Mitchell doesn't believe his running prowess is causing concern for Roughriders

HAMILTON — He was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' second-leading rusher last week but Bo Levi Mitchell doesn't believe that's kept the Saskatchewan Roughriders' defensive braintrust up at night.

Mitchell leads Hamilton (0-1) into its home opener against Saskatchewan (1-0) on Sunday night. The veteran quarterback ran for a personal-best 36 yards on three carries in the Ticats' season-opening 32-24 road loss in Calgary.

"I highly doubt that Mace (Riders head coach/defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace) and Bell (secondary coach/passing co-ordinator Josh Bell) and those guys over there are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to stop me from running the ball.

"The opportunities presented themselves … any successful quarterback in the CFL is able to escape the pocket and find guys on the move."

Mitchell, 34, is in his 12th CFL season — and second with Hamilton — and has amassed over 32,000 passing yards and 194 TD strikes over that span. But the six-foot-two, 199-pound Texan has run just 177 times in 172 regular-season games for 822 yards (4.6-yard average) and 13 TDs.

He had a career-best 232 rushing yards (6.6-yar average) and four touchdowns in 2014 with Calgary.

In his first game against the Stampeders — Mitchell spent his first 10 CFL seasons with Calgary before joining the Ticats after the '22 campaign — he finished 27-of-38 passing for 300 yards with a TD and interception. Running back James Butler anchored Hamilton's ground attack with a game-high 119 yards on 13 carries (9.2-yard average).

"He's one of, I think, the most underrated backs in the league in my personal opinion," Mace told reporters in Regina this week. "I don't think he gets enough love but he's an excellent back. he's got great vision, a strong runner, the offensive line does a good job.

"It's a tall task. We've got to be on our p's and q's to get that done."

But Mace said the Riders can't forget about Mitchell and Co., either.

"They have the ability to beat you on the ground, they have the ability to go airborne if need be with guys like Bo and Tim White, etc.," he said. "We just can't be one-dimensional defensively.

"We've got to make sure we're ready to roll however they try to attack us."

Saskatchewan will be playing its second straight road game. Last week, the Riders outscored Edmonton 21-3 in the fourth quarter to secure a 29-21 victory.

Quarterback Trevor Harris, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, was 22-of-31 passing for 305 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. Harris was among four quarterbacks to throw for 300 or more yards last week but the only one to emerge victorious.

Saskatchewan's Shawn Bane Jr. had five catches for 125 yards and a club record-tying three touchdowns.

"They (Riders offence) have the ability to get hot like that at any given time," Mace said. "Certainly for myself and the rest of us in the organization (we) hope it's from the first snap but whatever it is we have faith that they'll get the job done."

Mace won in his head-coaching debut and will attempt to become the first Riders head coach to be victorious in his first two contests since Corey Chamblin started 3-0 in 2012.

Hamilton is chasing a fourth straight home win over Saskatchewan while Mitchell also sports a 12-4 mark as a starter versus the Riders. The Ticats defence will be bolstered by all-star cornerback Jamal Peters's return after he missed last week's game with a hamstring injury.

"Honestly, we're really more focused at this point on what we're doing and improving on our own," said Hamilton head coach Scott Milanovich. "We understand they're going to have emotion, that they're coming off a big road win and we get that.

"But right now I think we need to concentrate on what we're doing."

Hamilton amassed 459 net offensive yards against Calgary but could've had more if not for untimely dropped passes. But Ticats receiver Steven Dunbar Jr. feels Saskatchewan's defence will present a formidable challenge.

"I've got a lot of respect for them," he said. "They play hard, they hit hard, they're well coached and I'm excited to play them."

Hamilton's Kyle Wilson had five tackles against Calgary at middle linebacker after having played previously at the weakside position. However, the six-foot, 229-pound Wilson, in his fourth CFL season, wasn't pleased with his play.

"My production could've been higher, my grade for the game definitely could've been higher," he said. "It was a starting point, we'll definitely be better going forward."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press