August 2, 2022

48-Hour Primer | WPG at MTL

It wasn’t one particular moment, but a series of them. And they are now almost a decade in the rearview mirror.

Rewind to the summer of 2013 and even back then Mike O’Shea and the rest of the staff of the Toronto Argonauts knew there was something special about Zach Collaros – that almost mythical ‘IT’ factor every franchise covets in a quarterback.

The Argos – with Scott Milanovich as the head coach and O’Shea as the special teams coordinator – had a quarterback room that featured hall of famer Ricky Ray and two young bucks in Collaros and Trevor Harris – now QB1 in Montreal.

And as O’Shea recalls, when Ray was felled by an injury, the starting chores were handed to Collaros, then a 24-year-old with all of eight games and 21 completions on his Canadian Football League resumé. In his first start – in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions – Collaros was 21-of-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns in a performance we’ve seen repeated many times in the days since, and especially here in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers.

“We had an extended road trip out west that year and there were a couple plays he made that were Flutie-esque – great vision, great escapability, fiery competitiveness as a young guy and wasn’t afraid to show it,” said O’Shea after Tuesday’s closed-to-the-media practice. “Everybody figured (he had ‘it’) and Scott Milanovich definitely knew.”

We bring this up today following another week in which Collaros – the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player – was named one of the Top Performers for his work in last Saturday’s victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

Some numbers/facts here that simply need to be repeated just to reinforce how dominant the Collaros run has been here in Winnipeg, even as all the wins and accolades pile up so frequently we almost become numb to it all:

  • He is now 25-2 as a starter for the Blue Bombers, including 5-0 in the playoffs.
  • His 22-of-30, 270 yards passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions against Calgary led to a 145.1 passer efficiency rating, the highest in the CFL this year.
  • The four TDs against the Stamps was his sixth career four-TD passing game, one short of the five he threw in an August 20, 2016 game with Hamilton.
  • He leads league with 1,948 passing yards, is second in touchdown passes with 15 (B.C.’s Nathan Rourke has 16) and third in completion percentage 70.2 percent, behind Rourke (79.3) and Toronto’s McLeod Bethel-Thompson (71.4).
  • He already ranks 14th in Blue Bombers history in passing yardage at 5,400 with Buck Pierce next on the list at 6,325 yards.
  • Most importantly, the Blue Bombers are a perfect 8-0, including handing the only losses so far this season to the Lions (5-1) and Stampeders (4-2).

“Zach brings confidence to the offence,” said veteran defensive end Willie Jefferson when asked to speak of the Collaros leadership from his side of the locker room. “To the team, he’s another piece of insurance with him being a vet, him knowing what he needs to do to be better and how he handles his group, the younger quarterbacks, and how he speaks to his offence and how he gets along with his receivers and how they all gel together.

“On that side of the ball you can see they’re all together and they don’t argue when times get tough and we need for them to go out there and make plays he’s not rattled, he’s not scared. He’s confident.”

The Blue Bombers QB, of course, would be the last to thump his own chest. But, again, that’s part of why he has been such a perfect fit on a team stacked with veteran leaders and led by a head coach with many of the same characteristics. O’Shea was asked Tuesday if there has been any one thing that has stood out to him about Collaros since his arrival at the trade deadline in 2019.

“I don’t know that you can point to one thing,” he said. “I never thought of it as one particular item.

“What you get from Zach every day in totality is exactly what you need, and it’s awesome. He’s a terrific leader, he’s a fierce competitor. He is just the type of guy that you really enjoy being around. That’s not even talking about all the stuff he does on the field. He works really, really hard. He’s really good and he’s just a great dude. It’s fun to be around him. Fun to watch him work.”

Bet Regal has the Blue Bombers are 5.5-point road favourites for Thursday night in Montreal:

  • Worth noting: the Blue Bombers are a perfect 5-0 on the road this season with wins in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. No other CFL team has more than two road wins so far this season.
  • Their 5-0 start on the road is the Blue Bombers best since the club went 8-0 away from home in 1961.

The over/under is set at 47 points:

  • Three of Winnipeg’s last four visits to Montreal have exceeded that big time. The two club’s combined for 65 points in 2017, 66 in 2018 and 75 in 2019 before last year’s total of 42 – a game in which some Blue Bombers starters were rested, including Sean McGuire.