REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Roughriders look to earn a season split with the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium, as two teams in need of an early-season momentum swing clash in Regina.
Coming off a bye week the Riders are treating this Week 5 contest like it’s the start of a brand new season, hoping a refocused and re-energized outlook can help them return to form.
“I thought they had a good mindset coming back from the bye in the way they approached the week,” Head Coach Corey Chamblin told Riderville.com. “They approached it like it’s a new season with time off, so I thought they did the right things in practice, they handled the situations we put them in pretty well and now the biggest test is game time.”
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Quarterback Darian Durant agreed that the mentality has changed since the bye week, which is important considering what lies ahead in the ultra-competitive West Division. The Riders started out where they left off following last November’s Grey Cup win over the Ticats, dismantling the same team in rain-drenched rematch in the home opener.
The next two games however the Riders were outscored 74-28 in losses to Toronto and BC, which left them with a pretty significant gap between the first-place Calgary Stampeders. The starting quarterback said the team must ignore the big picture and focus solely on the next opponent every time out.
“I think that’s the way you need to approach each and every game from here on out,” he said. “It’s a one-game season each and every week. The objective is to go 1-0 and that’s our mindset, that’s our focus and that’s how we have to approach it.”
Failure to bounce back this weekend won’t be a result of any lack of motivation. The Riders had a week to rest but also mull over their current situation, meanwhile their first game back comes against the same team that humbled them with a 48-15 blowout three weeks ago.
Chamblin played down the payback angle, especially for his hungry defence, but it’s hard to imagine anyone lining up for the Riders on Saturday letting Ricky Ray and the Argos off the hook for what happened the last time out.
“We’re not about payback, they just need to get better, period,” Chamblin said. “We need to play every week like it’s a championship week, we want to be a championship defence but we’re a long way off.”
“It doesn’t matter about payback, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is – we just have to make sure that we’re ready to play football.”
On July 5th Ray and the Argos offence were in synch, jumping out to a 25-1 lead well into the third quarter. Durant and the Riders showed some fight, battling back with a pair of late third-quarter touchdowns to make it a two-score game – but the Argos put the game well out of reach in the fourth with a 23-0 shutout.
The Riders however say they’re a different team now, one that’s improving each week both in chemistry and understanding of the system.
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“I think we just have energy,” Durant said of his team coming off the bye. “I think the first couple of games we were trying to find out who we were, we were thinking more than reacting and being able to play full speed but I think we’ve simplified some things and that’s going to allow the new guys to be able to just run and have fun and play.”
“The more and more we work together the better chemistry will develop,” he continued. “We’ve had a couple months now to get that together and it’s all about putting that on the field on game day.”
With the pressure growing to meet high expectations following a Grey Cup season, the Green and White hope that will all come together sooner rather than later. Losing, as rookie receiver Brett Swain pointed out, is difficult for any team. Losing in Saskatchewan is even tougher.
“In professional sports nobody likes losing, it puts a dark cloud over everything and we’re just going to deal with adversity and hopefully we can come out of this slump a little bit,” Swain told the team’s official website. “Right now we just look at it as not to panic and get back to the basics and just play football.”
The Argos also appear to be a different team since that early July knockout at the Rogers Centre, but not for the same reasons. Jason Barnes, Chad Owens, and Andre Durie were the offensive catalysts in that game for Ray, but since then all three have gone down with injuries.
Last weekend they played the next man up mantra, with youngsters Darvin Adams, Terrell Sinkfield, and Anthony Coombs getting a chance to step into the spotlight. However the Argo offence never really recaptured its form, producing just one touchdown and 17 points in a heartbreaking loss to the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
It was a game Ottawa fans will remember fondly as it marked the team’s home opener and first ever win for the new franchise. Third-year head coach Scott Milanovich however will remember things a little differently. He reserved last year’s loss to the Ticats in the Eastern Final as the worst coaching loss in his career, but admitted that this one wasn’t easy to swallow.
“I was disappointed because we made such a big climb defensively and we didn’t find a way to win that game,” Milanovich told Argonauts.ca.
It was a defensive battle that saw just one touchdown, a fourth-quarter strike from Ray to Darvin Adams to give the Argos a lead that would be short-lived. The teams swapped field goals, then rookie kicker Brett Maher added his sixth field goal of the game with under a minute left to put Ottawa back in the lead, 18-17.
The Argos fell just shy of getting into Swayze Waters range to attempt a game-winning kick.
“We still had opportunities to make our plays in the game,” Milanovich said refusing to use injuries as an excuse. “Nobody wants their starters out but I was looking forward to seeing these new guys play.”
The loss marked their second straight after a home loss to Calgary, and their third in four games to open up the season. That’s well below the team’s expectation of a division title this season, however with no team in the East eclipsing the single-win mark there appears to be time to get things sorted out.
“I won’t press the panic button,” Milanovich said. “That’s for other people to do but that won’t happen within our locker-room.”
“It wouldn’t be any different if we were 3-1, you still have a foundation that you build your team on and that you believe in and that’s proven over the years that it works,” he continued. “Just because you lose a few games you don’t change what you do.”
The encouraging sign for the Argos came from their defence, which came out of the Ottawa game without allowing a single touchdown. Henry Burris, usually an Argo-killer, amassed only 216 passing yards on 17-30 passing, while Chevon Walker was limited to 60 yards on 12 carries.
Now as they hit the road for one of the most challenging games on their schedule, they hope the defence can continue its progression and the offence can build chemistry as the team waits for its top offensive players to come off the shelf.
The Argos can ill-afford to wait that long to rediscover their offensive mojo, so perhaps a trip into very hostile territory can spark an early-season turning point. After all, they are 2-0 in their trips to Regina under Milanovich.
“I think our players and I’m sure all the players in the league enjoy playing there,” Milanovich said. “It’s a fun environment and their crowd’s always into it and excited about the game so it’s easy to get emotional for a game in Regina.”
“We’ve played well in both of those games and protected the football and hopefully we can do the same thing again.”
Kickoff is at 10:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen live on TSN.
- With files from Riderville.com/Argonauts.ca