July 4, 2014

Preview: Ray, Durant set to duel in T.O.

CFL.ca Staff

TORONTO — The last two Grey Cup Champions close out Week 2 as the Toronto Argonauts host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their home opener Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre.

It’s a duel between two of the league’s premier, but overtaking those headlines are questions about whether the Argos can bounce back from a surprising 45-21 loss at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last weekend.

Penalties and turnovers factored a Bombers win but the Argos believe they’re a good football team that’s just got off on the wrong foot.

“We come out early and they make a couple of very good plays and get a lead, and we turn it over, they score again and the penalties start and you start to press,” Head Coach Scott Milanovich told Argonauts.ca.

“When you start to press you lose your coaching and guys start wanting to make a 14-point play, and that’s when it snowballs into the end result we saw Thursday,” he continued. “It was one of those games where it didn’t start out our way, we couldn’t start up our momentum and you chalk it up to a tough opening night.”

A slow start defensively may have been expected given that unit’s facelift over the off-season, which included a change in defensive coordinator and scheme. Add to that a majority of starters who are rookies in the CFL and you get the performance that the Argos had defensively in Week 1.

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Drew Willy and the Bombers were able to take full advantage, scoring early and often as their young quarterback threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns on the way to earning offensive player of the week honours.

But despite big plays, big yards, and ultimately big points against the Argos, so far, are confident their defence isn’t far off from being pretty good.

“It wasn’t like we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, you know, we just weren’t making plays,” said Matt Black, one of only two players on defence remaining from the team’s 2012 Grey Cup triumph.

“Those guys made some phenomenal catches,” he continued. “There were a couple of times that we just didn’t do what we were supposed to do and if we did, the outcome would have probably been different.”

While growing pains on defence were expected, the Argos offence also saw a better performance for themselves, expected to be one of the league’s most productive units this season after leading the league in passing a year ago.

Ricky Ray was strong in his regular season debut, completing 27 of 38 passing attempts for 283 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite facing heavy pressure all night. Overall though the offence never found its rhythm, against an aggressive Bomber pass rush, and a pair of game-changing fumbles.

The turnovers, Milanovich said, were an anomaly and aren’t likely to be a problem moving forward, but the penalties –

“It’s just a lack of consciousness on the football field,” he said. “You see 22 penalties it’s unheard of, and right after the game I went over the list and thought ‘we have a lot of young players, let me take a look at this’, and only six of them were from rookies.”

What are the writers saying?

Don Landry» Black, Argos defence ready for redemption
Don Landry
CFL.ca Columnist

Rod Pedersen» Riders looking for new identity with same results
Rod Pedersen
CFL.ca Columnist

“The rest of them were from veterans, and I made it clear that that can’t happen. If you want to lose your position on this football team, one of the quickest ways to do that is to be a penalty guy.”

Milanovich and his club clearly have their priorities straight ahead of Saturday’s home opener, and now all that’s left is execution. The team has to put last week’s loss to Winnipeg in the rearview mirror and focus solely on the defending Grey Cup Champions.

“Last week was last week and we’re over it,” Owens told the team’s official website. “We’re moving forward and we’re focused solely on what we can control. This week, we are just focusing on our game plan.”

“We want to eliminate the silly mental errors such as penalties and those extra-curricular confrontations,” he continued. “It just goes to show you that the things that our coaches hound us about are what determine wins and losses.”

“Penalties and turnovers are a large part of that.”

That holds true against any opponent in football, but perhaps more when you play the Roughriders than anyone else. The Riders showed with last weekend’s 31-10 win in drenched conditions over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that there won’t be any Grey Cup hangover in 2014, and now they’re ready to continue their momentum with their first road trip of the season.

The last time they met

Last Meeting:
Saturday, September 14, 2013

Toronto 31, Saskatchewan 29
Led then by Zach Collaros, the Argos generated a furious fourth-quarter comeback to top the  Roughriders 31-29 on the road last September.
» Read more.

“We haven’t been on the road so this will be something good for us; we’ll see how the guys handle it, especially going to a big city like Toronto and playing a good football team,” Chamblin told Riderville.com. “So we’re excited.”

Many thought the Green and White might suffer a setback given the departures of Kory Sheets, Weston Dressler, and Geroy Simon among other key contributors to a win in the 101st Grey Cup, but third-year Head Coach Corey Chamblin clearly has his players believing in the ‘next-man-up’ mentality.

The Riders made short work of the Ticats in their big Grey Cup rematch last Sunday, leaning on newcomer Anthony Allen’s 158 rushing yards on 27 carries to go with a dominant performance on defence which led to Ticats quarterback Zach Collaros being sacked 10 times – and hitting the wet turf many more.

After holding the Ticats to just 17 net yards in the first half and surrendering only two first downs on 10 second down tries, it was a performance to remember by the Rider defence, which could now await an even tougher challenge against Ray and the Argos.

“The whole thing is we want to be able to pressure Ricky Ray,” Hall said. “He’s gonna sit back and he’s gonna try to beat you vertically.”

“He’s got a great percentage as far as throwing the football, so we have to be able to work in unison regarding the front and the back end and we’ve got our work cut out for us, just because of the caliber that he is and what he brings to the table.”

Darian Durant meanwhile doesn’t play defence, but indicated he’s eagerly awaiting the challenge of going head to head with the Ray and the Argos offence, in a setting far more comfortable than last weekend’s monsoon conditions.

“That’s what we’re looking forward to – no wind, no rain, it may be a little heated but that’s football,” Durant said. “We’re looking forward to just being in a climate where you can use every facet of your game and not have to worry about the weather elements.”

“A lot of people say that Ricky Ray is one and I’m two, or whatever you want to call it, and it’s going to be a great matchup,” he continued.

“The past two Grey Cup Champions are going at it and it’s also going to be on down in the states so it’s going to be a great football weekend.”

Game Notes:

  • The Rogers Centre is one of the Riders’ favourite places to visit, as they’ve won eight of their last nine there including the 2007 Grey Cup against Winnipeg (they’ve won seven of their last eight there against the Argos).
  • In their last two meetings in Toronto, the Riders have outscored the Argos 75-38 (39-28 and 36-10 in 2013 and 2012 respectively.
  • Kory Sheets’ Rider debut two years ago was an impressive one, as he picked up 123 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. But it paled in comparison to Anthony Allen’s debut on Sunday, as the rookie scored twice and had 176 yards from scrimmage to begin his CFL career.
  • Injured receiver Chris Getzlaf isn’t accompanying the Riders to Toronto, which means Taj Smith and Rob Bagg will be joined by Ryan Smith, Brett Swain, and Eron Riley.
  • The Argos placed Matt Black, Jamie Robinson, Matt Ware, and Zander Robinson on the one-game injured list; Curtis Steele, Anthony Coombs, and Anthony Woodson will share duties at running back.

Kickoff is at 3:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live with CFL.ca Gamecast.

– With files from Argonauts.ca/Riderville.com