Why the Gaels are still Golden

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sideline commentary

The heartbreaking Homecoming loss by the Gaels on Saturday might lead an observer to draw several different conclusions.

At face value it appears simply that a 2-0 football team was brought back down to earth by a stronger Lancers squad after gaining momentum and excitement that they didn’t deserve. But let’s observe what this game truly showed us about the team: the good, the bad, and most importantly, why nobody should pay any attention to the bad.

The Good

Queen’s lost that game 22-18 but one look at the Ontario University Association leader board wouldn’t give you that impression. Starting quarterback Danny Brannagan still leads OUA full-time quarterbacks in passing yards, completion percentage, completed passes and touchdowns.

The Gaels’ receiving corps has been, without argument, the best in Canada this year. Fourth-year wideout Brad Smith still leads the country in receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns, and in total points scored by a player. Not far off, in fourth place in receiving yards, is another Gael, Homecoming star Robb Bagg, who holds the longest pass reception of the year after his 104-yard touchdown masterpiece on Saturday.

Kicker Ryan Elger also stands out, currently ranked fifth in the OUA in kickoff length, and nailing a terrific 45-yard field goal on Saturday that kept the Gaels in the game.

Windsor couldn’t connect on any of their much easier opportunities.

What’s most important is the Gaels’ persistence. No matter how bad the situation looked, the Gaels never let up. Not after going down 21-0, not after stalling on almost every early offensive drive and not after seeing half the student body desert the stadium at halftime.

It is that perseverance that kept them in the Windsor game until the final seconds, and if it continues, it could make this a season to remember.

The Bad

Let’s be needlessly pessimistic for a moment. The fact remains that the Gaels did not win on Saturday and there are several reasons why.

First, though Brannagan has performed well under pressure, there has simply been too much pressure on him. Brannagan was forced to throw an absurd 52 passes on Saturday, primarily because the Gaels’ running game was non-existent. They gained only 35 yards on 19 carries for an average of 1.8 yards per carry.

While it’s entirely true that Queen’s was up against one of the better running defences in Ontario, an inability to break free on more than one running play will continue to haunt them if improvements aren’t made.

In addition, while Brannagan is regularly praised for his CIS-leading eight touchdown passes, very little attention is paid to his worrisome CIS-leading six interceptions.

The Gaels’ receiving corps also showed less success than they had previously this season. Brad Smith, often considered the “deep threat” on the team, was held to 42 yards on seven catches, a dismal average of six yards per catch with his longest being only 14 yards.

Rob Bagg did have a stellar performance, but two-thirds of his yards came on the one 104-yard catch in the fourth quarter. For a team that thrived on the deep ball against Toronto and Guelph, an inability to open up the deeper routes will lead to more pressure on the defence.

Punts have also been unkind to the Gaels. While Elger is terrific on kickoffs, only two other full-time Ontario punters have averaged lower on punts. The excellent field position that the Lancers were afforded played a large part in their ability to score three quick touchdowns. Punt returns have been an issue as well with Bagg averaging only five yards per return this season.

Why We Shouldn’t Care

The running game has had issues but it has delivered when it needed to. Billy Burke ran all over Toronto in the season opener and the team combined for over 100 rushing yards against Guelph, who the week before had almost beat Vanier Cup champion Laurier.

Punter Ryan Elger may have had early trouble but he adapted as the game went on and looked fine on punts late in the game. Robb Bagg may have had trouble with a few punt returns but didn’t lose any, and if that 104-yard touchdown run can’t redeem a few minor errors then nothing can.

In all, Queen’s showed a remarkable ability to adjust its play to the terms of the game rather than being stuck in a rut.

They went down 21-0 early but gave up only a single point for the rest of the game.

The key for this team is that there isn’t a single player who is a drain on the team’s performance. Danny Brannagan has thrown interceptions but has nonetheless been the best offensive catalyst of any team. Brad Smith didn’t act as a deep threat but set up the key play of the fourth quarter. Robb Bagg didn’t wow everyone on punt returns but certainly did on the most exciting play of the season so far. Ryan Elger missed a few opportunities to pin the Lancers deep but nonetheless was the reason why they kept the game close with a 45-yard field goal and a perfectly placed onside kick in the fourth quarter.

When everyone on a team shows the kind of poise to adjust to the atmosphere of any game, that’s when a team truly clicks. Any team that does that—as our Gaels have so far—is going to be a major threat to the top tier of the OUA.

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