The Saskatchewan Roughriders enter Week 2 of the 2017 CFL season at 0-1 following Thursday’s 17-16 season-opening loss at Montreal.
It was a heartbreaking defeat, with Rider kicker Tyler Crapigna missing a 45-yard field goal with 0:00 on the clock. It came at the tail-end of a gummed up final drive which began at the Saskatchewan 26-yard line with 2:22 to play.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn effectively moved the offense down the field, converting on three 3rd down gambles. However with 21 seconds to go and facing 1st-and-10 at the Montreal 37-yard line, the Riders ran the clock down to 0:08 before calling a timeout. Head Coach Chris Jones said crowd noise led to miscommunication getting the play in.
The club ran one more play before Crapigna’s missed field goal attempt which ultimately awarded Montreal the victory. While Crapigna admirably pointed the finger at himself, there was plenty of blame to go around.
Jones lamented penalties, turnovers and a rare Crapigna miss as the culprits for the meltdown and that sent the Riders back to the drawing board as they get ready for Saturday’s home opener against Winnipeg at New Mosaic Stadium.
The Riders entered 2017 as the youngest team in the CFL for a second straight season, and their 29 returning players constitute about a 50% roster turnover.
Saskatchewan Assistant V.P. of Player Personnel John Murphy says this year’s roster make-up is by design, and they don’t plan to be stung by the same mishaps as a year ago at this time.
“The thing that we were able to do effectively is the guys we pinpointed at positions where it was obvious we needed to be improved upon, the guys we brought in don’t need to be introduced to anyone in our locker room,” Murphy said on Thursday’s Rider broadcast on 620 CKRM. “The way they handle their jobs and the way they perform on the field speaks volumes. The other thing is a number of key players on offense have played with Kevin Glenn so there’s no re-introduction needed there.
“In those defensive areas we needed to improve, we were looking for an extra pass-rusher and losing Jeff Knox and Otha Foster made us go out and do other things. Losing a DB right on top of our season this year created another void but it’s opened up opportunities for other players. Adding a veteran like Jovon Johnson adds experience and, as well, helps as a communicator in there.”
Murphy said they won’t be caught with inexperience again early in 2017.
“That’s where the breakdown occurred last year,” Murphy continued. “In Game 1 against the Argos, it wasn’t physical. It was mental and emotional breakdowns with the communication not happening in the secondary that allowed Toronto to make two big plays late and earn the victory. That was a very winnable game in Week 1.
“We also saw what happened at the start of last season with the injuries on the O-line and in the secondary. It created a lot of friction on a weekly basis in terms of having to change the ratio and change up your O-line and DB combos. That led to a lot of early losses if you looked at the two areas that could’ve been improved.”
So this year, while the Riders drafted well with lineman Dariusz Bladek and started rookies Chris Lyles, Erick Dargan and Sam Williams against Montreal, they also deployed CFL vets like Peter Dyakowski, Mike Edem and Jovon Johnson.
“I think we’ve done a good job of ensuring the same thing doesn’t happen again this year,” Murphy concluded.
Rider fans I spoke with over the weekend seemed very enthused with the team’s overall play, and are optimistic for the team’s fortunes in the games which lie ahead.
The Roughriders return to the practice field on Tuesday and will host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the home-opener on Canada Day at 7:00 pm on TSN and the 620 CKRM Rider Radio Network.