If you ask Bisons football coach Brian Dobie why his club fell short against the University of Calgary Dinos in the opening round of the Hardy Cup playoffs, he will give you a very simple answer.
“They have very good football players too,” he said.
“Sometimes you forget about that.”
Dobie sat down Monday afternoon to offer a post-mortem on the Bisons football season, offering insight on the future of the program as it grapples with some significant off-season departures.
Focus was given to the post-bye-week schedule, where the Bisons ran 0-3 and saw a drop-off in offence. The herd outscored opponents 171-158 heading into the bye, but were outscored 99-54 in the final three games of the season.
This stretch also included a loss to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies where the game was tied heading into halftime, only for Manitoba to lose by 23. There was also the season finale, when the Bisons led by 18 at the half but wound up losing 38-34 in overtime.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Dobie said.
“When we had a lead, were we aggressive enough? That’s a question I need to ask myself. Or […] the self-scouting part, were we too predictable? I don’t know the answers. That’s a whole lot of off-season work, for sure.”
On his team’s defence, Dobie said that while his linemen played well despite mounting injuries, there was still room for improvement.
“Obviously they’re really important, but we do need to up our ante at linebacker,” he said. “Our guys that are here need to get better and take another step, and that is certainly a recruiting focus as well.”
“So do we need to bring in a whole bunch of defensive backs? Or a whole bunch of [defensive linemen]?” he said.
“You know, we’re kind of trying to target a couple of really high-end guys that if we get them — woah — and if we don’t get them, we’re good to go. Here and here, that’s the area we need to most — we need to get better everywhere — but most get better [on defence].”
Dobie said he does, however, believe the nucleus already exists on the roster, and could take the next step with some solid off-season work.
On offence, the potential loss of star running back Jamel Lyles was brought up. Lyles is eligible for the CFL draft and Dobie said he knows he could go, but hopes he will stay.
The running back finished first in the conference in rushing yards per game, with 85.1, as well as rushes with 102.
Lyles “has a lot to offer,” Dobie said.
“He’s a powerful guy. He’s strong. He’s powerful. He can jolt people on a tackle. He can make people miss. He’s got speed. He’s a really good receiver coming out of the back field. He’s got great hands.”
Dobie compared Lyles to Winnipeg Blue Bomber Nic Demski, who was recruited as a tailback but moved to running back, saying Lyles could be drafted as a running back and moved to receiver.
“I’m making that point because he can do so much for you,” he said.
“He’d be a really hard guy to replace.”
A potential stand-in comes in the form of Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette, who had a coming-out year in 2018 and finished second in Canada West in rushing touchdowns with three.
“Victor is also really good, but he gives you some different things,” said Dobie.
“He’s not going to run over people, he too is a really good athlete, he’s probably quicker than Jamel [but] he’s a smaller guy.
“I think if we lost Jamel to the CFL and we’ve got [Victor], then I think we need someone to complement him.”
Bisons quarterback Des Catellier said he is confident in the future of St. Pierre-Laviolette.
“He came in and just made plays every time he touched the ball. Whenever we needed it, for whatever reason he had to go in, he was just doing his job, making plays,” Catellier said Monday.
“I feel very comfortable with him coming in.”
All things considered, Dobie said he has high — but honest — hopes for his club moving forward.
“I think there’s a lot of pieces we need to add on board to it for sure,” Dobie said.
“Yeah I think it has that potential, it does. I could better answer that question probably in January or February, after we’ve done some more recruiting and knowing where our veterans are.
“If we’ve got everyone back that’s eligible to come back, plus a reasonably successful recruiting year, absolutely,” he said.
“We would be chasing a Hardy Cup and chasing a Vanier Cup.”