Last week was all about what the Saskatchewan Roughriders did wrong in losing to the B.C. Lions. This week will be all about what they did right in defeating the Lions.
A week ago, on Aug. 19, the Rider defence gave up big passing plays to the Lions including a 90-yard completion to Lucky Whitehead. The Vancouver Sun said there have been 17 passing plays for over 60 yards this season. Six have been against the Riders. During the game the Lions had four receptions of 29 yards or greater. Those four receptions accounted for 184 yards of offence.
Last Friday, Aug. 26, the Rider defence gave up only one completion over 29 yards, a 35 yard pass to Dominque Rhymes.
On Friday it was the Riders with the big pass plays. Kian Schaffer-Baker caught passes for 49 and 81 yards. The first was a long pass that was tipped by the Lion defender. Cody Fajardo needed a pass with a sprinkle of Jesus. He has not had many this year. On the 81 yard completion there was an unblocked Lion rusher bearing down upon him as he lofted the pass to Schaffer-Baker cutting across the field. On that play Fajardo reacted perfectly and threw the ball on time.
Fajardo played with confidence. He spoke about telling Jason Maas during the week that if he was going to go down, he wanted to be doing stuff he feels comfortable about, which includes the quarterback run game. He said the game plan kept him in rhythm. Craig Dickenson noted that Fajardo kept his eyes downfield during the game.
In the running game the defence once again eliminated the Lions running backs. A week ago they had given up 93 yards on the ground with Nathan Rourke providing 64 yards. This week they held Antonio Pipkin to 26 yards. I think Rourke would not have done better running the ball. In Regina the Riders were adjusting the rush and he was having little running room by the time he was injured. Lions running back James Butler did gain more yards rushing this week but he went from 16 yards to 18 yards. The Lions have become a one dimensional team. Derrick Moncrief thought the Lions would be run heavy in Vancouver. They could not run heavy against the Rider defence on Friday.
Rider fans had been wondering how Frankie Hickson would do if he were the feature back all game. With Jamal Morrow injured he had a brilliant game going for 129 yards. Hickson went by, around and through Lions defenders. He was quick, shifty and strong. I expect the Riders will continue to lead the league in rushing with him as the primary back.
The Riders collected only six penalties during the game. A week earlier they had 13 penalties. Going into Friday’s game they had been the worst in the league incurring an average of 10 penalties per game.
Having Kyran Moore on the field appears to give Fajardo a boost no other receiver can give him. They have a special level of trust in each other. While Swerve but three receptions he caught the pass that sealed the win with a minute to go in the game. When Fajardo rolled left I was sure he would throw if Moore was out there. I am not sure if Fajardo would have thrown had it been another receiver.
The Riders managed the clock well at the end of the first half. I am often uneasy with Rider clock management at the end of the first and the end of the game. On Friday they efficiently got off plays so that when they were stopped the field goal was the last play of the half.
The Riders had the ball for seven minutes more than the Lions. A week ago the Lions had the ball for three minutes longer. Most important, the Riders had possession when the game ended. One of Craig Dickenson’s regular comments is that the Riders want the ball in their hands to end the game. On Friday night, reflecting how long the last 2:33 can take in a CFL game, it took the Riders nine plays to run out the clock.
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.