‘WE HAVE TO FIG­URE OUR­SELVES OUT’

Make-it-or-break-it game against red-hot Roughrid­ers will test Red­blacks’ met­tle

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - TIM BAINES tbaines@post­media.com twit­ter: @TimCBaines

Less than a month ago, the Ot­tawa Red­blacks cel­e­brated in the locker-room mo­ments af­ter what could have been a defin­ing 44-21 win over the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers.

Feel­ing dis­re­spected, some of the play­ers loudly ridiculed those — as in pretty much everybody out­side of that room — who had given the Red­blacks no chance to beat the Bombers. No respect, eh?

Maybe the naysay­ers were right, maybe the Red­blacks weren’t among the elite in the Cana­dian Foot­ball League. Sub­se­quent losses to the Mon­treal Alou­ettes and B.C. Lions point in that di­rec­tion. Or maybe, just maybe, these 2018 Red­blacks are ca­pa­ble of taking an­other leap ahead. Satur­day night’s game against the red-hot Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers, who are on a four-game win­ning streak, will be a good barom­e­ter on where the Red­blacks stand. Are they ready to hang with the big boys or will be there be more heart­break ahead?

“We have to fig­ure our­selves out,” said de­fen­sive back Jonathan Rose, who re­turns to the lineup af­ter miss­ing a game with a leg in­jury. “You can’t be a high-end team and lose to low­erend teams. We know our team’s po­ten­tial. We look at our­selves on the high end, but there’s also re­al­ity.”

In Week 2 of the sea­son, the Red­blacks put a 40-17 beat­ing on the Roughrid­ers at TD Place. Much has changed since then. But in a league in which most games come down to the fi­nal cou­ple of min­utes, with games usu­ally de­cided by less than a touch­down, the Rid­ers know all too well what they’re up against.

“It wasn’t too long ago we were in the same sit­u­a­tion — pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail, show­ing up with the right at­ti­tude and try­ing to dig your­self out of a hole you cre­ated,” Roughrid­ers coach Chris Jones said Fri­day. “They’ve won enough foot­ball games over there and know how to win. You don’t have to think back very far to when they got af­ter us pretty good.”

“All teams are dan­ger­ous,” said Rid­ers quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros, who re­turns af­ter be­ing in con­cus­sion pro­to­col last week. “All these games count the same. To get to where we want to go, Ot­tawa is our next op­po­nent. They’re a very good foot­ball team. They beat us up pretty good. We have to play phys­i­cal; we’ve been get­ting bet­ter at that. We have to ex­e­cute at a high level to win this game.”

Of­fen­sively, the Red­blacks have strug­gled the past two games. Quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris has been mostly in­ef­fec­tive — he was yanked and re­placed by Do­minique Davis to start the third quar­ter last Fri­day in Van­cou­ver. Har­ris came back into the game af­ter Davis tossed an in­ter­cep­tion.

“It starts with turnovers,” said Red­blacks of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Jaime El­i­zondo. "When you have the ball in your hand, you’re car­ry­ing the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion in your hand. We can’t turn the ball over or make bad de­ci­sions. Some­times a tipped ball is go­ing to hap­pen. In the Mon­treal game, they got a lucky tip and went to the house. That’s un­con­trol­lable some­times.

“From my per­spec­tive, it’s about me help­ing sim­plify the game for (Har­ris). It’s true in pro foot­ball, if your quar­ter­back has a bad day, your team’s go­ing to strug­gle just be­cause that po­si­tion has such an im­pact on the game.”

“Guys are go­ing to go through swings of good games and bad games,” said Red­blacks coach Rick Camp­bell. “Quar­ter­back is such a high­lighted po­si­tion, right­fully so be­cause it’s so im­pact­ful. The quar­ter­backs get a ton of credit when you win, it’s all about how great they are. When you lose, they get a lot of the blame. The truth is usu­ally some­where in the mid­dle. Trevor’s played enough games, he’ll be fine.”

Fol­low­ing a blue­print the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers used ef­fec­tively in shut­ting down Ot­tawa’s of­fence twice ear­lier this sea­son, the Als and Lions at­tacked the Red­blacks with a Cover Zero blitz. Ex­pect more of the same from the Roughrid­ers, though the Red­blacks be­lieve they should be able to make some big plays off it.

“It’s com­mon in foot­ball, it’s noth­ing new,” said Camp­bell. "In that con­cept, they’re go­ing to bring one more than you can block. They get lots of pres­sure, but you’re hang­ing your DBs out, say­ing they have to cover guys one-on-one. That’s what your of­fence has to re­ally make them pay for.

“I would call it a hero or zero thing for the de­fence. They can look re­ally good — get pres­sure, knock balls down and hit your quar­ter­back. But on the flip side, they’re ask­ing their de­fen­sive backs to play one-on-one, if you hit one of them, not only could it be a first down, it could be a touch­down. We need to pro­tect well, then count on our play­ers win­ning some one-on-one bat­tles, which we’re very ca­pa­ble of.”

The Regina Fac­tor: With a core of fans who may be the best in the league, it’s never easy for teams to play at Mo­saic Sta­dium. Said Camp­bell: “It’s a tough place to play; it’s fun, it’s a great at­mos­phere. It’s kind of an us ver­sus the world men­tal­ity when you go out there." An­other po­ten­tial fac­tor in the game is the weather: The fore­cast is call­ing for rain. Said Camp­bell: “We talked about it. I gave them the heads up on the weather, that it’ll be cooler. As we all know, though, there are go­ing to be way cooler days ahead as we fin­ish out the sea­son. I don’t think it will re­ally af­fect the game un­less we get a down­pour.”

The End Around: Asked about the Ot­tawa de­fence, Col­laros said: “It’s a very good de­fence. I have a ton of respect for coach (Noel) Thorpe, hav­ing played against him in the East for a long time. His de­fences are al­ways phys­i­cal, they do a great job of read­ing pat­terns in their zones, so it’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge for us.” ... Line­backer An­drew Lue has been added to the Red­blacks lineup, along with Rose. Out are re­ceiver Austen Hart­ley and de­fen­sive back Ta­fon Main­sah. In for the Rid­ers are full­back Al­bert Awachie and line­backer Der­rick Mon­crief. Out are de­fen­sive back Crez­don But­ler and de­fen­sive end Jor­dan Reaves.

JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Ot­tawa Red­blacks need a bounce-back game from quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris, who was yanked in the sec­ond half of last week’s loss to the B.C. Lions due to in­ef­fec­tive play.

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