After a Saskatchean Roughrider win there is almost as much dissection of Rider problems as there is about why they won the game.
Late during July 2 game I spoke with Darrell Davis, former LeaderPost reporter and now with CJME, who spoke about the struggles of the Rider offensive line. I mentioned the Montreal Alouettes O-line was having a tough time with the Rider defence. After a moment’s reflection he said we talk about the Riders offensive line having trouble but when it is the Montreal offensive line we talk about how strong the Rider defence is upon the field. Thinking about his comment I am going to write this column about why the Alouettes lost rather than why the Riders won.
The Alouettes lost 41-20 because they were dominated in the third quarter. They entered the quarter up two and ended the quarter down 19.
Their first error was kicking off to the Riders. Craig Dickenson understood it was a strategic decision by Montreal but it fired up the Riders. Cody Fajardo said the Riders felt disrespected. He took it personally. While football players search for motivation, a kickoff is rarely a factor.
Montreal did not make effective adjustments at half time. The Riders have often been criticized for not adjusting during the game. On Saturday the Alouette defence was ready for the Rider offence to go inside in the second half but the Riders were going outside.
During the quarter Rider rushers gained 90 yards on the ground, In particular, on their first two possessions the Riders rushed for 78 yards. On most of the plays Jamal Morrow or Frankie Hickson were starting inside and bouncing outside. Fajardo said the Alouettes were loading up the box leaving Rider running backs space to the outside.
Alouette defenders were equally determined to stop the passing game over the middle which left them vulnerable to the Riders throwing short passes to the outside. In particular, the Riders longest pass by yardage was a three-yard throw to Kian Schaffer-Baker who took the pass and turned upfield for a 44-yard touchdown. Fajardo said the Alouettes were not tracking Rider receivers in motion across the field, leaving them chasing Rider receivers catching short passes towards the sidelines.
The Alouettes had trouble getting off blocks. Fajardo praised Duke Williams, especially on Schaffer-Baker’s touchdown, for his blocking. While Williams did not catch a pass Fajardo said he made a significant contribution.
Montreal was unable to pressure Fajardo. In the first half life had been miserable for Fajardo. In the third quarter the Alouettes had no pressure. Certainly the running game and short passes made it more difficult for the Alouettes but Rider guard, Logan Ferland, also said the Rider O line did a better job of communication in the second half.
The Montreal offence ran a mere six plays on three possessions in the third quarter.
The Alouettes were unable to run the ball. They had three running plays. On the first and third they lost yards. On the second the Riders crushed Jeshrun Antwi forcing a fumble. On the third running play late in the quarter it was second and two. Anthony Lanier II submarined the play forcing a three-yard loss.
Trevor Harris completed two of his three passes but the lack of a running game in the quarter was decisive.
On special teams the Alouettes could not capture the first half magic of Chandler Worthy who ran another kickoff back for a touchdown and almost returned a punt for a touchdown. On their three kickoff returns during the third quarter the Riders stopped them at the 34, the 32 and the 38.
The Riders made the wise decision to try to kick away from Worthy. Worthy and Tyson Philpot responded by standing together and only going to a side of the field as the ball was about to be kicked. In the end Worthy returned two of the three kickoffs but had no long returns. The Alouettes were not able to hold their blocks and the Riders were getting numbers to the ball as Craig Dickenson wants to see from his cover teams.
Lastly, the Alouettes lost composure. In another chippy game with lots of penalties Montreal lost its focus. Montreal defensive lineman, Michael Wakefield, got so mad at Rider offensive tackle, Na’Ty Rogers, he took a pair of misconduct penalties after the whistle, including a helmet heave, and was ejected from the game.
Montreal tried to resurrect themselves in the fourth quarter but too much had gone wrong in the third.
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.