Alouettes need win against Blue Bombers team that will rest some players

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MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes are facing the team with the best record in the CFL on Saturday — but it won't quite be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that have dominated all year.

Montreal needs to win to keep its hopes of hosting a playoff game alive in the tight CFL East. A 6-6 record puts the Alouettes behind the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the standings with three games left in the season.

But because Winnipeg (11-1) has already clinched home field advantage in the CFL West's final, the Blue Bombers will be resting some of their players Saturday in Montreal.

“Our spot in the standings isn’t confirmed yet,” said Alouettes defensive lineman David Menard. ‘(Winnipeg) already knows where they will finish so they do what they need to do for their team and we need to get that win no matter what.”

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea made eight changes ahead of Saturday’s game but his biggest swap is undoubtedly at quarterback. CFL passing leader Zach Collaros will sit out in favour of backup Sean McGuire, who will be making his first start in professional football.

McGuire completed four passes from 10 attempts totalling 72 yards with the Bombers over the 2019 and 2021 CFL seasons. His last start dates back to Nov. 17, 2018 with the Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks.

“I think that what I haven’t been able to do is to get reps in games,” McGuire said. “However that looks, we’re just going to go out there and execute one play at a time and the goal is to win.”

O'Shea said that he respects how McGuire has worked hard while being Winnipeg's backup.

“I’m sure he’s very excited,” said O’Shea. “But I know for a fact that he’s also going about his business in a very workman-line fashion, conducting his huddle with confidence and with the understanding that he can get the job done.”

Winnipeg offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Buck Pierce is aware that McGuire will be learning on the fly during the game but thinks that he is ready for the opportunity.

“I think it’s important for guys to go out there and execute the things that we've had in our game plan this week,” Pierce said. “Sean’s ability to run our system, we believe that he can do that.”

Alouettes head coach Khari Jones said Winnipeg's quarterback change didn’t affect Montreal's (6-6) practice week.

“It doesn’t matter at all. They’re still professionals, they still play the game,” Jones said. “This team has the record they have for a reason. They have good players over there and we expect the players that are replacing them to be good so we’re pretty much focused on us just like we normally are.”

Among Winnipeg’s squad rotation, O’Shea made three changes to his secondary and two changes to the defensive line.

Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris was steadfast in thinking that Winnipeg will offer a tough challenge regardless of a rotated defensive corps.

“There are not a lot of teams that you respect more than Mike O’Shea-run teams,” Harris said. “You know they’re going to play hard and that they’re going to bring it regardless of who’s out there. They have great players, there’s no doubt about that.”

“ (Saturday) is going to be a violent game and we’re excited about going out there and teeing it up against them.”

With a league leading 45 sacks, the Alouettes’ defensive line never shied away from getting to the quarterback this season. Montreal will keep the same game plan of trying to rattle McGuire on his first ever start.

“We hope so, that’s the plan if we can. I think our line, that’s their goal every game,” Jones said. “It’s up to us to get to him a little bit and see how he responds, I’m looking forward to it.”

Menard admitted that there wasn’t much for Montreal’s defensive line to study from McGuire’s few CFL appearances. Despite that, he thinks that the Als will be prepared to take on the Bombers offence.

“We prepared on the type of offence that they have and not which players would be on the field,” Menard said. “I don’t think that they’ll change their entire playbook just because Collaros won’t be behind the centre so we prepared for the types of plays that they will be giving us and after that we can’t control who they bring out at quarterback.”

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (11-1) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (6-6)

Saturday, Percival Molson Stadium

LAWLER, LEWIS CHASING 1000: Alouettes receiver Eugene Lewis and his Bombers counterpart Kenny Lawler are both approaching the 1,000-yard mark on receptions. Lawler leads the CFL with 915 receiving yards while Lewis is a close second with 913.

OFFENSIVE LINE CHANGES: The Alouettes will make yet another change to their offensive line. Landon Rice will move from right tackle to right guard. Rookie Nick Callender will be filling in for Rice.

HARDRICK RETURNS: After missing action due to a hip injury, veteran offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick will start at right tackle. Hardrick, who didn’t play since Oct. 8, will fill in for fellow veteran Pat Neufeld.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2021.

Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press

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