OTTAWA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders pay their first visit to the Nation’s Capital on Saturday night, as they clash under the bright lights of TD Place against the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
Two weeks removed from winning its first game as a new franchise and opening up the new stadium in style, Ottawa looks to get back on track following a 33-23 loss to the Ticats in Hamilton. After arguably their best offensive performance of the season, it was a game quarterback Henry Burris and the REDBLACKS feel they let slip away.
“I felt that we’ve started to become more consistent, and we’re executing some nice long drives,” Burris told OttawaREDBLACKS.com leading up to Saturday’s contest.
After up and down offensive outputs through the first three games, last weekend things clearly began to click. Burris threw for 290 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, while combining with Chevon Walker for 69 yards on the ground.
But after trailing by only a field goal heading into the fourth, the REDBLACKS failed to solve Hamilton’s secondary, scoring just three points and watching the Ticats pull away thanks to an 82-yard catch and run by the elusive C.J. Gable.
“We’ve gotta finish off drives, we had the ball down there on three different occasions and we only came away with six or nine points,” Burris said. “We need to take care of the ball better and when I say that I mean don’t take penalties in the wrong situations, and also all be on the same page and make sure we’re doing our jobs mentally.”
The REDBLACKS did sustain drives, a positive sign that they’re closer to being a good football team than a bad one. Down three points entering the fourth quarter, Burris completed five passes for first downs to move Ottawa to the four-yard-line.
What happened next though was typical of a team that’s close to taking the next step, but just isn’t there yet, Burris was sacked for a loss of 13 yards before throwing an incompletion on the next play to lead to a Brett Maher field goal.
After that drive the Ottawa did not see much progress until time was winding down but the drive stalled once again after Burris threw incomplete on third down and the Ticats added another field goal to put things out of reach.
“We’ve been able to get drives going against pretty much anyone we’ve played, but we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot whether it’s been mental errors or penalties,” Burris said. “Those are things that are easily correctable but the problem is if you say they’re easily correctable, you can’t have those mistakes happening over and over again.”
“That’s something we’ve been trying to solve in practice and when you do it in practice it usually carries over to the game where you’re able to do it in the correct fashion.”
They’ll hope to solve it in time for a primetime meeting with the Roughriders on Saturday night, as the defending Grey Cup Champions are in town and a win is needed to keep pace with the rest of the East Division.
Even with just one win so far this year the REDBLACKS know they’re right in the middle of the race for a division title and ultimately a home playoff game, and with an opponent like Saskatchewan on tap, this early August meeting will feel almost like a playoff game.
“These are games that you salivate looking forward to, I know on their side they’re looking forward to the great atmosphere we have here and we’re looking forward to playing here at home against a very good team,” Burris said.
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“This is a great chance for us to make a great statement,” he continued. “Any time you play against a great team if you can help yourself by going out and having a great victory here, you’ll definitely give your team a lot of confidence moving forward, and what better chance than to do it against the Grey Cup Champions.”
While the REDBLACKS are fired up to take on the Grey Cup Champs at home, the Roughriders are looking forward to their first game in an unfamiliar setting. The last time the Riders played a CFL game in Ottawa was on August 11, 2005 when the Renegades earned a 22-17 win at Frank Clair Stadium.
“I think that’s going to be a challenge for us but it’s also exciting for the guys, to play at a new stadium with a brand new team,” Riders Head Coach Corey Chamblin told Riderville.com. “There’s always new energy there and right now our record’s clean there, so it’s a clean slate we’re starting.”
The Riders will have plenty of energy of their own coming off a 37-9 win at home over Ricky Ray and the Toronto Argonauts, a game that when all is said and done could mark the turning point in their season. Before that they had lost in a one-sided game in Toronto and then a tight home game to the Lions, heading into their week off with many questions and few answers.
Weeks later there’s a bit more swagger coming out of Riderville. There’s nothing like a big win on home turf to get your confidence back, but perhaps even bigger is the return of star slotback Chris Getzlaf to the lineup – one of just a couple of veteran playmakers returning from last year’s championship team.
