July 5, 2014

Milanovich demands resiliency from Argos against Riders

Andrew Lahodynskyj/Argonauts.ca


TORONTO — Scott Milanovich doesn’t want the Toronto Argonauts to completely forget their dismal start to the 2014 CFL season.

Toronto opened the campaign with a lopsided 45-21 road loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. On Saturday, the Argos host a Saskatchewan Roughriders squad that registered 10 sacks in a 31-10 dismantling of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in its season opener.

“Take nothing away from Winnipeg but I think we were embarrassed with the way we performed and should feel like we’ve got a lot to prove (Saturday),” the Argos head coach said Friday. “I know I’m looking forward to kickoff to see if we can get this bad taste out of our mouth.

“I don’t know if you ever really let one like that go. Those happen from time to time but they need to stick with you a little bit.”

The upstart Bombers, led by Drew Willy dominated the Argos. Willy threw for 308 yards and four TDs while running back Nic Grigsby rushed for 122 yards. Winnipeg also recovered two fumbles, with Demond Washington returning one for a TD.

Toronto was also flagged 22 times.

The defending Grey Cup-champion Riders were very impressive in their opener.

Former Toronto defensive end Ricky Foley had three sacks as the defence held Hamilton to just 114 net offensive yards. Newcomer Anthony Allen — replacing departed Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets — rushed for 158 yards and a TD and also had a touchdown catch. So effective was the run game that Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant only threw 22 passes, completing 15-for-136 yards and two TDs.

Toronto’s revamped defence — it has just four returning starters — will have four new faces against Saskatchewan. Cornerback Vincent Agnew, safety Jermaine Gabriel, linebacker Antwaun Molden and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas all get the nod as cornerback Matt Ware, linebacker Jamie Robinson and safety Matt Black go on the injured list while defensive lineman Greg Romeus is placed on the practice roster.

Running back Jeremiah Johnson goes to the injured list, with Anthony Woodson (practice roster) replacing him. That means sophomore Curtis Steele and rookie Anthony Coombs — Toronto’s ’14 first-round pick from the University of Manitoba — will share tailback duties.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to see how much we’ve improved in one week playing the champs in our building,” Milanovich said. “They (Riders) are going to get some plays but the other thing you look for is how are we going to react to adversity?

“When you have that many new guys like we do now, part of it is fun because you don’t know who’s going to be the person who’s going to take the leadership reigns of this team. I’m really anxious to see who that’s going to be. Hopefully it’s several guys.”

However, Milanovich said it’s important to keep Saturday’s game in proper perspective.

“Win or lose, this game isn’t going to define who we are in three months,” he said. “Everybody, myself included, gets caught up in what happens today and what happened last week and there’s no avoiding that but I try not to lose sight of the big picture.

“Even if we win the game if we didn’t improve and build towards becoming a better team by the time October and November roll around, it doesn’t matter. To me, that was the biggest difference in my two seasons here as the head coach. Even though we were below a .500 club in 2012 we improved every week throughout the season and by the end of the season were playing well. Last year we were leading the East probably most of the way but I don’t think we made the incremental improvements we did the year before so I don’t know if we got any better while other teams were getting better.”

In 2012, Toronto won its final two regular-season games to finish second in the East Division with a 9-9 record before mounting its Grey Cup-winning run. Last year, the Argos were first with an 11-7 record before losing to Hamilton in the conference final.

Saskatchewan’s Corey Chamblin — the CFL’s coach of the year in ’13 — said Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray, who had a league-record 77.2 completion average last year, will present the Riders’ defence with plenty of challenges.

“At the end of the day we’re going to play a different style football team, especially with the quarterback,” he said. “This is a more seasoned quarterback than the one we played (Hamilton’s Zach Collaros).

“We didn’t get a lot of looks, we just played fast. But with this quarterback it’s going to be tough. You’re going to have to play fast and do some things you don’t usually do to keep Ricky off his game.”

Ray was 27-of-38 passing for 283 yards and two TDs against Winnipeg but Toronto rushed for just 42 total yards and had the ball less than 24 minutes overall. However, Ray said there are the things the Argos can do to help limit Saskatchewan’s pass rush.

“You try not to hold on to (the football) too long to give those guys extra seconds to get in there,” he said. “Another thing is we’ve got to be balanced, we’ve got to be effective with our run and pass game to keep those guys off balance and guessing about what’s going to be coming.

“We also want to try and get a lead . . . to make sure you’re not having to throw on every down because you’re behind.”

Not much has separated Saskatchewan and Toronto the past two years as they’ve split their regular-season series 2-2.

“Even the year we won it I thought they were very, very close,” Milanovich said of the Riders. “It’s a very good football team, our guys know we can match up with them and have the ability to compete with them and win the game.

“I certainly hope they know that. We’re going to have to play well, certainly, to do it.”

Durant expects a more fundamentally sound Argos squad Saturday.

“I don’t think they’ll give up any easy plays,” he said. “They’re going to make us earn everything we get.”