Well, that was a brutal Thursday night in Montreal for the Saskatchewan Riders but it was not the worst Rider loss I have seen in Montreal.
Back in 2000 my sons (Jonathan and Michael) and I attended the Aug. 3 game in Montreal. We enjoyed our walk up the hill from the hotel to Molson Stadium at McGill. There was a lot of excitement at the time for the Alouettes playing in that Stadium instead of the cavernous Big O. It was a disastrous game for the Riders as they lost 62-7. The boys got sick of the P.A. announcing time after time “Monnnnreal first down”. They may have been the only Rider fans who finished the game in the stands.
The game on June 23, which the Riders lost 37-13, reinforced the benefit of one team (Montreal) having seven days between games and the other team (Saskatchewan) having five days. Going on the road on a short week was another detriment to the Riders. While Craig Dickenson, in the Rider filmed post-game, spoke of the Riders having their legs under them they did not look like it to me. I expect the nine-day break until they play this coming Saturday will have fresh Riders upon the field.
On special teams Dickenson spoke of the Riders cover team having a hard time getting off Alouette blocks. On the opening kickoff Chandler Worthy was forced inside. As he broke up the seam it appeared to me that as kicker Brent Lauther cut Worthy off from the outside and tried to tackle him, Darrell Sankey was held on the inside, leaving just enough of a gap for Worthy to squirt through and go for the touchdown.
I think Worthy will have a much harder time at Mosaic. The Rider cover teams will be ready for him. I expect kicks focused on pinning him to a side.
With regard to offence I do not know what to expect.
Few teams start a rookie at centre. Logan Bandy did his best but the Riders desperately needed Dan Clark solidifying the middle. It is hard to determine individual responsibilities but there was consistent pressure up the middle and, on occasion, unblocked rushers. Bandy only played centre in his last year of university in Calgary. The previous two years he was at tackle.
The Riders can try to add to the blocking through running backs and receivers but risk diminishing the passing game.
Cody Farjardo obviously cannot spend the night dodging rushers but I am not sure the current offensive line can ward them off. Saturday night is an important test for the line. Another eight sack night would probably mean changes.
Fajardo had a successful reverse pivot left against the Eskimos to set up the game-winning touchdown to Mitch Picton. The Alouettes were ready for the move on Thursday. Maybe reverse right might help.
Fajardo has hardly been running since the opening game against Hamilton. While I am glad running plays for him are rare I do think the offence is better when he is a threat to run. I believe we will see him do some running on Saturday.
Losing Shaq Evans is a big deal. Last year the Riders had a succession of Achilles tendon injuries. I hope the string of broken legs ends after two games.
On defence the youngest Rider defensive backs are learning. Rolan Milligan and Nelson Lokombo have generally played well but also have had some painful mistakes. On Thursday Lokombo was up tight to the line on wide receiver, Kaion-Julien Grant. When Grant made a subtle move to the inside Lokombo twisted and was flat footed when Grant planted and took off down the field to catch a 77-yard touchdown pass. Unless he was going to jam Grant, he was in a vulnerable position. I expect he will do better on Saturday.
I think the rest of the defence will be ready to make Trevor Harris uncomfortable.
There was discussion last week about the Riders and attendance. It is disappointing when the Riders have a crowd of 26,000. Montreal would love such problems. Herb Zurkowsky reported in the Montreal Gazette that the Alouettes have 5,000 – 6,000 season tickets and over $2,000,000 in corporate sponsorship. Last year they averaged 13,000 tickets per game. On Thursday there were 16,000 fans in a stadium that can seat just over 25,000.
Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.