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September 7, 2019

Hoover Willing, Able To Contribute Any Way He Can

Jordan Hoover wasn’t aware at the time that he was delivering a once-in-a-lifetime performance during Monday’s Labour Day Classic.

The 26-year-old Eskimos defensive back, who has been playing safety for only the last nine games of his three-year CFL career, had 10 defensive tackles in the 25-9 loss to the Calgary Stampeders.

The teams play again at 5 p.m. Saturday (TSN, 630 CHED) in the Rematch Game at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium. The Eskimos are 4-1 at home this year, but only 2-4 against West Division opponents, including 0-2 versus Calgary.

“The fact of the matter is they beat us (on Monday) and they beat us handily,” said Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris. “It’s our job to protect our home turf and we’re going to come out swinging.”

Hoover, who is tied with defensive nosetackle Almondo Sewell for fourth place on the Eskimos with 27 defensive tackles, was busy throughout Monday’s game.

“I was talking to some of my buddies from back in college,” Hoover said. “I can’t remember a game ever having double digits (in tackles). A career-high at the pro level is something special to me, for sure.

“I was just trying to make plays for my team whenever I could,” he continued. “You see the guy with the ball. You go get him. This time it was 10. Maybe next game it’s zero because everyone else makes the play before I even get there.”

Hoover did have eight tackles and six assisted tackles during a game with the University of Waterloo Warriors during his junior season in 2016, but former Eskimos safety Neil King never had more than six tackles in a CFL game. Six tackles was also the season high for an Edmonton defensive back this year prior to Monday’s game.

“Cool stat to have,” Hoover said. “Do I ever want to do it again? Probably not. Can’t say my body felt great, but it’s good to go now.

“Personally, I’m very proud of it,” he added. “Defensively speaking, we have to make some adjustments. You don’t necessary want your safety making 10 tackles, but if he’s willing to do it, why not. I’ll do it again and again for them.”

As the safety, Hoover is the last line of defence in the secondary. He had to tackle Calgary running back Ka’Deem Carey four times after gains of 18, 18, 15 and 20 yards. He also tackled four receivers after gains of 17, 22, 17 and 14 yards, knocked Richard Sindani out of bounds after a 51-yard gain to momentarily prevent a touchdown late in the first half and dropped Stampeders running back Terry Willians for a two-yard loss while blitzing on a play.

“It’s a good thing to have a free safety who can come hit like that and is willing to stick his nose in there on the play,” said Eskimos defensive halfback Monshadrik (Money) Hunter, who played free safety in college at Arkansas State. “It’s good to know that your free safety is there to stop all plays from going further than what they are.”

Hoover admitted that the first thought most fans would have when they see a defensive back with a lot of tackles is “Oh, he probably let his guy get open a couple of times.”

“Sure, I can remember a couple I was tackling in the secondary,” he said. “But a couple of times I got the running back, a couple of blitzes I came and met him in the hole. Just wanting to make a play, being around the box in the formations where it allows me to be a little bit lower than usual and then just making the plays when they come.

“It’s a help defence,” he continued. “You trust the guys to make the reads and make their plays. Sometimes they see something a little bit differently. We had a little bit of miscommunication – two guys jumped a screen. I’m deep for a reason. I’ve got my guy and I see something break like that, it’s abandon everything and go get that one guy. Just make the play, save the touchdown and live another down.”

While Monday’s loss was disappointing as the Eskimos lost back-to-back games for the first time this season to drop into fourth place in the West Division with a 6-5 record, Edmonton has a chance to leapfrog Calgary with a win on Saturday.

“It’s a must-win game going into the bye week,” said Hoover. “It’s an absolute must win. That feeling we got left with after that defeat (on Monday) is going to show what kind of team we are on Saturday, how we come out and really start to show our true colours.”

Eskimos look to right their wrongs

The Eskimos have won two of the last four Rematch Games, including a 48-42 shootout last year, and could have won all four, but two possible victories slipped through their hands at the end of the game.

“The way we were flying around (during Wednesday’s practice) is what I expect us to do on Saturday,” said Head Coach Jason Maas. “It wasn’t a slow-paced practice. This was a fast practice, a good practice. … That’s the best part about the Labour Day to Saturday Rematch. You don’t have a lot of time to sit here and feel anything. You’ve got to get back to work.”

Maas and his players were in an upbeat mood after their one full day of practice this week.

“There’s nothing we can do now that can change the outcome of that game, so let’s take the positive, work with that, see what we did good, see how we can carry that into this game,” Hoover said. “The reads we failed to make, let’s make sure we make them. We know the adjustments we need to make and we’re going to make them and it’s going to be a different game.”

Maas said his team “learned some hard lessons from this last (game). We don’t feel real good about it. There’s a pit in our stomach about it.