“It’s very important, he’s a huge part of our offence and he’s one of the better receivers in our league, not just Canadian, and he’s had a lot of success and he’s a guy that I know his body language, exactly where he’s gonna be and different things like that which help me out tremendously,” Durant said.
In a season where the offence has started out a little bit slower than usual, mostly as a result of unfamiliarity among the young receivers and the quarterback, the role of chemistry can’t be stressed enough. Getzlaf’s return instantly changes the outlook of a young offence.
“I think he’s out there and he can direct those other guys in the right position, they’re not thinking as much,” Durant added. “He’s a veteran – he’s played against every type of look that a defence can throw at him and he knows exactly what to do.”
Durant recalls his relationship with Getzlaf dating back to 2007, when the Riders were headed to Toronto for the Grey Cup against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Neither were in the starting lineup, but instead their role was to help the starters prepare for Milt Stegall and the Bombers as a scout team.
“We talk about it all the time, Chris and I have been through everything together,” Durant reflected. “We talk about 2010 when he was moving all over the place and ’07 when we were getting the team ready for the Grey Cup, giving them the best Milt Stegall Winnipeg impression.”
“We’ve been through it all and he forgets nothing, and it’s good to have a friend like that.”
Chamblin is just as happy to have Getzlaf back in the lineup, but was quick to point out that he’s not going to put the team on his shoulders and lead it to victory all by himself. In hindsight, Getzlaf’s absence likely did some good.
“There’s always a spark any time Chris is in the lineup,” Chamblin said. “Darian has played with Chris and knows exactly what he has there, but at the same time for us to be good down the stretch we have to be able to count on more than Chris and that’s the plus about our situation earlier.”
Getzlaf, excited to get back into game action, agreed with Chamblin’s assessment, adding that he’s seen positives from the young receivers.
“I don’t think it’s on my shoulders at all,” he said.
“Chemistry’s one thing and obviously I’ve had the longest relationship with Durant and we’ve had chemistry over the years, but I think the young receivers have done a good job of learning the concepts and really understanding the game and they’re not really making a lot of mental mistakes.”
“That’s something that’s going to come with time.”
With Will Ford coming off of a 113 yard, 3 touchdown performance last week and Getzlaf joining the aerial attack, it appears Saskatchewan is beginning to reach mid-season form on offence – just in time to match up against a REDBLACKS offence also finding its form.
- Marcus Henry led all CFL receivers last week with 10 receptions and 138 yards, including 51 after the catch. Five of his catches were in clutch second-down situations for first downs.
- Brett Maher has connected on 10 straight field goal attempts, after starting his career just 2-of-4, marking the longest current streak in the league.
- The rookie kicker also executed the league’s fourth successful fake from kick formation, with a 25-yard pass play to Patrick Lavoie. Maher leads the CFL in points per game with 11, for a total of 44 through four games.
- Ottawa ranks second in punt coverage, netting 40.4 yards per kick, while on kickoffs they’ve allowed opponents past their 40 only twice.
- The REDBLACKS have allowed a league-high 409 yards per game following last weekend’s 551 points against in Hamilton – the most allowed by an Ottawa team since 2004.
- Ottawa also ranks worst in red zone touchdown percentage at just 36 per cent (4-of-11), and in generating big plays with just six.
- The Roughriders scored on their first two drives last week, something they haven’t accomplished since their season opener in 2013, 22 games ago. They scored four touchdowns in the first half alone, which hadn’t been done since Oct. 2009.
- The Roughriders took full advantage of their bye week, engineering a 41-point turnaround against the Argos from their previous 26-13 home loss to the Lions.
- Last weekend Saskatchewan converted all four red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
- Defensive end John Chick has recorded at least one sack in all four games this season, the only player in the league to do so. Dating back to 2013 he’s recorded a sack in six of his past seven games.
- Last weekend the Riders scored their first fourth quarter points of the season, but still trail by a margin of 40-6 in fourth quarters in 2014.
Kickoff is at 7:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live with CFL.ca Gamecast.
– With files from OttawaREDBLACKS.com/Riderville.com