It seems hard to believe, but this is the first meeting in 2014 for these fierce rivals who haven’t played each other since the Riders spanked the Stamps 35-13 in the West final at McMahon Stadium on Nov. 17 (game photo above). Equally bizarre is the fact that this is Calgary’s first visit to Mosaic Stadium since July 5, 2013 — a span of 15 months!
Since season’s start, I’m sure, fans of both squads, and the CFL in general, have had this date (and an Oct. 24 rematch in Calgary) marked down on their calendars. With Calgary leading the West at 11W-2L, and the Riders tied for second with Edmonton at 9W-4L, this game, on paper anyway, still qualifies as a marquee match-up. Although whether it will play out that way is another matter.
Even with home field advantage, I doubt there’s very many Riders fans who would put money on their team emerging with a W tonight. Not after last Friday’s 24-0 debacle in Edmonton.
With Tino Sunseri at QB in place of injured starter and team leader Darian Durant, struggles on offence are to be expected. But defensively, the Riders gave up 300 yards rushing (192 to Esk RB John White, and 106 to QB Mike Reilly). Calgary didn’t exactly look like world-beaters last weekend either. Playing at home, they eked out a 14-7 win over the B.C. Lions in a game where they didn’t score a TD. But RB Jon Cornish had 156 yards on 20 carries as Calgary’s O-line manhandled a tough B.C. front seven, so if the Riders don’t improve their run defence it could be a long evening for the Green & White.
Of course, in football, a team’s defensive performance can be significantly impacted by how well the offence plays. If the O can sustain drives and put some points on the board, the defence gets ample opportunity to rest and regroup on the sidelines, and if the deficit gets big enough the opposition offence can be forced out of their game plan as they struggle to catch up. None of that happened in Edmonton, and the result was the Riders first shut-out loss since 1986.
As he did after the team’s 28-3 road loss in Hamilton on Sept. 14, Sunseri came in for a fair bit of criticism for not progressing through his reads fast enough and hesitating too much when making his throws. In fact, he was eventually pulled for back-up Seth Doege — a rookie who didn’t fare any better. But on Thursday, after comparing the performance of the two QBs in practice, coach Corey Chamblin named Doege as the starter for this game.
Doege is supposed to be a bit more mobile than Sunseri, who is more of a traditional pocket passer. So he may be able to buy some time by scrambling. But unless the Riders can find a way to revive their moribund running game, it will be a stiff challenge. Early in the season, they enjoyed tons of success with a three-man RB rotation of Will Ford, Anthony Allen and Jerome Messam. Lately, though, Ford has been a healthy scratch — perhaps due to ratio issues and the need to play International players at other positions. With receiver Taj Smith out with a broken clavicle, the passing game will probably suffer even more. So that makes it even more important that the running game get back on track.
Calgary has been dinged by injuries too. Cornish, along with QB Bo Levi Mitchell, receiver Marquay McDaniel and pass rusher Charleston Hughes, have all missed time with injuries. McDaniel and Hughes are still out. But even so, the Stamps should have enough to defeat the Riders and pretty much clinch first in the West.
Game time is 8 p.m., and TSN has the broadcast. For more visit the Riderville website.