities across the country, it’s that time of year when being able to rush the ball grows in importance. One-trick ponies rarely cross the finish line first in this league.

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Clutch time

The Lions can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Edmonton this week, while a loss for the Elks would all but mathematically eliminate them from contention.

The Elks haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet this season and B.C. poses the stiffest of tests. They haven’t even made it into the red zone against B.C. in their two shutout losses against the Lions.

Edmonton has the hardest road remaining in the regular season, facing Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg in their final four games after this week.

If B.C. doesn’t come out on top at Commonwealth this week, they can still secure their spot in the post-season with a win over Montreal the following weekend. The Lions still control their destiny for the top spot in the West, with an Oct. 6 home date with the 10-4 Bombers the crucial swing game.

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