UBC head coach Blake Nill had nothing to smile about after his team fell by 16 points in its Canada West opener Friday in Regina. (Glen McMurchy photo for UBC athletics)
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‘Birds boss Nill pulls no punches, announces gut-check time after UBC falls in penalty-fest fashion at Regina

It was a conference-opening effort that tried to dispel the notion that the UBC Thunderbirds had actually held practices before they took to the field on Friday night at Regina’s new Mosaic Stadium.

Of course they had, and of course they remain one of the nation’s most talented teams.

Yet the No. 7-ranked ’Birds (0-1) can’t exactly take a mulligan for their efforts after opening the compact eight-game Canada West season with a disturbingly unfocused 36-20 loss to the host and No. 5-ranked Regina Rams (1-0).

“I was standing there watching and it was like an exhibition game,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill, one week after his starters built a 30-0 halftime in Kamloops lead enroute to a 33-30 preseason win over Alberta. “It feels like it was like a waste of money to play that exhibition game last week, then come out and look the way we did tonight.

“We can’t play the youth card, and after the game I told my team that the 2015 (Vanier Cup-winning) class has to start being accountable and determine how it is that they want to be known. We’re going to be OK. I believe we will. But we have to get over this. That was embarrassing execution. That is not typically representative of what I am used to having.”

The ‘Birds passed for 205 yards on the night, but were whistled 23 times for 210 yards in penalties.

More penalty yards than passing yards?

It would have been even worse if Marcus Davis hadn’t caught a 23-yard TD pass with just 44 seconds remaining.

The sheer ignominy of that penalty-yards-vs.-passing-yards stat is as sure and decisive a recipe for defeat as the game can muster, and within that slew of infractions, UBC had a pick-six by cornerback Will Maxwell and a tackle-evading touchdown run by receiver Trey Kellogg each called back for penalties.

The first half of that win over Alberta very suddenly became a distant memory.

As part of the loss, UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor was never able to establish the passing rhythm he wanted, and took a physical pounding from the Regina defence.

Back-up pivot Cole Meyer, in for one series after Nill decided to pull O’Connor, was intercepted by Regina’s Polis Koko. And after the Rams back-up quarterback Tyler Viera called his own number from one yard out to cap that drive, the hosts led 33-6 with 43 seconds left in the third quarter.

Shane Noel on a two-yard run, and Meyer who re-entered the fray late with a 23-yard TD pass to Davis, accounted for UBC’s time-challenged late rally.

This was night where very little consistency was being generated by anyone in white, blue and gold. It was clearly a team loss. 

And so now, with little time to feel sorry for themselves, UBC needs to muster a team win.

When asked about the stakes surrounding next week’s visit by a Manitoba Bisons team coming off a 44-23 home-field loss Friday to Saskatchewan, Nill shot from the hip.

“It’s huge,” he said. “Now we’ve dug a hole. This football team has to decide right now if they want to be a contender or if they just want to be what UBC was before I got here.

“They will all say they do, of course, but we need to have our best week of practice and more importantly, we need a gut check. We have the right systems. We have the right athletes. Now we just have to determine if we all want it.

“And you can nail me, too,” Nill continued. “The coaching staff, myself included, has to do a better job and I have to take my share of it.”

The flight back to Vancouver remained, yet as far as Nill was concerned, prep for the Bisons one week from Saturday in the home opener at Thunderbird Stadium had already begun.

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