December 13th, 2018

Inside the CFL: Tough to explain Riders thus far

By None on July 10, 2018.

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback David Watford runs the ball during second half CFL action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday, July 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

What a great special teams tackle by Medicine Hat’s own Connor McGough last Thursday at Mosaic Stadium. It was 13-12 for the Cats with less than three minutes to go. He made sure Roughrider returner Christion Jones didn’t give his team good field position for the final push. He did his part but Roughrider Brandon Bridge engineered a last-minute touchdown to seize victory from the jaws of defeat.

McCough’s Ti-Cats beat the home team in every category except rushing and punting and, of course, most importantly, on the scoreboard. Hamilton had every opportunity to win but couldn’t seal the deal, thanks to the heroics of the Saskatchewan defence and despite the quixotic quarterback management by Chris Jones who alternated Brandon Bridge and David Watford.

Bridge engineered all of Saskatchewan’s scoring drives. They also scored a touchdown when defensive end Charleston Hughes hit quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, picked the ball out of the air and ran to the end-zone.

Even though ball control was even more important in a low-scoring game, Jones limited all-Canadian running back Jerome Messam to four carries. He picked up 10 yards. Sources in Regina say Jones is keeping Messam fresh for the fall playoff run. Meanwhile, his fellow Canadian in Winnipeg Andrew Harris is running wild, picking up 109 yards in the Blue Bombers’ 41-19 taming of the B.C. Lions Saturday.

The Roughriders have a bye now before a return engagement in Steeltown. They rank sixth in net offence but second on defence. It is clear what they need to work on. Saskatchewan faces a West Division opponent for the first time July 28 when the Stampeders come to town. With receiver Eric Rogers back in the bunkhouse and Bo Levi Mitchell on fire, it is really important for Jones to play a genuine cornerback on defence and put all-Canadian receiver Duron Carter back on a heretofore struggling offence where he belongs. It makes no sense to do otherwise.

I wonder if something else is going on here. When Jack Gotta coached Calgary, he continually disparaged his quarterback John Hufnagel in favour of his other pivot Ken Johnson. As Saskatchewan’s coach, he traded “Robokicker” Dave Ridgway to Edmonton. “When I left there in 1986,” Ridgway recalled, “that was the result of a personality conflict with Jack Gotta. I led the West in accuracy and he traded me away for no reason.” Eskimo GM Hugh Campbell sent Ridgway at the request of his old friend, Als coach Joe Faraghelli, to Montreal. When Montreal folded, and Gotta was gone, Ridgway returned home.

In 1982 Ray Jauch coached Winnipeg to a first-place tie with the Eskimos. “I had two ends,” Jauch told me. “One was Gord Paterson. We were playing Edmonton and he came off the field yelling and screaming. I said, ‘Get out of here, get to the locker room. I don’t want to see you anymore.’ I didn’t have another end to replace him so I went with another slotback.” That’s how the twin slotback system was born.

Coaches and players sometimes clash. I wonder if what is happening in Regina is a test of wills. Jones wants Carter to run routes the way they are drawn up while Carter prefers to freelance and so Jones has said, “Fine. You’ll play defence until you see things my way.” This is sheer speculation on my part. I have no reason to believe it is true except I have seen it happen before and playing Carter on defence makes no sense.

Because the Stamps and Riders face only Eastern teams until the end of this month, I wrote earlier this schedule imbalance would give them a big advantage. Calgary is off to a 3-0 start with wins over Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa but the Riders split their first four games. So far there have been 12 interlocking games. The West won seven. The usually weaker East has been coming on strong. That trend continued Saturday when former Edmonton backup James Franklin led his Argos to a 20-17 upset over the Eskimos. Edmonton has lost four of its last five games in Toronto. While Franklin played well in his first start in double blue, Edmonton took far too many penalties. The teams meet again Friday.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 46 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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