LIVESTREAM PPV: CFL – BC Lions @Winnipeg blue Bombers, July 7, 7:30p (8:30p EST, 2:30a July 8)

WINNIPEG — The Matt Nichols show is back in town.

The biggest storyline ahead of Saturday night’s Winnipeg-BC showdown at Investors Group Field, by far, is the 2018 debut of the Bombers’ starting quarterback.

While rookie Chris Streveler was more than competent in two of his three starts under centre, the return of Nichols will provide a boost — in morale, even if his rust results in little immediate gain — to Winnipeg.

“It’s frustrating, but at the same time I tried to keep my positive attitude around the guys,” Nichols told BlueBombers.com‘s Ed Tait. “I thought (Streveler) did an unbelievable job, especially because I know what it’s like for a young quarterback coming up to this league. The way that he performed was much better than 99 per cent of the rookies who come up and play in their first year.”

The test for Wally Buono and the Lions this week, then, will be game-planning for a Nichols-led Bombers offence that has not been on tape yet in 2018.

In Lions-land, it’s been difficult to plot a course for the team; will it be led by a shutdown defence, or a dynamic offence?

Neither has risen to the occasion consistently through BC’s first two games — a precocious 22-10 win over Montreal and a second half collapse-driven 41-22 loss at Edmonton — and the team needs an identity quickly.

“The division is always tough so when you get a divisional opponent this early, you want to win that series,” receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux told BCLions.com. “We’ve got to really just send a message and actually have the identity that we have to have teams on their heels and be in attack mode. This is the week for us to start that.”

BC’s ability to attack will hinge on two key people: quarterback Jonathon Jennings and running back Jeremiah Johnson. The former has failed to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark in either of BC’s first two contests, while the latter’s averaged 58 rush yards per game early in 2018.

Both of those players depend on the offensive line — which has surrendered a second-worst seven sacks already this season — to do their jobs.

“Some of the sacks were on draws,” explained veteran BC centre Cody Husband. “I think only one or two of them were our fault. It’s fixable. A lot of times it’s just little technical things. We will be fine.”

The chance to go up against former Lion Adam Bighill, fresh off a stint in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, is an exciting one for his former teammates.

“He’ll hustle and he’s got a high engine, high motor and he’s going to play ’til the clock reads zero,” said Arceneaux of his old friend. “You’ve just got to hit those kinds of guys in the mouth, impose your will on them and that starts right off the bat. You’ve got to put your pads on people like that and let them know it’s going to be a long night.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the key is simple: Be better.

The Leos surrendered 517 yards of offence to Mike Reilly and the Esks last week, and everybody involved knows that is not good enough.

“Play assignment football and we’ll be okay,” said veteran Solomon Elimimian. “The biggest thing is just being decisive with what we do in all aspects. It’s certainly going to be a tough matchup, they have a lot of good players over there.”

BC will have just one roster change from Week 3, as Maxx Forde will make his season debut on the defensive line with Julien Laurent sliding onto the one-game injured list.

For Mike O’Shea’s Bombers, it seems like it’s been forever since they played a home game; Winnipeg split a two-game eastern swing against Montreal (56-10 win) and Hamilton (31-17 loss), and their lone home game in 2018 turned into a six-hour saga due to weather delays.

So yes, it will be nice for the Bombers to get home for a proper home game, with their starting quarterback no less.

Given the significant ex-Lion contingent on the Winnipeg roster — think Bighill, Chandler FennerCraig Rohand the injured Anthony Gaitor — there will naturally be a bit of added emotion to Saturday’s contest.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, I used to play there. I’m amped up to play against them’,” Fenner told BlueBombers.com. “I just want to show growth against the team I used to play for. There’s no anger there at all. I’m always competitive. I’m always going to be in the middle of it. I’m always going to be trying to make a big hit, an interception or a big play. That never goes up or down.”

Enhanced communication on an evolving Richie Hall defence will be key moving forward.

“We want to focus on having an adaptive gameplan,” continued Fenner. “I want our defence to have that communication to the point that no matter what we see or no matter what our initial gameplan was, we can adjust it to win. That’s what I want our identity to be, because we’re already physical, already fast, we already have really intelligent guys on the entire defence.”

The return of Nichols will provide veteran leadership on a Bomber offence that stalled out in Hamilton last week.

“(Matt’s) got experience, played a lot of games, seen a lot of pictures. That’s obviously the difference between the two players,” said Winnipeg offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice. “The one thing I’ll give Chris (Streveler) a lot of credit for is the reason we minimized things is really doing what he’s best at, not because he couldn’t handle anything in the playbook that Matt couldn’t handle.”

The Bombers will start rookie Tyneil Cooper at cornerback this week; the rookie out of Dixie State (Ut., D-II) will take the starting place of Marcus Sayles, another rookie out of West Georgia (D.-II).

Mitchell Gale slides out to make room on the roster for Matt Nichols, who will be backed up by the aforementioned Streveler and Bryan Bennett in that order.

Crunchin’ Numbers:

.500 – Career record for BC quarterback Jonathon Jennings (20-20).

.500 – Records for each team in the last 16 meetings between the two, which have been split down the middle at eight apiece.

28 – Per cent TD/drive rate for Winnipeg, far and away the best mark in the CFL at 11 touchdowns on 39 offensive possessions.

46 — Per cent of Winnipeg’s plays are runs, the highest mark in the league. Second-highest? BC at 41 per cent (league average is 37 per cent).

Here we are, West Division teams looking to climb back up the standings after tough Week 3 losses.

At quarterback, the edge would normally go to the Bombers: Matt Nichols is 21-9 in his last 30 starts, while Jonathon Jennings has been a .500 pivot (or worse) dating back to last season.

But Nichols is fresh off the injury list, and Jennings has to be due for a breakout some time.

Then again, Andrew Harris is still the premier dual-threat running back in the CFL — and he wears blue and gold.

Tons of playmakers, tons of ex-teammates on both sides of the ball. This should be fun.

– With files from BCLions.com/BlueBombers.com

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2018 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: CFL – BC Lions @Winnipeg blue Bombers, July 7, 7:30p (8:30p EST, 2:30a July 8)

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