The Montreal Alouettes' quarterback situation looked dire with Friday's news that Anthony Calvillo will be out for at least the rest of the season, but it was anything but on Sunday thanks to a surprising source. Troy Smith, the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback who's been with the Alouettes for just a couple of months, got his first CFL start against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and turned in a virtuoso performance, leading Montreal to a 36-5 win. That says plenty of positive things about Smith's potential future in the CFL, and it also has notable implications for the East Division race for postseason seeding.Smith's day was rather impressive, as he threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and also rushed three times for eight yards. That's remarkable for any quarterback making his first CFL start, but it's even more impressive coming from a guy who's only spent a couple of months in this league. Given how long it often takes to adjust to the differences in the Canadian game, including 12-a-side's affects on route trees and coverages, the bigger field, the three downs and more, many of the wave of backup quarterbacks who have found success this year have been around the CFL for a year or more before getting their first start. Smith is jumping ahead of the typical learning curve, and that's normally a very steep one. Of course, his day wasn't perfect; he recorded just 17 completions on 35 attempts, giving him a dismal 48.6 per cent completion rate, and he wasn't as effective in the second half. Still, all things considered, this was a great start for him.
Plenty of other Alouettes also shone. The defence was tremendous, holding the powerful Tiger-Cats' offence to just 204 passing yards, 66 rushing yards and five points, and their dominance got even better when you look at some of the stat lines for key Hamilton players. Henry Burris? 11 completions on 23 attempts (47.8 per cent) for 106 yards with an interception. C.J. Gable? Three carries, no net yardage gain. What offence the Tiger-Cats did accumulate largely came from backup quarterback Dan LeFevour, who completed 10 of 13 passes (76.9 per cent) for 98 yards and ran five times for 50 further yards, but on the whole, they were held in check. The six fumbles they piled up on the day certainly didn't help, either.
Montreal defensive standouts included Chip Cox (six tackles, two sacks), Shea Emry (five tackles) and John Bowman (four tackles, two sacks). The Alouettes also got extra offensive help from running back Tyrell Sutton (who picked up 13 carries for 84 yards, a touchdown and a 6.5 yards-per carry average, plus four receptions for 37 yards; not bad for his first CFL start), slotback S.J. Green (five catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns) and wide receiver Duron Carter (two catches for 52 yards). It was an impressive team effort, and one that has them looking better heading towards the playoffs.
This result has plenty of implications for the East Division playoff berths, too. For one thing, it means the Toronto Argonauts (who improved to 10-6 after beating Winnipeg Saturday) are more likely to finish in first place and pick up the first-round bye, as Hamilton fell to 8-8 with this loss. The Tiger-Cats won the season series against the Argonauts, so they can still take first if they win their last two games and Toronto loses their last two, but that's going to be challenging. The Alouettes' win means that they could still theoretically pass Hamilton for second and the right to host a first-round playoff game, too; they're now 7-9, just one game back, and they could claim the season series tiebreaker if they beat the Tiger-Cats again next week in Guelph. It wasn't an outcome many expected, given Hamilton's solid recent run of form and Montreal's poor play lately, but the CFL is often unpredictable. This time around, a solid first start from Smith had a lot to do with that unpredictability.