REGINA - Saskatchewan Roughriders players needed their bye week.
Entering Week 9 last year, the Roughriders were riding high with a 5-2 record and four consecutive wins. Quarterback Darian Durant was healthy and playing at an MVP-calibre level.
Entering Saturday's matchup against the Calgary Stampeders at home, Saskatchewan (0-7) is still searching for its first win of the season. The Riders' top two quarterbacks are also on the injured list.
There were signs of improvement for Saskatchewan as it limped into the bye week. Rookie quarterback Brett Smith was solid in a 30-26 loss to the Toronto Argonauts two weeks ago. Smith threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns while nearly pulling off a last-second, game-winning score.
The Roughriders defence registered four sacks against Toronto and nine different players caught passes on offence with a solid rushing attack by Jerome Messam and Steven Miller. Penalties still proved to be an issue with 24 infractions going against Saskatchewan for 192 yards.
"To say that we're feeling a little bit better just because we were close and that we did a couple of good things here and there just isn't it,'' said offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte. "We have to be looking forward to this game and preparing for it.
"A moral victory or a little bit of momentum two weeks later when you line up to play a game, well, most of that stuff is going to be forgotten. Were there a few positives to build off of? Yeah, but there were still a lot of negatives that needed cleaning up, too.''
Normally when these two team meet, there's division bragging rights and first place in the West Division at stake. That's not the case this season with the Roughriders in last place with six points behind Winnipeg and B.C. Calgary - which has won its last two games - is tied atop the division with the Edmonton Eskimos.
"Every game is the same whether you're 7-0 or 0-7 or 4-3, whatever it may be,'' said LaBatte. "You go out there and you work all week to win games. That mindset never changes. The way you approach a game never changes. It's going to be a big game for us, absolutely, because it's the next game.''
The Roughriders used the bye week to heal their bodies and their minds and hope for a fresh start. Saturday will be the true test of whether or not it worked.
"This game always stays on your mind a little bit, but it was nice to get away from it and get some rest and relax,'' said veteran defensive lineman Tearrius George. "It was something we all needed. This time last year none of us wanted to go on a break because we were on such a good roll. But I think a lot people needed it this year to recharge and come back ready and refocused.''
The Roughriders returned to the practice field this week eager to turn their season around. It won't be easy with the defending Grey Cup champion Stampeders (5-2) in town.
"It's a new start as far as what we do out here on the field, but I still think that everything that has gone on is in the back of every guy's mind,'' said George. "It's there to drive each guy to do better, to be better.''
(Canadian Press/Craig Slater)