Ques­tions linger about Roughrid­ers’ of­fence

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS - ROB VANSTONE rvan­stone@post­media.com twit­ter.com/rob­van­stone

The Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers would have gone ahead if not for a head.

Early in Mon­day’s fourth quar­ter at Mo­saic Sta­dium, Kenny Shaw was open deep for what should have been a 42-yard touch­down re­cep­tion against the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos.

The pass by Zach Col­laros, un­furled with Saskatchewan trail­ing 12-9, was pre­cise.

But there was a catch — in that there wasn’t a catch.

The foot­ball bounced off Shaw’s face mask.

That play, more than any other this sea­son, typ­i­fies the Roughrid­ers’ of­fence.

Even when ev­ery­thing un­folds ac­cord­ing to plan, the fin­ish­ing touch can be elu­sive.

How­ever, an­other char­ac­ter­is­tic of the 2018 Roughrid­ers is the ten­dency of the de­fence to make game-al­ter­ing plays.

Wil­lie Jef­fer­son’s 49-yard in­ter­cep­tion-re­turn touch­down late in the fourth quar­ter was the dif­fer­ence against Ed­mon­ton as Saskatchewan ral­lied for a 19-12 win.

The for­mula, as un­con­ven­tional as it may be in an of­fen­sive ori­ented league, has helped the Roughrid­ers post a record (10-5) that is good for sec­ond place in the West Divi­sion.

Var­i­ous pun­dits, in­clud­ing this griz­zled gar­goyle of the me­dia, keep won­der­ing whether the Roughrid­ers will be sunk if a must-win game be­comes a shootout.

Some of those con­cerns had been al­layed lead­ing up to the Ed­mon­ton game. With each pass­ing week, it seemed the of­fence was evolv­ing into a unit that was at least com­pe­tent, if not ex­plo­sive.

Col­laros was named a CFL top per­former of the week af­ter lac­er­at­ing the Mon­treal Alou­ettes for 394 ae­rial yards Sept. 30 in a 34-29 Roughrid­ers vic­tory.

Mind you, that erup­tion took place against a peren­nial soup can.

When the Roughrid­ers were con­fronted with a West Divi­sion foe — even a medi­ocre one — the of­fence re­gressed and failed to reg­is­ter a touch­down — only for Jef­fer­son to save the day.

Jef­fer­son’s pick-six, his sec­ond of the sea­son, was the third touch­down by a Roughrid­ers de­fen­sive end this sea­son. Charleston Hughes has also scored on a fum­ble re­cov­ery.

Oh, and there’s this. Tobi Antigha, listed as a de­fen­sive end, lined up at safety in timely fash­ion July 28 against the vis­it­ing Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers. Dur­ing that game, won 34-22 by Cal­gary, Antigha in­ter­cepted Bo Levi Mitchell and mo­tored 52 yards for a touch­down.

So here is the sta­tis­ti­cal tally: Touch­downs by Roughrid­ers de­fen­sive ends this sea­son: Three (or four, if you count Antigha’s ma­jor).

Touch­downs by Roughrid­ers wide re­ceivers this sea­son: Zero. (Many thanks to val­ued reader Govind Achyuthan for the com­par­i­son.)

The July 28 game, by the way, is one of three this sea­son in which Saskatchewan failed to score an of­fen­sive touch­down.

The Roughrid­ers won two of those games, thanks to a ster­ling de­fence that is chore­ographed by head coach Chris Jones. One of those vic­to­ries was against the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers, whom the Green and White is to op­pose Satur­day at In­vestors Group Field.

De­spite the de­fence’s ex­plo­sive­ness, the lin­ger­ing fear is that, at some point, the of­fen­sive ane­mia could catch up with the Roughrid­ers — per­haps at a most in­op­por­tune time.

It wasn’t sup­posed to be this way, re­mem­ber?

Fol­low­ing the 2017 sea­son, Jones con­cluded that the quar­ter­back­ing could be im­proved and ac­quired Col­laros from the Hamil­ton Tiger-cats. Kevin Glenn, the Roughrid­ers’ start­ing quar­ter­back last sea­son, was sum­mar­ily re­leased.

The move was made even though Saskatchewan amassed a league-high 35 touch­down passes last sea­son. (The Rid­ers had 32 TD passes af­ter 15 games, com­pared to 11 this sea­son.)

The Roughrid­ers also had 48 of­fen­sive touch­downs, sec­ond only to Ed­mon­ton (52) last sea­son. (Saskatchewan’s 15-game to­tals: 41 in 2017; 22 in 2018.)

Last sea­son, Saskatchewan had three 1,000-yard re­ceivers — Duron Carter, Bakari Grant and Naa­man Roo­sevelt. Only Roo­sevelt, who is about to miss his third con­sec­u­tive game due to in­jury, re­mains with the team.

Sim­ply put, the Roughrid­ers have not ad­e­quately re­plen­ished the of­fence af­ter dis­solv­ing ties with sev­eral key vet­er­ans. The of­fence is younger, but by no means bet­ter. It is not even close to be­ing of cham­pi­onship cal­i­bre.

Im­prove­ments must be made be­fore the Roughrid­ers’ prob­lems come to a head.

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