Monday, August 21, 2017
OUT OF THE TUNNEL
BACK TO WORK IN RIDERVILLE
Just seven games into their season, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were dealt their second and final bye week of the season. Most of the time, instead of “dealt”, the appropriate verb used would be “welcomed” or “enjoyed”. But this time, not so much.
After dismantling the B.C. Lions in Week 8 at Mosaic Stadium, a mostly healthy and upward trending Rider club would have embraced another three or four weeks of football before another week off. Now their byes are done with and it will be 11 straight weeks of football to fight for a playoff spot in an incredibly competitive West Division.
With the players and coaches returning to the field on Monday in preparation for their biggest test of the season, let’s look at a few things we know and need to improve for the Riders to make the playoffs:
- When this Saskatchewan team is on, they can be frighteningly good. We saw a large glimpse of this against B.C. last week. Granted, the Lions were off, but for the Green and White to do what they did to a quality football club was borderline artistic. Kevin Glenn was well-protected and able to distribute the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Defensively, there was just enough pressure up-front to allow the defensive backs to make a season’s worth of defensive plays.
- To make the playoffs, the first thing you need to do is beat the teams below you in the standings. Save for a lapse of concentration in the last few minutes in Montreal, this was a mission accomplished. Now to capitalize on five more opportunities in the next 11 weeks against a woeful East Division.
- Duron Carter is the real deal. With all the questions over his signing in the off-season, it looks like Saskatchewan is the right situation for him. Fans have embraced his personality, the coaches have handled his ups and downs, and he has recaptured his 2014 form. Most of this can be attributed to maturity. He is just 26 years old, but it feels like he is a grizzled CFL veteran and he said wants to make Saskatchewan his home for a few years.
- Home Sweet Home. The new smell is still all over Mosaic Stadium, but the Riders have already made it a brutal place for visiting opponents to play. Many times (in Winnipeg most recently) it takes a while for a new stadium to feel like home, but with the help of the fans, state of the art facilities and the work the business operations team has done in marketing this season, there are no new stadium woes.
What to improve:
- Road warrior mentality. This is an over-used hockey cliché, but it’s something the Riders need to embrace if they want to get over the hump in 2017. The inconsistencies between the home and road games are glaring. The first test is a doozy this Friday night at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium against the front running Edmonton Eskimos.
- Consistency. We addressed it in the first bullet point, but with the drastic swings between road and home games, it’s tough to get a good grasp on what unit is playing well and what one needs to improve. Because of that, the Riders are right in the middle of the pack in almost every statistical category. Exhibit A: The Riders' seven turnovers last weekend (five interceptions, one fumble recovery, one turnover on downs) more than doubled the first six games combined (two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one turnover on downs). Take last week away and they are dead last in forced turnovers.
- The injury bug. In 2016, the Riders were dealt with five seasons' worth of injuries. In 2017, they are near the bottom in man-games lost due to injury. With 11 straight weeks of football ahead of them, the injuries are going to happen and we will see what kind of depth the Riders football operations staff has accumulated.
- The Riders will have even more to deal with on the road this week in Edmonton. John Chick is now a member of the Eskimos and, paired with Odell Willis, they will give the Green and White fits. Both move all over the defensive line and should be able to complement each other very well.
- Winnipeg may be the real deal. Knocking off the previously undefeated Edmonton Eskimos was their biggest win in the five-year history of Investors Group Field and made the West Division a four-horse race. Matt Nichols is on pace for a career year in every passing category and seems to have eliminated the inconstancies that plagued him over the first five seasons of his career.
- How bad is the East Division? The Eskimos have one less win than the four teams in the East combined. Now the Commissioner has stated he would welcome a change. Randy Ambrosie, in an interview with The National Post said, “…I also know that we have to bring modern thinking to everything about our league. I’m willing to have the conversation for sure. We have to be open-minded because the world is changing around us and we don’t want to have our heads in the sand.” It could be an interesting off-season when the CFL governors get together to discuss the future of this great league.
THE BOYS IN THE HORNS
Can West training camps are in full swing and teams across the west will get their first taste of game action this week. Here’s how things shape up in the lone exhibition week of games in Canadian college football:
Regina Rams at Calgary Dinos (August 23rd in Medicine Hat)
Alberta Golden Bears at UBC Thunderbirds (August 23rd in Kamloops)
Saskatchewan Huskies at McMaster Marauders (August 25th in Hamilton)
Look for a mini-preview of the conference in next week’s Out of the Tunnel in preparation for the opening week of Can West football!
THE THUNDER ROLLS
The Regina Thunder bounced back nicely on home turf Saturday night, taking the Edmonton Wildcats to the woodshed 55-7. The Thunder took a 38-0 lead into the locker room at halftime and cruised from there. Ethan Hautz was solid with 120 yards rushing and a score while Kris Calcutt had 87 yards receiving on just three catches in the victory.
The Thunder will now make the long trip to Hamilton and take on the Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon.
In Winnipeg, the Saskatoon Hilltops scored 33 second-quarter points and easily knocked off the Rifles 44-0. The 2-and-0 Hilltops will welcome the Ottawa Sooners next Saturday night (7pm) at SMF Field in Saskatoon.
In other action, The Edmonton Huskies remain undefeated with a 41-14 victory over the Calgary Colts.
A CANADIAN TO WATCH IN THE NCAA
Hergy Mayala – WR
University of Connecticut
Hometown – Montreal, Que.
Class – Jr.
Mayala is the top returning receiver to the Huskies. In 2016, he was the second leading receiver with 296 yards on 23 reception in a run-heavy UConn offence. As a true freshman in 2015, Mayala started five games and had seven catches for 80 yards. Before attending high school in New York, he played in Montreal’s North Shore football league.
WHAT TO DO BETWEEN GAMES THIS WEEK
High energy coaching is a take-it or leave-it situation. Players either love it, or if a situation turns bad, it can be incredibly abrasive. So many people point to the success that Bill Belichick or Nick Saban have had with their stoic, sober and impassive style that the rah-rah stuff has become a rarity football, but in college, there are still a few remnants of it. One of the most entertaining and so-far successful high energy coaches is P.J. Fleck.
If you get a chance to watch Being P.J. Fleck, please do so, he is so darn addictive it’s tough to not root for the man. After turning around Western Michigan, he has been given the job to change 50 years of mediocre Minnesota Golden Gopher football. Nothing in his life is out of bounds in this show and gives great insight on his life and what goes into a major college football program.
Row the Boat!