“But you try to be positive about it. You try to look and analyze everything. I don’t use the cliché of six plays (that can determine the outcome of a game) all the time, but when I break down that game and I try to figure out the reasons why (the Eskimos lost), I can pick six plays. Out of those six plays, I gave the Stampeders one and said they made a great play, regardless of what we could have done.

“But the other five, we could have made a difference in the outcome of the game. Lining up offside on second-and-two is one of those detail things. Unless they go for it on third-and-two, it’s 9-6 at halftime, not 15-6. That’s a whole different feeling in that ball game.

“But that was a detail. That detail didn’t matter in stopping the play. It was illegal to do that, but it didn’t have a factor in the play. Ultimately, you pay a big price for that. Again, that’s a detail we can correct and that’s something I can guarantee our player will never ever not look at the referee to make sure he’s onside. If we have to learn that lesson on Labour Day, so be it.

“Ultimately, our guys are in a better frame of mind after watching the film and putting it to bed and coming out here and working. That’s what you have to do. You have to move on, you have to work, you have to be positive. You’ve got to feel good about yourself going into this (game).”

Hoover said the situation on Labour Day also played into Monday’s result.

“In a game like that, you’re strung a little high on emotion, it’s hot out there, defence is on (the field) a lot, you forget the small details,” he said. “Sometimes you’re reading the formation and you forget there’s a tight end there and people cross over. Small things like that. Just make sure you pay attention, get your reads, follow your rules. Your rules are there for a reason. And you’ve just got to play within your limitations and just go make a play.”

“We’ve got to play harder than them,” offered Money Hunter. “In some places, we didn’t play as hard as we could have and we didn’t compete against that person across from us and now it’s all about competing and who wants it more.”

Both Maas and Sewell said the Eskimos have to be more physical than the Stampeders on Saturday.

“They came out and played better,” Maas said about Monday’s game. “They were more physical to the punch and we didn’t respond like we normally do.

“Hopefully, this week, our mindset is we’re going to be to come out and play a little bit more physical, pay more attention to the details, understand the game plan better and go out and execute it.

“I think our guys got the message and understand that,” he pointed out. “I look forward to us righting that wrong come Saturday. … Any time you get a bad taste in your mouth and get a defeat and feel like that wasn’t who you (are) that day, you should show up with a different mentality.”

Calgary compiled 461 yards of net offence against the Eskimos earlier this week.

“Big insult,” Sewell said. “Everybody’s pride is hurt right now because we hadn’t given up that many yards yet this year. It’s one of those things where I’m glad we went through this little gut check right now instead of later on in the year.”

Sewell said the biggest thing he noticed when watching the video of Monday’s game beside “all the mistakes that we made” was “we weren’t being physical enough. They came out. They ran right through us.”

The Eskimos defensive line, which leads the CFL with 33 quarterback sacks and has four players among the league’s top 10 sack leaders, has been shut out during each of the last two games.

“Any time we don’t do what we have to do as a D-line, we take it personally, so we’ve got to come back and level up for this game,” said Sewell, who also pointed out that it’s “very hard to get to (Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell).”

“It’s a complete team defence you have to play when you play Calgary because they rarely make mistakes and they usually capitalize on other peoples’ mistakes.”

Red Zone slipups

Quarterback Trevor Harris said he realized the offence “didn’t play bad” after watching the video of Monday’s game.

“It was more that we weren’t explosive,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done a good job of all year, being an explosive offence and giving ourselves for a lot of scoring opportunities in every game. We didn’t do that last game.

“We have to make sure that we are eventful and we are making the plays and not screwing up the details.”

The Eskimos, who have scored only 14 touchdowns on 32 trips into the Red Zone (inside the opponent’s 20-yard line), failed to score a touchdown on two chances in the Red Zone on Monday and are 0-for-5 in the Red Zone over the last two games.

“I consider myself a good Red Zone quarterback,” Harris said. “We had our struggles last year when I was in Ottawa, but late in the year we turned it on. In ’15, I led the league in touchdowns. I was a good Red Zone quarterback. I have been my whole life.

“But last year, at the beginning of the year and then this year, has kind of been a new deal … We’ve got to fix it now. We have to have a sense of urgency and fix it.”

Game notes

  • Saturday’s game marks the 31st consecutive year of the mid-season home-and-home series between the Eskimos and Stampeders.
  • Harris is currently tied with former Eskimos pivot Ricky Ray for the CFL record with the most consecutive games – 24 – of completing 20 or more passes.
  • The Eskimos have been outscored by 21 points in the first quarter this season.
  • Despite losing their last home game to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Eskimos are 11-2 at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium since June 29, 2018.
  • Kicker Sean Whyte has been successful on all 12 field goals he has attempted during the last three games, but his teams are 0-7 in games in which he has scored all of the points (Montreal 0-2, Eskimos 0-5). That’s happened three times this year.
  • The only Eskimos lineup change this week is adding third-string quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe to the game roster. He has been on the practice roster for the past six games.