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2017 Vanier Cup (Photo)

Western and Laval at the line of scrimmage during last year's Vanier Cup game, Nov. 25, 2017.

The Western Mustangs are set for a rematch of the 2017 Vanier Cup this weekend in Quebec City. The game will feature a best-on-best matchup: the number one-ranked Mustangs against the number two-ranked Laval Rouge et Or.

Laval features what may be the best passing attack that Western has seen all season. Playing in the OUA, the Mustangs have not seen many pass-heavy teams, with the exception of the University of Waterloo and Queen’s University. 

The Rouge et Or quarterback, Hugo Richard, is one of the best signal-callers that U Sports has to offer. Not only does he have a strong arm, he has a proven ability to accurately throw on the run, making him even more dangerous.

Through eight regular season games, Richard completed 170 of 236 passes for 2,185 yards and 18 touchdowns. Also, the offensive leader surrendered just two interceptions. Overall, Richard has ranked fourth in U Sports with a 173.3 passer efficiency rating.

As a team, Laval ranked sixth in Canada, with an average of 301.6 passing yards per game. Also, the Rouge et Or has relied on passing plays to convert first downs in 56 per cent of their successful attempts. 

In the past, the Mustangs have looked to take away the main passing option to slow down a potent aerial attack. The problem with this strategy against Laval, though, is that they don’t have one overwhelming go-to receiver.

Both Math Robitaille and Jonathan Breton-Robert have compiled over 430 yards receiving this year. As well, Vincent Forbes-Mombleau racked up 377 yards in one less game. 

In fact, it was Forbes-Mombleau that played the best in the Uteck Bowl, hauling in nine catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns.

The good news for the Mustangs is that their secondary has been dominant all season. Specifically, the three cornerbacks that will be in tough against the Laval receiving corps — Mackenzie Ferguson, Bleska Kambamba and Jake Andrews — have been excellent. Evident of the dominant secondary, Western’s defence currently ranks second in the nation with 12 interceptions.

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2017 Vanier Cup (Photo 2)

The Mustangs and the Rouge et Or are prepared to lock in again next Saturday, Nov. 25, 2018.

In the Mitchell Bowl, the Saskatchewan Huskies looked to attack the rookie, Andrews, in the passing game. The first-year player responded with 7.5 tackles and excellent coverage. The Niagara native will have to repeat this performance as he will likely have to match up against the scorching hot Forbes-Mombleau.

The running game has not been that strong for the Rouge et Or, though, ranking 12th in U Sports with 150.1 rushing yards per game and seventh with 10 touchdowns.

The team’s leading rusher, Chris Amoah, has ranked 26th in the league with an average of 49.7 rushing yards per game. As well, with four rushing majors, Richard led the team in ground scores during the regular season.

It was backup running back Alexis Côté that took over the Uteck Bowl, however. The third-year player picked up 207 rushing yards and three majors on 23 carries. Amoah also had a respectable game, putting the ball on the ground 12 times for 70 yards.

The Laval defence has been otherworldly this year. The defensive squad has ranked second in Canada with just 54 points allowed in eight regular season games. For reference, Western’s defence ranks third with 89 points allowed.

Also, the defence shut out the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the Uteck Bowl. The X-Men averaged 28.4 points per game in the regular season this year.

Interestingly, Laval has been equally suffocating in both the running and passing game. The team has ranked first in Canadian university football in both passing yards allowed per game (123.9) and rushing yards allowed per game (68.4).

After the Mitchell Bowl, Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall noted that Laval is largely the same team as last year.

“We know Laval,” said Marshall. “We prepped for them last year. They haven't changed a ton.… They’re a heck of a football team.”

The Mustangs strategy clearly worked last year. However, it remains to be seen if Marshall and the Western coaching staff can draw up a winning strategy in this year’s iteration of the Laval-Western Vanier Cup showdown. The game will kick off Saturday at 1 p.m. from Telus-Université Laval Stadium.

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