After a slow start to the season, the University of Manitoba Bisons football squad has won their last two consecutive games, and head into the Thanksgiving bye week tied for second in the conference with a 3-2 record.
The Manitoban caught up with linebacker DJ Lalama – who is 15th in the conference with 21.5 tackles, to chat about the team’s mindset entering the final three regular season games.
Manitoban: You have three regular season games left after the bye week, two of which are against teams lower than you in the standings. Is it hard not to brush off those two matchups, and focus more on your rematch with a UBC team that beat you earlier this year?
Lalama: I think after what happened last year, the option of looking past an opponent is feared, in the sense that last year we probably looked past Alberta and Regina and we got spanked both times. It’s one of those things, I think the big core of the group that was there last year is back this year, and we understand what it really means to take it one game at a time.
We get scouting reports Sunday or Monday, and that’s what that week is focused on. I think if we start looking ahead, we’re not going to do ourselves any favours. Who knows, UBC could be 2-5 by the time we play them, or they could be 5-2. Our goal is to be 5-2 by the time we play them, and then go from there.
M: You’ve got Regina again right after the bye week. Is your mindset or preparation any different heading into a back-to-back?
L: No, we’ll have a pretty good handle of what they do. Their coaches aren’t dumb, and neither are ours, so I’m sure there’s going to be some stuff kind of taken off the board, or some new stuff added, especially with that bye week in between. But again, all we can do is gameplan for what we’ve seen on film, and when they throw something new at us, just make the adjustments that we need.
M: How would you evaluate the defence’s play after the first four games of the season?
L: From a defensive standpoint, I think we have yet to put a full 60 minutes together. I think you’ve seen our front seven at times be dominant, I think you’ve seen our secondary be dominant at times as well. We’re trying to find that stride, and that link to kind of put the two together.
I think you’ve also seen a tale of halves. Against Calgary, I think we played very well in the first half, not so much in the second half, and UBC, arguably the reverse of that. Again in Alberta, came out with kind of a slow start, and a big second half. So, I think from a defensive standpoint, we’ve shown what we can do at times, it’s just about finding that consistency now.
M: Does it give you some relief, knowing you have an offence that can keep you in pretty much any game with its quick strike abilities?
L: We definitely have confidence in our offence. Three different running backs, five different receivers, a quarterback, that are all contributing, and the o-line is playing great. They like to stretch the field and make big plays. They’re playing great, I think they’re third in the country in yards, so they’re doing what they’re doing, they’re controlling what they’ve got to control, now it’s just up to us to keep the other team off the board.
M: Do you think the defence has a statement to make over the final three games?
L: I wouldn’t say so much a statement. I would say more or less, we’ve seen on film what we can do. It’s just about executing that over 60 minutes. In terms of a statement, if we were 0-4, maybe that word would come out, but we’ve lost two very close games to two very good football teams. I think collectively, both games we’ve lost, we’ve lost by a combined nine points to two top-ranked teams. I think biggest thing for us is just creating turnovers – creating havoc that way, and limiting the big play. I think if we do those two things, our physicality will come out, and the rest will take care of itself.
M: As you mentioned, your first three games were against top-ranked teams in the conference. Do you think it’s good to have matchups like that at the start of the year, to test your resolve as a team?
L: Definitely. I think any time you can play against top competition, it brings the best out in you. Moving forward, again, we’ve seen what we can do against the best competition. Not to take anything away from the rest of the conference, but playing Calgary, you’ve seen what they’re doing across the board, and we take pride with some of the things we did in that game, and we know there’s some things we need to fix. At the end of the day, we’re excited about the second half of the season, and I think you’re going to see guys kind of turn up, and show why we’re going to be in the Hardy Cup come November.