OF­FENCE CAN­NOT BE A LI­A­BIL­ITY SUN­DAY

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - ROB VAN­STONE Regina rvan­stone@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/rob­van­stone

The Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers must pre­vent both of­fences from gen­er­at­ing touch­downs for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The tough­est chal­lenge, oddly enough, will be to en­sure Winnipeg does not score when Saskatchewan has the foot­ball.

Con­sider the past two games be­tween the Roughrid­ers and Blue Bombers, who meet Sun­day, 3:30 p.m., at Mo­saic Sta­dium in the CFL’s West Divi­sion semi­fi­nal.

The Roughrid­ers’ al­leged of­fence failed to score a touch­down in both con­tests, even though the league’s rules are ru­moured to be friendly to quar­ter­backs, re­ceivers and the like.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse for the Green and White, the Bombers scored a de­fen­sive touch­down in each of the two afore­men­tioned games.

An­thony Gaitor scored on a 55-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn Sept. 8, when the Roughrid­ers coun­tered with two pick-sixes of their own en route to win­ning 32-27 at In­vestors Group Field.

The Roughrid­ers re­turned to Winnipeg on Oct. 13, when the hosts opened the scor­ing on a 45-yard fum­ble re­turn by Gaitor.

And get this: Winnipeg scored on one of the few Roughrid­ers of­fen­sive plays that ac­tu­ally worked!

Roughrid­ers quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros threw a quick pass to Kyran Moore, who had gained 10 yards — first-down yardage! — be­fore of­fer­ing up a room-ser­vice fum­ble. Gaitor took it from there.

Col­laros fin­ished the game with a quar­ter­back-ef­fi­ciency rat­ing of 8.4. Sub­tract the play that ended with a scoop-and-score and his rat­ing was 1.9.

By now, you may have as­cer­tained that it was not a ban­ner day for the Roughrid­ers. They lost, 31-0.

Saskatchewan failed to eke out an of­fen­sive touch­down in four games this sea­son — in­clud­ing two against Winnipeg.

The Roughrid­ers did reg­is­ter three of­fen­sive touch­downs Sept. 2 in a 31-23 home-field vic­tory over Winnipeg, but one of those ma­jors punc­tu­ated a two-play, one-yard pos­ses­sion.

All in all, it was an atyp­i­cally de­cent day for the Saskatchewan of­fence, which reg­is­tered 22 first downs. Over the re­main­ing eight reg­u­lar-sea­son games, Col­laros had QB rat­ings of 59.9, 39.4, 80.9, 99.0, 74.3, 8.4, 101.1 and, in one quar­ter of duty, 81.3.

For the sea­son, his rat­ing was 79.5. (Kevin Glenn — the Roughrid­ers’ start­ing quar­ter­back last sea­son — sported a rat­ing of 100.0 in 2017.)

It should be noted, though, that Col­laros was named one of the CFL’s top per­form­ers of the week fol­low­ing Saskatchewan’s 29-24 road vic­tory over the first-place Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers — whom he dis­sected for 352 aerial yards — on Oct. 20.

He peaked, in terms of pass­ing yardage, Sept. 30 in a 34-29 con­quest of the host Mon­treal Alou­ettes. The Roughrid­ers piled up 32 first downs and 394 pass­ing yards that fine af­ter­noon at Per­ci­val Mol­son Sta­dium.

How­ever, the Roughrid­ers have not thrown a touch­down pass since the fi­nal play of the first quar­ter in Mon­treal. The drought is at 19 quar­ters and count­ing.

Yet, the Roughrid­ers have con­tin­ued to win. Their 12-6 record (and 9-2 run to fin­ish the reg­u­lar sea­son) is largely at­trib­ut­able to a dom­i­nant de­fence that can change a game in an in­stant.

The for­mula has been suc­cess­ful to this point. But now, with the playoffs loom­ing, the mar­gin for er­ror is scant. Ev­ery mis­take is mag­ni­fied.

The Bombers, for their part, do not want to reprise Sept. 8, when they were ahead 10-0 — and seem­ingly des­tined to fat­ten the lead — when Wil­lie Jef­fer­son changed ev­ery­thing.

The Roughrid­ers de­fen­sive end in­ter­cepted Ni­chols, jogged 97 yards for a touch­down, and later dis­tracted the Bombers quar­ter­back be­fore he served up a 103-yard pick-six to Sa­muel Eguavoen.

Winnipeg ’s of­fence does have con­sid­er­able up­side, though, as demon­strated by the Bombers’ league-high to­tal of 550 points.

The Blue Bombers led the CFL in of­fen­sive touch­downs (53), more than twice as many as the Roughrid­ers (25).

Saskatchewan, for its part, had a league-high 11 de­fen­sive touch­downs, two of which were at Winnipeg ’s ex­pense.

So the stage is set. Strength against strength — the Bombers’ of­fence ver­sus the Roughrid­ers’ de­fence — prom­ises to be a com­pelling duel.

Winnipeg also sports a re­spectable de­fence — see: Bighill, Adam — whereas there are times when a Saskatchewan first down war­rants a “break­ing news” ad­vi­sory.

Such a mis­match places the onus on the Roughrid­ers’ of­fence to make some plays or, fail­ing that, at least get out of the way.

BRAN­DON HARDER

Roughrid­ers quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros must en­sure the of­fence does its part if Saskatchewan hopes to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Divi­sion semi­fi­nal Sun­day af­ter­noon at Mo­saic Sta­dium.

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