Horrible coaching decisions leave Riders winless

Solomon Elimimian,Anthony Allen

It’s always been nearly impossible to figure when Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin was going to gamble on third-and-short. Or go for a two-point convert. Or throw a challenge flag.

Being unpredictable is one thing. Being illogical, quite another.

On Friday night Chamblin’s goofy decisions cost his team a victory against the home-town B.C. Lions. Saskatchewan lost 35-32 in overtime and truly, it was the head coach’s fault.

Not that he would admit it: Joel Gasson of the Green Zone asked Chamblin afterwards if any blame should be directed at the coaching staff. Chamblin said no, it was a team game. Something like, “Players play, coaches coach.” That implied the players didn’t execute their jobs properly, even though hare-brained coaching decisions had put the players in positions that made it difficult to win the contest.

Callers to the Green Zone post-game show were irate; they expected the team’s head coach to at least accept some blame instead of hearing him pass the buck.

It was the fifth straight time (counting two meaningless preseason games) in which the Roughriders’ passive late-game defence cost the team a victory.

Saskatchewan took an 11-point lead with 2:21 remaining in Friday’s game, but squandered it — again — by relying on a feeble, four-man pass rush and a wimpy deep-drop zone that allowed Lions quarterback Travis Lulay to throw a 46-yard touchdown pass (and ensuing two-point convert) to Austin Collie.

Still leading 29-26, the Roughriders took possession and tried to run out the clock. With 1:00 remaining they faced third-and-one at their 48-yard line. Here’s a smart, conservative idea: Punt away the football and force B.C. to march downfield. Never mind that the Toronto Argonauts did that to Saskatchewan one game earlier.

The Roughriders, instead, gambled. With an empty backfield, devoid of powerful running backs Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen, they tried a quarterback sneak with new quarterback Brett Smith, who got stopped by Lions road-blocking linebacker Adam Bighill. A video review wouldn’t give Saskatchewan a first down.

On the first play after B.C. took possession, the Lions offence was penalized for illegal procedure. For some reason Chamblin declined the penalty, perhaps thinking Lions rookie kicker Richie Leone wouldn’t be hurt by five extra yards on the game-tying field goal.

Leone nailed the 55-yarder — the longest field goal in Lions history — tying the game at 29-29 with 12 seconds remaining. Just enough time to try two deep passes, hoping for a completion or (more likely with the new CFL rules) a penalty. No way! The Riders kneeled down to kill the clock.

And the absolute goofiest thing happened on Saskatchewan’s overtime possession. The Roughriders were facing third-and-one on B.C.’s 26-yard line. Chamblin, who defended his earlier gamble as an “aggressive’’ call, changed strategies, wimped out and had his team kick a 33-yard field goal, which became moot when the Lions took possession and three plays later scored the game-winning touchdown.

As a sideline tactician, Chamblin is failing miserably. Plus he oversees the defence, whose fourth-quarter folds have left the 0-3 Roughriders as the CFL’s lone winless team. If he’s going to remain as head coach, that needs to be his game-time priority and he should leave the defence to someone more aggressive, more focussed.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.