The Saskatchewan Roughriders start off the final stretch run of the CFL season with arguably the biggest game of the season. They host the West Division leading, BC Lions on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.
The Riders are coming off a 30-25 win over the Calgary Stampeders last week that moved them to 6-6 on the year. BC comes in with a 9-3 record, but barely sneaked past Edmonton last week, 19-18.
“We just need to keep winning games and when all 18 are done see where we stack up,” said head coach Corey Chamblin during his day-before press conference. “If the playoffs started last week than we would have played Calgary and this week we would be playing the BC Lions.”
Saskatchewan’s depth will be tested in this game, especially on defence, with defensive tackles Keith Shologan and Mick Williams both out, and halfback Eddie Russ getting ruled out as well.
“If you want to know what it’s going to be like in the playoffs, you’re going to be banged up, you’re going to be tired and you’re going to have to play a well rested team,” said Chamblin. “BC has had more rest than us this week, so it’s a very good preview of what it may be heading into the playoffs.”
Newly signed Robert Rose is expected to get the start at defensive tackle and Regina native Zach Evans was added to the roster to help. Chamblin says he’s confident in the depth on his team, “I definitely believe in Rob, he’s played for me before, and Milt Collins has been with 2008 and we’ve had a number outings against Geroy (Simon).
“It’s good to depth and quality guys, so that we don’t have to say that we’ll win games when this guy gets back, we just keep rolling and try to continue to win games.”
The offensive line is coming off one it’s best games of the season protection-wise last week against Calgary, as they kept quarterback Darian Durant clean with no sacks against. That will be key against the strong Lions defence.
Durant is healthier this week, two weeks removed from missing the Montreal game with a hip flexor. He says he’s confident he can run if he’s required to do so against the Lions front-four, “If opportunities present themselves than I will, but at the same time, I want to make sure that we’re moving the ball by any means necessary and putting points on the board. If that’s me sitting in the pocket like last week, so be it.”
Durant says protecting the ball and capitalizing on their chances against the CFL’s number 1 defence will be the key to a win, “Whenever you’re playing against a good defence, the thing you don’t want to do is turn the ball over and make it easier for them. If you look at the last game, our defence played (great) and if it wasn’t for the turnovers than I think it would have been a different outcome.
“I just think it’s a game where you have to make the most of your opportunities, both defences are very sound, so when you get an opportunity to take advantage of something that they do that’s not sound, than you have to cash in.”
Chamblin is encouraging Rider Nation to help out their defence by increasing the volume even more than they already do, but he stopped short when asked if he had asked for the volume to be literally turned up, “We have the best fans in the league and I think the way the venue is set up, with the bowl shape, it’s pretty tough for any offence to come in and hear.
“Offences come in and they’re usually vanilla and they try to make sure that they do somethings where they don’t have to a lot of communications, so it just takes away one part of their game.”
The Riders and Lions will hit the field on Saturday night at 8:00pm for the second half of CFL doubleheader. The first game has Toronto in Winnipeg at 5:00pm.
On Friday night, Hamilton got big performances out of Henry Burris and Andy Fantuz in a 41-28 win over Montreal. Calgary put the pressure on Saskatchewan by beating Edmonton 39-15 at McMahon Stadium.