Watching reigning rushing champion Jon Cornish go at it against last year's No. 2 rusher Kory Sheets in Round 2 of the 2013 season was the most enjoyable game I've seen in a long, long time.
In the air raid, or pass-happy mentality of the CFL, the change of pace and focus towards the running attacks for both the Saskatchewan and Calgary offenses provided all the hype necessary for a classic contest. Cornish and Sheets did not disappoint.
Some of the fodder for the rivalry started this off-season, when Cornish felt like the B.C. Lions did not show any respect for the Stampeders; even though the Lions were beaten in the West Final last season by the Calgary team. So, the first time the teams face each other this year, Cornish promptly goes out and puts up 172 yards on 24 carries and a couple of TD's. On the night, he had 25 touches for 192 yards.
Plus, Sheets has stolen some, if not all, of the spotlight from Cornish because he's straight up balling this year and off to the fastest start through six games in the history of the CFL. (132 carries for 845 yards)
You may be wondering why on earth I mentioned the Lions and Stamps matchup when this article is about the best running backs in the game today. Well, two things. Andrew Harris should be in the conversation when discussing the best ball carries in the CFL today. Secondly, Harris' numbers (five carries for 20 yards and three catches for 20 yards) paled in comparison to Cornish's on the night. Remember in Week 5 of the 2012 season, Cornish was held to an unthinkable number (six carries for minus one yard and two catches for 24 yards). Can you say, uh oh?
So with that said, I'm thinking there are a few consistencies with how Cornish operates -- don't disrespect him or his teammates, and you can't keep Jon down. If you do pop off or somehow manage to corral this horse, anticipate a tremendous effort and or performance in retaliation.
You see, go back to Week 2 of this season when the Riders put a whooping on the Stamps and Sheets out-shined the reigning rushing champ. Sheets' numbers were 26 carries for 133 yards and another two catches for 14 yards. Cornish was held in check -- eight carries and only 42 yards.
Fast forward to Friday Night Football at McMahon Stadium this past week. We witnessed the two best running backs in the CFL go at it for the second time this season, with Cornish carrying that proverbial chip on his shoulder for what happened in Week 2 and, BANG...he goes off and steps up his game once again... Hello!!!
Bottom line is; I can't wait for Round 3 of the Sheets vs. Cornish ground and pound. Should be another must-see game! And if you can't wait that long, catch Cornish and Harris going mano y mano this Saturday night (TSN, TSN Mobile TV at 9pm et/6pm pt)
Here's a closer look at Cornish's ability to rebound, thanks to ace TSN stat guy, Jon Perlberg!!!
After Cornish was held to minus-1 yard by the Lions in Week 5 last year, he responded in his next game with a then-career-high 170 yards on 20 carries against the Ticats. Not to mention, that negative rushing game by Cornish spurred an incredible eight-game stretch that saw Jon rush for 928 yards (116 per game).
Also, this is the fourth straight time Cornish has responded with a big bounce back game vs. the Riders following a rough outing the time before. In other words, the Riders haven't been able to shut him down two times in a row.
Cornish vs. Riders
2011: 3 carries, 16 yards - bounce back game: 13 carries, 149 yards, 2 TD
2012: 11 carries, 39 yards - bounce back game: 24 carries, 159 yards and 12 carries, 67 yards. Bounce back game: 18 carries, 109 yards (West Semi-Final)
2013: 8 carries, 42 yards - bounce back game: 16 carries, 175 yards, 4 TD