REGINA - The heat is on in Rider Nation as fans have voiced their displeasure over the three-game losing streak that the Saskatchewan Roughriders take into their game Friday with the BC Lions.
The Riders have had some recent success against the Lions, including a win against them at home 34-29 on August 20.
But the Roughriders have hit the skids since then. Their latest miserable outing came last week in Ottawa when they lost 36-28 to the lowly Ottawa Redblacks, a game that saw the Redblacks put an end to their own seven game losing streak.
After starting the season 6-5, this latest losing result dropped the Riders to 6 and 8 on the season and it was also their fifth consecutive loss on the road. This latest result has commentators again pointing at similarities to last year when the team also started 6-5, and then lost all the rest of the games on their schedule.
This latest loss, to the worst team in the league in the Ottawa Redblacks, also has the media vultures circling around both Head Coach Craig Dickenson and General Manager Jeremy O’Day, both of whom are in their final years of their contracts.
O'Day meets the press
On Wednesday, O’Day met the media to give his views of the state of the Riders’ season with five weeks remaining until the playoffs are due to start. The general manager made clear in his remarks that his prime focus was on the season, not the contract situation.
“I’m not sure the contract part has much to do with my thoughts on the season,” O’Day said, “but I think that it’s been an up-and-down season if you look at it. We started out well, won three out of four to start off the season, then lost three, then we won three out of four and now we're back where we've lost three in a row. So, it’s kind of been an up-and-down season.
“We’ve kind of shown flashes of being a good team, and we've beaten some good teams that are up there in the standings, and we’ve shown that we can play with those, and there’s also some games where we haven’t played well. And the challenge is to be consistent and play better. A lot of that has to do with controlling turnovers and little things that happen in the game and sometimes they can snowball.… Most seasons have ups and downs. Obviously, you want to have more ups than downs, and when you lose a couple in a row you are just doing everything you can to get out of that rut. That’s what the players and coaches are doing now, are working really hard to try to get back on a positive note and make this push.”
O’Day said he has not spoken yet to team President Craig Reynolds about coming back.
“I don’t think now would be the time to have that conversation. I know what you guys are getting at… I’m just not someone that’s real comfortable talking about that. We have half of our players who are on one year contracts, and probably 90 per cent of our coaches are on one year contracts, and for me to sit up here and talk about my own situation, I don’t think that’s fair to anyone in the building. So I know you’re not going to believe it, but it’s not really something I think about.”
Despite all the talk about the losing streak, O’Day said “everyone should understand the sky is not falling inside the stadium.”
“I know that there’s lots of talk we lost three games, you’re in a rut and you want to pull out of it, but the guys aren’t thinking that the season is going astray. They’re just focusing on the next week and trying to win a football game. It changes real quick when you win games.”
As for what needs to change to get out of the slide, O’Day responded:
“This is going to sound like the same old answer you hear from football administration all the time, but the reality is there's certain things have happen in the game that are real critical to the game and I think a big one is just turnovers. I think we’ve got to do a better job of protecting the football. I think in particular this last game, the game kind of got out of hand because of turnovers…
“As far as what we’re getting from our players, I do get a little upset when people talk about peoples’ effort because people don’t understand what the players put in for effort. It’s hard for me to look at even that game last week and say that our players didn’t play with effort. We were down 21 or 24 points and we returned a punt for 107 yards, which is hard enough to do, and then we do a great onside kick and get the ball back, and then our offence goes down and scores. And we almost executed another one, which I don’t know the probability of a comeback was at that point, but that says a lot about a team that doesn’t give up and they’re out there trying to make a comeback in a situation like that. So the effort level from our players is there…
“We're just looking forward to a push here, and I know that we’ve lost some games in a row here, but I think it’s important to understand that we are in third place right now and we need to win some games to secure a playoff spot, and anything can happen. But this team is not feeling like our season is over by any means. They are focusing in on the next week, and in order to get in, we need to win some games.”
Update on Trevor Harris
O’Day did provide an update on quarterback Trevor Harris’ injury situation and his timeline for coming back. He said it’s “definitely not ruled out” that he could return this season. But it was too early to determine whether he could or could not return and he indicated there would be a long evaluation process before that happens.
So far the progress on the recovery has been positive.
“He’s coming along, he’s making progress, and he’s starting to do a little work on the treadmill… He’s doing great, by all means. I know everyone wants to pinpoint is he on schedule, is he ahead of schedule, and sometimes I’m not really sure what exactly that means because it’s not like setting up an appointment that you have to be there on time for. It’s a matter of how the body heals, and you could be ahead of schedule from what they've said at the beginning, or behind, but the reality is he’s doing wel. The doctors are happy with his progress, the trainers are happy. He’s certainly very motivated and will let you know every time that he’s doing something new that he hasn’t been able to do.
“You can see that he’s starting to get more excited, he’s in the building and he’s always been watching films. He’s staying engaged. Some players when they get hurt, they go into a rut and they can’t look at the end of the road of where (and) when they get back, and others are just focused on getting back, and so he’s definitely one of those players that are focused on getting back and working his butt off to get back.”
Preview of BC game
The Riders’ game with the BC Lions goes tonight at 8:30 pm Saskatchewan time at BC Place Stadium. Among those returning to the lineup for Saskatchewan will be defensive back Jayden Dalke who had been out since the Labour Day game.
Jake Dolegala once again gets the start at quarterback with Mason Fine backing up.
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